For car enthusiasts, there may not be a better behind-the-wheel activity than a road trip. Aside from thrashing a performance car on track, taking the right car on the right trip can be the most rewarding was to spend time behind the wheel. Hundred of miles until your destination, all day to get there, your own music and (hopefully) great scenery all drastically increase the bond between man and machine, car and driver. There’s a romance to it.
We just recently had the pleasure to drive about six-hundred miles in an Audi Q8 and it shocked and surprised me throughout the duration of the trip. Before we get into that, we have to flash back a bit, for some context.
A few months back, my wife celebrated her 30th birthday. I say ‘celebrated’ but she wasn’t actually very enthused. Thirty is a big milestone and it can come with excitement for some and anxiety for others. For my wife, it was the latter. Regardless of how she felt about her milestone, though, I wanted to do something special for her. For almost a year leading up to her birthday, I racked my brain for something more than just a nice, shiny gift. I wanted to make the day special and, most importantly, positive. Rather than remember the day as an aging milestone, I hoped she could use it to make memories.
After much debate, canceled plans/ideas and asking her friends and family, I decided on a surprise road trip. Where to, though? One of her family members recommended the Baseball Hall of Fame, which isn’t obnoxiously far from where we live in the lower half of New Jersey. She’s also a massive New York Yankees fan and one of her all-time favorite players, Mariano Rivera, had just been inducted into the HoF, so it would be excited for her to see his plaque on the wall. Plus, it’s just something she’s always wanted to do, having grown up in a family of baseball fans. The only question left was: “Which car would we take?”
So I shot an email over to Audi and asked for a Q8. It seemed to me like the perfect car to take a long trip in, thanks to its comfortable ride, roomy cabin and capable handling. Thankfully, without hesitation, Audi obliged and had a 2019 Audi Q8 55 TFSI (3.0T) with the Year One package delivered to my home a few days before my family and I were due to begin our journey to Cooperstown, New York.
Our Massive Companion
I spent those few days prior to the trip trying to get to know the Audi Q8. It was my first time behind the wheel of one and I wanted to get more acquainted with it before setting off for several hundreds of miles. Oddly, I couldn’t quite get a good grasp of what it was supposed to be. When you see it at first, it looks like a low, sporty SUV. Measure it next to other SUVs, though, and it’s immediately obvious that it’s enormous. Sat next to it, my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was positively dwarfed. Don’t let its “coupe-like” looks fool you; the Audi Q8 is massive.
Massive or not, though, it looks good. I wasn’t sold on the Q8 when I first saw it in photos but in the flesh with its black-on-black-on-black color scheme, 22-inch wheels and Year One Package, it sold me. Not just me, though. The uber-stylish Q8 drew looks and garnered attention everywhere it went. The only press car I’ve had in recent memory that gained as many “Nice car!” comments was the BMW i8 Roadster. That’s not bad company to be in. Still, it’s massive.
Not only is it massive but it’s heavy. Very heavy. With a curb weight of just over 5,000 lbs, the Q8 has a lot of heft to move around and it feels it behind the wheel. So much so that it actually has a bit of a learning curve. However, once I settled into it and configured my Individual Drive Select setting just so, it started to grow on me.
Audi claims the Q8 is a sporty SUV but that’s being generous. Like a war elephant, the Audi Q8 is athletic enough to surprise, and even frighten you, but still isn’t a proper athlete. Around town, its steering is accurate and quick but the car itself feels large and heavy, which can make it sluggish to respond to quick steering inputs. While its 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 — making 335 hp and 369 lb-ft — is powerful enough to get the big Audi to 60 mph in just over five seconds, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
All of that weight, combined with a surprising amount of turbo lag and an unwillingness to drop gears when asked, makes the Q8 feel sluggish off the line. So it may be marketed as a sporty vehicle but it’s only sporty relative to its size and weight. And even then, there are SUVs that will downright womp the Q8 on a twisty road. However, marketing aside, that’s not really what it’s meant for. Take it on a road trip and get it out on the open road, for instance, and it begins to make so much more sense.
Over-Packing? No Problem
We actually started to appreciate its size once we started packing it for our trip. If you haven’t taken a road trip with a toddler before, it can require a lot of gear. Or at least for us first-time parents who drastically over-packed. Our cargo and luggage looked like it could fill two SUVs while sat on the curb. Once inside the Q8, though, it seemed as if we packed nothing at all. Its trunk swallowed our luggage with ease, making one question the need for a larger car.
Even the car seat fit perfectly behind the passenger seat without having to push my wife’s knees into the dashboard and we could have still fit more luggage. One of my absolute favorite touches was its front door pockets having cupholders large enough to fit a 40 oz Thermos of coffee perfectly. I need a lot of coffee, don’t judge me.
The Journey Begins
The Garden State Parkway is where our journey really began. Once on the road, with the destination easily programmed via voice command and my wife’s favorite ’90s SiriusXM station set, the Audi Q8 quickly became a very welcome road trip companion.
It handled the manic NJ traffic with ease, thanks to helpful automated safety features, easy to see Blind-Spot Monitors and a rock-solid chassis. While the Q8 felt cumbersome around town, its brilliantly calibrated air suspension and stable chassis helped it transform into a highway-cruising missile.
I typically left the Q8’s Drive Select in my Individual setting, which put the powertrain and suspension in Dynamic mode but left the steering in Comfort. That’s where I felt the Q8 was most at home, due to slightly sharpened reflexes that didn’t ruin the ride while also holding gears longer and keeping the throttle sharper. Its laggy engine needs all the help it can get to deal with the weight. While the Dynamic steering setting just added too much artificial weight without any noticeable improvement to either feel or accuracy, which seems to be the case with so many modern luxury cars. So the steering stayed in Comfort.
On the highway, though, I put the powertrain back into its normal Comfort setting to let it shift up into its higher gears on its own. While the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic was annoyingly slow to respond during harder driving, it brilliantly blended gears together on the highway. Once at speed, the engine also came into its own, where turbo lag was a non-issue and it instead just supplied a cushy wave of turbocharged torque.
Steering was rock-solid at speed, too; accurate and responsive but never nervous or twitchy. That allowed me to relax while driving, even at very high speed, yet never feel nervous about what the car would do. With its suspension set in Dynamic, the air ride dropped the car to its lowest possible setting which not only made it look better but helped it handle high speed sweepers without ever feeling top-heavy or rolly. Even in its sportiest setting, that air suspension did a superb job of soaking up bumps and feeling effortlessly comfortable.
Fortunately for us, our son slept for the first few hours of our trip, which made life a lot easier. Once he woke up, it was time to stop off for some grub and to stretch our legs. If I’m being honest, though, only he needed it, being a toddler and all. Both my wife and I were perfectly awake and alert without any signs of fatigue after about three hours of driving. The comfortable seats with their massage function and air-conditioning kept our backs and butts from getting sore and/or sweaty and the whisper-quiet cabin kept us from getting mentally exhausted. Driving the Q8 for the first few hours was a breeze.
After the rest stop, we hit an epic amount of traffic, which added over an hour to our trip. While the car was fine, as were we, an hour of stop and go traffic can make a toddler very cranky. So that part of the trip wasn’t great.
Once the traffic cleared, though, we were back on the open road and into the heart New York State. It really is a beautiful State that’s drastically underrated for its natural wonder. Rolling hills, mountainous backdrops, large elevation changes and twisty roads all made NY a joy to drive through. And the Audi Q8 ate it all up with enthusiasm. Sure, the big Q8 can feel a bit out of sorts on tighter, twisty roads but give it wide open sweepers at high speed and it comes to life. It’s more “Khalil Mack” than “Odell Beckham Jr.”; powerful and smooth, rather than quick and nimble.
Modern Car, Historic Town
Once in Cooperstown, NY, we soon realized the Audi Q8 was a bit out of place. It’s a very old, historic town and it feels it. Like all old, east cost towns, Cooperstown is tiny. Not just in size or population. The actual buildings, houses and streets are tiny. And as we mentioned earlier, the Audi Q8 is anything but tiny. So there were shops smaller than the Q8. This made navigating our massive Audi through the driveway of our inn a bit tricky, as well as finding locations to snap some photos.
It didn’t help that the Audi Q8 stuck out like a sore thumb, with its CIA-style color scheme. I felt more like an Agent of Shield than a tourist looking for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Also, the juxtaposition of the black-on-black-on-black, uber high-tech Audi Q8 in the parking lot of an inn that looked old enough to be from the American Revolution was quite hilarious.
Our stay in Cooperstown was nice but not as relaxing as we hoped it’d be. While there were some genuinely fascinating sections of the Hall of Fame; such as my wife’s personal favorite “Women in Baseball”; it was hard to enjoy it with a toddler who wasn’t having any of it. Though, my son did get to take a picture with a statue of a cow wearing a Yankees jersey and that made him happy.
On the Way Home
After our time in Cooperstown, eating many burgers (the choices of cuisine aren’t too vast) and enjoying a couple of local beers (responsibly, of course), it was time to leave. So we packed up our Q8 and headed out of Cooperstown. Compared to the old-world home of baseball, the Audi Q8 felt like the Millennium Falcon redesigned by Bentley. In other words, its luxury and tech were extremely welcome.
On our way out of Cooperstown, we stopped at the Ommegang brewery. I’ve always been a fan of their beer and they were supposed to be doing tours of the facility and the grounds, which we were very interesting in taking. I say ‘supposed to’ because when we got there, we were informed that they weren’t doing tours that day. Which was a shame because the grounds are spectacular. If it weren’t so far from my home, I’d go back often.
Still, we were able to do a small taste test of some of their newest beer and I was able to buy a bottle of their “King of the North” beer to drink with the final season of Game of Thrones.
After snagging a few photos of the Q8 at Ommegang’s awesome facility, we headed back home with another few hundred miles ahead of us. I wish I could say something interesting happened but I’d be lying. However, that’s not a negative. The Audi Q8 proved to be the most welcome of road trip companions, especially after being tired from the few days said trip. Turns out that bringing a toddler on a trip for the first time is more exhausting than we thought it would be and the Audi Q8 was able to melt away a lot of that stress and exhaustion.
Those few hundred miles were munched by Audi’s newest SUV with ease. When we finally returned home, the Q8 looked like it’d been through one hell of an adventure. It was filthy, covered in dead bugs and filled with half-eaten Goldfish Crackers with little tiny teeth marks in them. Yet, if never felt tired. It felt as solid and durable as it did when it arrived, almost as if it was asking “Is that it, that’s all you got?”. After a trip to our local Audi dealership for a courtesy car wash, the Q8 was looking spangly again and was back to being a stylish luxury cruiser, rather than a insect cemetery.
I’m a Believer
There’s a lot of cynicism surrounding the Audi Q8 for it being just a fashion statement and not actually a quality product. Hogwash. After several hundreds of miles and memories later, the Audi Q8 has made me into a believer. Yes, its styling is a bit outlandish, especially in our CIA Hitman-spec, but it’s so much more than that under the skin.
Its sumptuous luxury, life-easing technology and impressive practicality made it something we could lean on during our trip. But it’s not just on long journeys. The Audi Q8 makes everyday life effortless and its style makes it fun. It might not be as sporty as advertised and it might be a bit superfluous but it’s such a fantastic all-around companion that its flaws are forgivable.
During my week with the Q8, I made memories and had a blast. It’s not perfect and it doesn’t make a ton of sense on paper. But after actually living with it, I can honestly say that it’s an excellent car that injects a bit of style into the humdrum world of family SUVs and one of the finest road-trip companions there is.