I’m rarely a fan of making simple things more complicated, especially in the world of car naming. BMW and Infiniti have long been parties to this unchecked expansion of model branding and sub-branding, and it’s still difficult to remember which vehicle we’re talking about when talking about anything from the Mercedes-EQ family of things.
With that said, I’ll allow the “Q8” that newly adorns the 2024 Audi Q8 E-Tron, and the tidy “SQ8” as well. When launched as the “Audi E-Tron” in 2018, the slim moniker put all of the emphasis on the company’s brand new branding of its all-electric line. But it left out any indication of what size and shape of vehicle we were talking about – a fact not helped by the coupe-like E-Tron Sportback and the very-much-not-an-SUV E-Tron GT that were to come.
Q8 and SQ8 fit comfortably into the known Audi universe and greatly reduce the RAM I need to remember what the hell I’m writing about. For 2024 the automaker will bring four familiar variants, with the square-backed and sport-backed bodies on the standard and sporty powertrains. Better still, as I found out way out yonder on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, the changes made the E-Tron model make it a far more compelling electric vehicle overall.
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|Quick Stats||2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron|
|Motor:||Three Asynchronous Electric Motors|
|Output:||496 Horsepower / 718 Pound Feet (est)|
|EV Range:||320 Miles (est)|
|Base Price:||$91,000 (est)|
Track The Changes
The Q8 rebranding of the electric SUV may explain how Audi nomenclature will work going forward (a question we’ve posed to BMW and Mercedes regarding the future of their i and EQ models, respectively), but the meat of the changes to the vehicle net out to a good old-fashioned mid-cycle refresh. Of course, in the world of EVs, a refresh can make for significant changes on the road, as is the case here.
The Q8 E-Tron team tackled updates to design (of course), range, and driving dynamics for the 2024 model. (That model year is correct: production of Q8 E-Tron is underway, but first deliveries in the US won’t start until summer.)
The aero gains, combined with new and more efficient stator motors and updated battery chemistry (reworked to use less cobalt) net what Audi is calling a “30-percent” improvement to the maximum range figures.
On the design front, all the typical areas have been refreshed to enhance an already techy-cool SUV vibe. Audi’s single-frame “mask” (avoiding the slightly incorrect term “grille”) is new, as is the wide, sleek, and now E-Tron-branded rear diffuser. Lighting elements have also been updated, including a neat detail where the stacked bars from the lower fascia are mirrored in the corners of the LED headlights.
The new bodywork has helped to achieve a slippery shape, too, with the coefficient of drag improving by some eight percent over the outgoing E-Tron. Note that the tiny, camera-based wing mirrors seen in these photos are still verboten in the US (not a bad thing in terms of ease of use, if you ask me). Still, the aero gains, combined with new and more efficient stator motors and updated battery chemistry (reworked to use less cobalt) net what Audi is calling a “30-percent” improvement to the maximum range figures.
300 Miles (Give Or Take)
While Europeans will be able to order a Q8 50 E-Tron with a smaller, and presumably less-costly, 95-kilowatt-hour (89 kWh net) battery pack, North Americans will only be offered the larger 114-kWh (106 kWh net) unit in both the two-motor Q8 55 and the tri-motor SQ8.
Audi isn’t on record with EPA range figures just yet, but we’re told to expect a 30-percent improvement in range, and indications from staffers on site were that the headline number will “start with a three.”
We do have WLTP figures and can make best-guess calculations accordingly. Audi cites a best-case WLTP range of about 373 miles (600 kilometers) for the Q8 55 E-Tron Sportback, so a back-of-the-napkin EPA figure would be around 320 miles for that vehicle. The same fuzzy math would give SQ8 Sportback a range number of around 270 miles (based on 513 kilometers WLTP).
The improved range numbers will undoubtedly help Audi in a quickly maturing landscape for premium and sporty SUV-bodied electrics. The BMW iX goes for 305 to 324 miles depending on options, the Mercedes-Benz EQS 450 manages 305 miles, while Rivian’s R1S maxes out at around 320 miles. Q8 E-Tron is now squarely in the mix.
The improved range numbers will undoubtedly help Audi in a quickly maturing landscape for premium and sporty SUV-bodied electrics.
All North American models, with the big battery pack, can also now charge at a max 170-kilowatt rate. Audi reckons that, under ideal conditions, that’ll mean a charge from 10 to 80 percent in 31 minutes. Bragging rights on the charging front will still belong to Rivian and Mercedes, whose SUVs charge at a max of 200 kW, while BMW manages 195 kW.
Despite those middling peak rate numbers, the E-Tron charge curve seems to keep the juice flowing at a high rate for longer, making the real-world effects of its lower kilowatt number somewhat negligible. (We’ll have Tom Mologhney sort it all out ASAP.)
The Lanzarote GP
Audi chose the far-flung Canary Islands as the location for the Q8 E-Tron debut drive; after two days of nearly circumnavigating the tiny, volcanic island of Lanzarote, I can confirm that vehicle and locale were largely simpatico.
My drive route (the bulk of it completed in the more-powerful SQ8) wound up and down mountainsides, opened up for long stretches of coastal highway, and veered into the mazes of tiny streets crisscrossing postage-stamp villages. On all but the most cramped village lanes, the SQ8 proved agile, smooth, stable, and fast.
The SQ8 has three motors to the standard Q8’s two, with a 124-kW motor on the front axle and two 98-kW motors driving the rear wheels. Total system output can “boost” up to 496 horsepower and drive the substantially heavy vehicle to an Audi-estimated 4.5 seconds to 62 miles per hour. Hand-timing a few runs showed me that the 4.5 number should be easy to achieve consistently, and anyone unused to the chest-crushing feeling of the instant acceleration will be duly impressed.
Handling matched or slightly exceeded what I consider a baseline for this new breed of powerful, luxury EVs, with instantaneous torque vectoring helping tidy up exits from tighter corners. Certainly, anyone driving the SQ8 E-Tron on American-sized highways and roads, even big sweeping curvy roads, will appreciate the direct and well-weighted steering and planted feeling while changing directions. The revised steering tuning even delivered exactly one iota of road feel, which is, frankly, well above average for this segment.
However, on some of the very cramped roads – a few seemingly designed to be exactly the width of two Fiat Panda 4x4s – and through active villages, the size of the E-Tron became more apparent. The vehicle is what we’ll call a midsize SUV here in the States, and it still can’t EV-magic its way to being comfortable dicing on ultra-narrow streets with high stone curbing.
For any European readers, the aforementioned camera-based mirrors don’t help at all here. I’m sure one can get them dialed into reasonable usefulness with practice, but I was swearing at them for two days. The screens you look for in place of traditional mirrors are nestled much lower than you’d expect in the door card – not at all a problem for checking the passenger side of the vehicle, but always annoyingly out of my peripheral vision on the driver’s side. The high-tech mirrors are a standalone option and I say “buyer beware.”
I’m going to have to add a quality decibel meter to my traveling kit as I review more EVs; the in-cabin quiet of the SQ8 was astonishing, but I’ve had similar feelings in electrics ranging from the BMW iX to the Star Award winning Ford F-150 Lightning. Of course, electric powertrains are inherently far quieter than ICE equivalents, and a huge reduction of noise, vibration, and harshness is the EV’s birthright. But deciding if the Audi’s silent cabin is more or less silent than its Rivian or Mercedes equivalent, for example, is probably not something my ears can measure with enough accuracy to be scientific.
Suffice it to say that the cabin is utterly hushed at 70 mph, the sound system sparkling at low and high volumes (though less impressive than BMW’s Hans Zimmer-tuned hifi), and the surrounding design is pitch-perfect Audi. The German competitors in this $70k-ish to $100k-ish price range have opted for more lavish accommodations, but shoppers who appreciate clean lines and a modern, minimalistic vibe will no doubt vibe with the E-Tron.
I especially dug the fabric-like surfacing on the interior trim pieces (Audi has unimaginatively dubbed it “technical fabric”) that’s wrought in part from recycled plastics. Where other luxury vehicles go glossy and rich, Audi goes matte, brushed, and demure, giving the SQ8 a far less fussy feeling.
There’s also plenty of room for large folks like me in the standard-back Q8 E-Tron shape. At 6-foot-5 I had more than enough leg and headroom behind the steering wheel, and in the backseats. Though I didn’t get to drive the Sportback variant on this trip (we’ll undoubtedly bring you a fuller review of that vehicle in the near future), I did poke around enough to note the intrusion of the rakish roof on the rear passengers. People of average height will still fit ok back there, I’d guess.
In terms of storage, we’re still working with a relative lack of finalized specs from Audi, but we do have a figure for 20.1 cubic feet in the back (extrapolated from Euro specs and presumably with the second row up). That would put the Audi squarely behind the “all seats up” number from the BMW iX (35.5 cu ft). Still lots of flexible loading space in the rear, but not class-leading.
Let’s look at frunks! The E-Tron rocks a small but useful 2.2 cu ft front trunk, which immediately puts it in front of the frunkless EQS SUV and iX in this important metric. Tesla’s Model X soldiers on with a nice 6.5 cubes up front, but the R1S takes the title (at least in terms of EV SUVs) with 11.1 cu ft.
Show Me The Money (Please?)
At InsideEVs and Motor1.com staff meetings I love to hammer home that price and value are unquestionably the most important factors for car buyers in just about every segment. So I imagine that it’s karma screwing with me a bit that Audi has offered up zilch on the pricing front as of this writing.
I was told that pricing for the current E-Tron SUV is a good starting place for the eventual MSRP. But the landscape of car pricing has changed quite dramatically since that vehicle launched, and I would expect that Audi will charge for some of the many improvements made in this generation of E-Tron.
Since the new “base” Q8 E-Tron has a larger battery and revised motors on top of all of the other enhancements, I do expect the price to jump significantly from the $70,800 asked of the 2023 model. Something closer to the $84,100 asked of the BMW iX xDrive50 is probably in the cards.
While updated, the hard points of the 2024 SQ8 hew a little closer the 2023 E-Tron S which starts at $88,200. A base price in the low $90k range is a pretty good guess, if still a guess. Watch this space and the news feed of InsideEVs for detailed pricing when we have it.