THE Audi Q8 raises the game for the company as the new flagship in its sporty SUV range and it's also a real challenger to rivals from Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Maserati, as well as Bentley.
The new five-seat Q8 has a coupe styled five-door body using quattro drive and 48 volt mild-hybrid 286ps 3.0TDI diesel and eight-speed Tiptronic automatic. Other powertrains will follow.
The S line model opening the range costs from Â£65,040 while for Â£18,000 more you can buy the Vorsprung version. Both are built in Audi's Bratislava plant in Slovakia.
Standard equipment on the S line launch model includes 21-inch wheels, adaptive air-sport suspension, drive select modes and assistance systems, advanced LED beams, privacy glass, powered tailgate, with highly sophisticated touch-screen satnav and infotainment with virtual cockpit.
The Vorsprung top model gains 22-inch wheels, all-wheel steering, all-round crash mitigation systems, a very large sunroof and trim enhancements, powered door closing, full heated seating, extended leather trim and even a low-level autonomous driving system to maximise economy.
Owners can select Tour, City Assist and Trailer Packs to personalise their model.
The new Q8 is shorter but wider than the sister Q7 model but it has a nominal 605 litres rising to 1,755 litres of luggage space and with its extensive use of aluminium weighs 2,145kgs.
The highly sophisticated 3.0TDI V6 engine is entitled Q8 50 in Audi language and with the mild-hybrid battery pack creates 286ps with 600Nm of torque, giving a 0-62mph time of 6.3secs and maximum 152mph.
A Q8 45 TDI 231ps V6 version will come next year alongside a Q8 55 TFSI with 340ps 3.0 V6 petrol engine.
The familiar Audi quattro powertrain delivers a normal 40:60 displacement but it changes as detected by sensors or the driver's actions, and the highly sophisticated recharging system ensures the battery is never exhausted but utilises the best conditions to cut diesel emissions in urban areas and run on electric power only at times, particularly cruising on motorways.
Audi Q8 product manager Martin Baker said the arrival of the new model builds on the success of the stable-mate Q7 which went to 6,366 UK drivers last year.
"We believe most of the Q8 sales will come from conquest business and other brands which do not show such strong residual values as Audi has done in this premium sector," he said.
"There is still a good market for diesel in the high mileage sector and where torque is needed for towing horseboxes or trailers of some sort," he added.
Lengthening the wheelbase while shortening overall size from the stablemate Q7 has resulted in a larger passenger compartment, particularly for the three rear-seat passengers and there's still plenty of luggage space.
Inside there is the familiar eye-catching quality of trim and fit and all the major controls readily fall to hand and foot while the very latest touch screen and split-screen technology presents itself.
Our S line 286ps hybrid diesel packed a punch and delivered it smoothly over a wide power range with imperceptible changes through the eight-speed transmission. There are seven drive-mode settings to optimise performance for conditions and they instantly change when the driver selects a setting.
The quiet and smooth powertrain only made itself heard under hard acceleration but there was constant muted road noise despite the fitting of double-glazed windows on the test car, which will be options in due course.
Our route took in a number of narrow country lanes and village streets and this brought home the fact the Q8 is a smidgen over seven feet wide so needs care when passing or parking.
Its sensors and cameras, some of which are expensive options, really cover the blindspots but without them you need to be particularly vigilant. Having said that, it's more maneuverable than the bigger Q7.
Some of that added handling improvement comes from four-wheel-steering, optional on S line and standard on Vorsprung versions, which cuts the turning circle by a metre while sharpening steering response through fast bends.
Overall we managed to achieve 33mpg, some way off the WLTP indicated 41.5mpg, but fairly representative of mixed roads and traffic. Emissions are rated at 178g/km.
The Audi Q8 packs in the sophistication of the brand and delivers a very agile SUV for those who don't need the seven seat capacity of the larger Q7.