Audi RS Q8's 600 horsepower bridges the trail and the track

Ronan Glon

Audi Sport unveiled its flagship SUV, the RS Q8, during the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show. The Q8's hot-rodded sibling shares the spotlight with the new, battery-powered E-Tron Sportback.

Large and in charge, the RS Q8 stands out from the Q8 it's based on with a new-look front end that gains a model-specific grille painted black, and a redesigned lower bumper with bigger air intakes. Three vents chiseled into the top part of the grille's frame create a visual link between the RS Q8 and the Audi Sport Quattro that dominated the rally scene during the 1980s. Walk around, and you'll notice the RS treatment includes wheel arch extensions, a roof-mounted spoiler, and 22-inch alloys, which are the largest wheels Audi has ever fitted as standard on a production car. 23-inchers are optional. An air diffuser flanked by oval exhaust tips adds a finishing touch to the look.

The RS Q8 lacks the flared fenders that characterize most of Audi Sport's other models, like the second-generation RS 7 Sportback and the RS 6 Avant that's finally America-bound. Frank Lamberty, one of the exterior designers who penned the model, told Autoblog the Q8 wouldn't have fit through the paint shop in the Bratislava, Slovakia, factory that builds it if it had it gotten wider. That's settled, then.

Nothing prevented Audi from making the Q8 more powerful, though. Pop the hood to find a twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8 engine that makes 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. Bolted to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the direct-injected eight sends RS Q8 from zero to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds, to 124 mph in 13.7 seconds, and on to a top speed of 189 mph, which those who regularly travel on the Autobahn will appreciate. Unlocking every mile per hour the RS Q8 can deliver requires the optional dynamic package. It's electronically limited to 155 mph without it.

Quattro all-wheel drive distributes 60 percent of the engine's torque to the rear axle in normal driving conditions. The system can shift up to 70 percent of the available power to the front wheels if it detects the rear ones begin to slip, or up to 85 percent to the rear wheels if the front loses traction. 

Audi added a 48-volt mild hybrid system to keep fuel economy in check, and its cylinder-on-demand technology turns the V8 into a V4 in mere milliseconds. Official fuel economy ratings won't be published until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) puts the model through its paces.

The standard adaptive air suspension was tuned specifically for the RS Q8, and it lets the driver adjust the ride height by 3.5 inches with a few taps of the infotainment system's touchscreen. Four-wheel steering also comes standard, and carbon ceramic brakes are available at an extra cost.

Speaking of screens, the digital instrument cluster (called Virtual Cockpit in Audi-speak) features a sportier design that provides information like the real-time torque and horsepower outputs. Enthusiasts can also measure the g-forces going through the cabin, and time track runs. 

The Audi RS Q8 will arrive in European showrooms in early 2020 with a base price of 127,000 euros, a figure which represents about $140,000. Pricing for the American-spec model will be released later.