Slotted between the petrol/diesel Q8 models and the full EV ‘E-tron’ variant, is Audi’s new PHEV the goldilocks SUV that asks for too much gold?
For a vehicle that might seem like a bit of a fringe choice, it’s perhaps surprising just how many different forms in which one can purchase an Audi Q8.
The current generation launched back in 2018, essentially serving as a ‘Sportback’ (in Audi terms) version of the Q7 large SUV, with the range consisting of an array of luxurious petrol and diesel options, along with the high-performance SQ8 version that has spent time with both engine types.
But after Audi’s ‘E-tron’ large SUV was renamed and reskinned as the Q8 E-tron, the appeal of the range has expanded further still. Electric vehicles aren’t for everybody however, and Audi Australia says it has discovered a need for more plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles to aid the transition.
Enter the new Q8 60 TFSIe: the sloped-back large SUV with a PHEV heartbeat.
Earlier this year, Audi introduced the Q5 55 TFSIe, a PHEV version of the popular midsize SUV and more could follow to Australia, showing an interesting change in strategy since the Q7 PHEV was previously dropped from the Australian lineup.
But like its smaller counterpart, the PHEV version of the Q8 comes at a significant price premium to the regular and already quite good 55 TFSI petrol model, so does this latest addition make a convincing case as a middle ground option between petrol and full EV?
With a starting price of $148,375 before on-road costs, the Q8 60 TFSIe is by no measure a cheap vehicle. The price is just under $15,000 more expensive than the 55 TFSI petrol and $5525 cheaper than the most affordable fully electric Q8 E-tron option.
Interestingly, the Q8 shared the same MLB Evo platform as a number of other luxury SUVs, complete with PHEV drivetrains including the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid and Volkswagen Touareg R, priced from $154,600 and $129,990 before on-roads, respectively.
Note: pictured test-car fitted with leather pack
For the outlay, the Q8 offers the following features as standard:
Pictured: the optional 22-inch wheels
A litany of additional options are available but some of the key highlights are the larger 22-inch wheels ($2300), the full leather package ($8900), 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced 3D sound system ($12,100) and metallic paint ($2300).
Some highlight features missing from the options list, and available on high-spec variants like the SQ8, include rear-wheel steering and Audi’s 48-volt active anti-roll bar system, which aids manoeuvrability and handling.
I’ve had the pleasure of sampling a few Q8s over the years as well as many more of its platform-sharing cousins such as the Bentley Bentayga. And the PHEV version of Audi’s large SUV shares many of the great qualities of the big Bentley, though perhaps not all of them.
The 3.0L petrol V6 in this Q8 is ordinarily found in the ‘55 TFSI’ and is also found here making the same 250kW of power from 5300 to 6400rpm and while peak torque is detuned from 500 to 450Nm, that figure is available across an incredibly broad range, from 1340 to 5300rpm.
It provides a good basis for the 100kW/400Nm electric motor to operate around, with the total system output being a monstrous 340kW of power and 700Nm of torque – just 33kW and 70Nm shy of the SQ8.
Despite the instant torque brought on by the electric motor, the 60 TFSIe is still 1.3 seconds slower to 100km/h than the aforementioned performance model, but with a sprint time of 5.4 seconds you’re more likely to notice the lack of V8 noise rather than the pace.
The electric motor is situated between the engine and the eight-speed torque converter transmission, which in turn funnels power to Audi’s rear-biased quattro all-wheel-drive system, complete with a locking centre diff.
The electric motor is powered by a 14.4kWh (17.9kWh gross), which is the same size as the unit found in the much smaller and lighter Q5 55 TFSIe plug-in, which I reviewed previously.
During that review, which took place on a set launch event with more limited city driving, I praised the slick nature of the Q5’s drivetrain (which is backed by a less powerful four-pot setup and electric motor) but this time around I found myself less enamoured by the Q8’s hybrid system.
It still brings key advantages over a regular petrol or diesel, such a generally more hushed experience at low speed and the ability to drive solely on electric power but there were times in urban areas where the motor(s) and gearbox felt indecisive and clunky at low speeds.
Perhaps our test vehicle, with a little over 1000km on the clock, needed more time to calibrate to our driving style but it did leave this reviewer wondering if perhaps one drivetrain – either petrol/diesel or pure electric – might make things just a bit simpler. I will note that at higher speeds this shuffling was less of an issue, however.
It’s also important to remember before any purchase that the Q8 is a very big vehicle, particularly in terms of its nearly two-metre width, which will see some less-confident drivers fighting for their lives in suburban shopping centre car parks and tight backstreets.
The Q8 60 TFSIe’s turning circle is a vast 13.3m, which is cut down significantly in higher-spec models such as the SQ8, which are available with a rear-wheel steering option. It’s a shame this feature is not available here as it would be a great addition.
We had the opportunity to sample the Q8 at night in some dimly lit areas and the Matrix LED headlights were impressive to watch as they precisely lit up the road ahead without blinding fellow motorists.
As the road began to dip and crest however, I longed for the beam to look up and down, as well as left and right, to properly illuminate the road ahead. Fussy? Perhaps, but if you live in areas prone to darting wildlife, it could make all the difference.
Audi has wisely fitted the Q8 PHEV with sport-tuned air suspension as standard, which does a good job of supporting its hefty 2440kg curb weight, with harsh bumps noticeable but rarely uncomfortable.
Our test vehicle rode on the larger 22-inch wheels; the standard 21s may offer a better experience, but we can only speculate.
As one of Audi’s flagship vehicles, the Q8 rides on its MLB Evo platform which, combined with the quattro AWD system, provides an impressive depth of dynamic talent. With the air suspension set to ‘Sport’ the height of the Q8 lowers 15mm and make no mistake this circa-2.5 tonne of metal can move very, very quickly.
The PHEV lacks the flat-stanced 48-volt anti-roll bar technology found in the SQ8 (which honestly has to be experienced to be comprehended) but this isn’t really what Q8 is about. Instead, this is a luxury vehicle with refinement at the front of mind.
The Monday I was due to return the Q8 60 TFSIe I was also taking care of my sick daughter who desperately needed a nap and the Audi was a fitting tool for the task. Within minutes she fell asleep on the highway, assisted by those handy power sunshades in a hushed cabin.
As I overtook a truck in the right-hand lane I found myself cresting a hill and I cringed as I realised my mistake as the heavy vehicle applied its noisy air brakes and – well, nothing happened.
The near-mute cabin remained so, and as a result my daughter stayed asleep. As she is a fairly light sleeper, I’m confident that in a lesser vehicle it would be a different story. Who says luxury isn’t practical?
Finally, it should be noted that the Q8 60 TFSI retains the 3500kg towing capacity of the broader Q8 range, adding another potential use case as a properly capable towing tourer to its arsenal.
The interior of the Q8 is what we’ve come to expect from Audi’s flagship products: beautifully designed, thoughtfully laid out and well-finished.
Admittedly, our test car was fitted with the optional leather package (+$8900), which adds a smattering of Nappa leather across the dash, armrest and other key touch points, along with power sunshades in the rear. All of this, in my opinion, should be standard on a circa- $150,000 vehicle such as this.
Just as it feels wide on the road, the interior cabin feels truly vast and gives all occupants plenty of room to stretch out and settle into the Valcona leather front seats, complete with an array of power adjustment including four-way lumbar adjustment.
The seats themselves are quite comfortable with the aforementioned adjustment along with separate underthigh support allowing me to tune the settings to my preferences quite well.
A seat heating function comes standard for front occupants but not cooling, which would have gone some way to aiding the cabin comfort during our testing period where the temperature reached a scorching 43 degrees. Thankfully, the three-zone climate control can hold its own in the Aussie heat.
A bright and crisp 10.1-inch multimedia screen sits in the centre of the dash and comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto built in.
It sits above a separate 8.6-inch display tasked primarily with climate control, with large touch targets and haptic feedback making it easier to use than equivalent setups from Mercedes-Benz. An additional 12.3-inch digital display sits in front of the driver.
The average quality of the 360-degree camera and the fitment of ashtrays in the back seats do betray the vintage of this Audi model, but it’s otherwise aged quite well.
As standard, the Q8 60 TFSIe is fitted with a 730 watt 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, which was fine enough in our testing, showing a good range of abilities for the price.
We’ve experienced the 1920 watt 23-speaker arrangement in other Audis and can confirm it’s a significant upgrade, but for an extra $12,100 it’d want to be.
Moving to the back seat, any buyers concerned the sloped rear roofline would compromise headroom need not worry, this is a space more than happy to accommodate adults and sitting behind my six-foot driving position I had plenty of space. The middle position, while wide enough for an adult, is less useful due to the hump in the floor.
Fitting baby seats also required no compromise to the front occupants and was a simple process, thanks primarily to its wide-opening doors and the high ride height, which can be raised and lowered using the air suspension if you wish.
The boot measures 505 litres with all five seats up though you do lose some storage due to the fact that provided charging cables can’t be stored under the floor. It’s also less practical than a traditional wagon like the Q7 or Touareg with their traditional wagon bodies. With the back seats folded, the back seat balloons to 1625 litres.
Strangely enough, the Q8 60 TFSIe is the only variant not technically covered by ANCAP’s 2019-tested five-star rating awarded to all petrol, diesel and fully electric Q8s. It’s an anomaly also seen with Audi’s Q5 PHEV variant.
In that company though, it’s reasonable to expect that for crash-worthiness it would perform well in the event of an accident, even if the previous tests were conducted prior to ANCAP introducing tougher protocols in recent years.
Being an SUV at this price point Audi has also peppered it with it’s latest safety features such as:
The Q8 does show its age by lacking reversing autonomous emergency braking and a front-centre airbag, the latter is likely due to the ageing bones of the Q8 but the former is a concerning omission for such a premium vehicle.
In practice all the safety systems worked quite well and only sounded the alarm when appropriate. I was particularly fond of the adaptive cruise control system which blended seamlessly with the regeneration of the hybrid system.
Like all Audi products, the Q8 60 TFSIe is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with a separate eight-year, 160,000km warranty applied to the electric drivetrain.
Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, which will see buyers pay around $3570 under the brand’s prepaid service plan scheme.
Efficiency is often difficult to gauge when it comes to PHEVs as it depends on if the vehicle is being driven on a flat battery, in hybrid mode or exclusively on electric power.
Driven on a flat battery, we saw an average efficiency of around 14.1L/100km, with 8.3kWh/100km recuperated through regeneration and later used to assist movement. For context, a petrol-only Q8 55 TFSI has a combined claim of 9.2L/100km.
Audi quotes a figure of 2.6L/100km but this only really applies when the battery is fully charged. When driven in hybrid mode until the battery went flat, we saw 27kWh/100km and 2.1L/100km so this does check out. But it only lasted for around 50-60km.
Finally, let’s talk about electric efficiency and range.
Audi quotes a range of up to 59km from the 14.4kWh battery, though these figures are tested using the generally less accurate NEDC standard. Over in the UK, using the superior WLTP standard, buyers are told to expect closer to 45km.
As mentioned previously, the Q8 PHEV shares the same size battery as the Q5 variant, and loses around 8km of WLTP range over the equivalent sportback model due to the added weight and size.
In our testing, the best electric-only efficiency we saw was 33.7kWh/100km, which works out to an estimated 42km of range. This is quite limited for a PHEV and may not be long enough for a lot of people to complete their daily commute, plus any unexpected errands without charging up at work and at home.
Speaking of charging, the Q8 is capable of being topped up using an AC charger at speeds of up to 7.4kW, which should see the battery at 100 percent in around two and a half hours.
Most I suspect will use the provided three-pin, 240-volt socket to charge overnight as we did for our review without any issues.
Sadly there is no DC fast charging to nab some electrons when out and about, which is odd considering this is technology available on far cheaper PHEVs such as the Mitsubishi Outlander.
Perhaps more than any other vehicle type, deciding if a plug-in hybrid like the Q8 60 TFSIe is the right choice for you will come down to how you plan to use it.
With its limited 42km electric range result, it’s unlikely to make up the circa-$15,000 price premium over the equivalent petrol without huge mileage and I do suspect many drivers will struggle to complete their daily commute within the bandwidth of the small battery.
It’s also hard to ignore the pending launch of the Volkswagen Touareg R in March 2024, which shares the same platform and 340kW/700Nm drivetrain along with the standard fitment of air-suspension for $129,990, making it $18,385 cheaper.
So in a sense, you’d be trading the prestige and perhaps some luxury finishings of the Audi for the excitement of the R, plus gaining a more usable traditional boot shape.
In fairness, we’ve yet to actually drive the Touareg R and the Audi could be far superior, but our positive experiences in regular Touareg variants and this Q8 leaves us with high hopes for the Volkswagen alternative.
But those looking for a more relaxed experience which improves on the existing 55 TFSI petrol and are able to charge at home, the Q8 60 TFSIe may just offer something special and with its broad set of abilities it’s an enticing option if you’re not quite ready to go all-electric.
Are plug-in hybrids the best of both worlds or the worst? Either way you’re paying a $20k premium over a regular petrol model – yet in some ways it might be worth it
Key specs (as tested)
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