Set off in the RSQ8’s more benign modes and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell this is Audi’s most aggressive and powerful SUV yet. The engine is near-silent, and even at low speeds the 23-inch wheel and tyre package gently glides over the admittedly smooth road surface at our launch location in Tenerife. Audi Sport has worked hard in adding a layer of sophistication to the low-speed ride quality in its recent models, and it’s no different in the RSQ8. The light steering, soft throttle response and general ease of use only exaggerate this feeling, but prod some buttons (virtual or physical) and the RSQ8’s trick of transforming itself from family cruiser into something more violent comes to the fore.
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The innocuous RS button on the steering wheel jumps through the RSQ8’s multiple driver modes to a BMW M-style ‘ideal’ combination of driver settings. Now, the RSQ8 drops its standard air springs, adds weight to the steering, sharpens up the throttle and opens the V8’s exhaust flaps. But the RSQ8 is such a hardware-heavy car that the changes continue, as the rear-wheel steering, active anti-roll bars and even the air conditioning all optimise for ‘speedy driving’, as the German engineers so comically put it.
The result? It does feel quantifiably more responsive and, for lack of a better word, ‘sporty’ than you might expect of a 2.3-ton SUV. Grip the satisfyingly firm and thin steering wheel and you drive the RSQ8 fully aware of its mass, carefully guiding it through a bend without wanting to get out of step with the road surface. The steering is completely dead, but then you’d expect as much when it’s directing 45kg worth of wheel and tyre (per corner!). You turn in, wait for weight to settle, then get onto the throttle and carefully feed it in knowing there’s 592bhp that will be chomping through the prop shafts ready to send the RSQ8’s nose straight ahead of you. And yet it just hooks up and goes.
Keep pushing harder into corners, start leaning on the 440mm (optional) carbon-ceramic brakes, turn in with more aggression, get greedy with the throttle; the RSQ8 just laps it all up. There are of course physical hardware elements like the rear-wheel steering and torque vectoring rear differential facilitating this, but you still never quite believe that a car of this size and weight is able to carry such speed through bends. Begin take liberties with the RSQ8 and it still doesn’t relent, goading you to sharpen your inputs to see what it’ll do. And? Well, nothing really. It still doesn’t complain, doesn’t exhibit the hateful chassis wobble that sometimes afflicts other overpowered SUVs, it barely even chirps a tyre as you purposely apply too much throttle coming out of a hairpin. It just lays all that power down on the road inch by inch. It's remarkable.
The issue is, I wouldn’t exactly call it fun. Bemusing, maybe. But enjoyable? No. The irony is that the RSQ8 is barely (or not at all) any more practical than the new RS6 Avant, which itself isn’t a lightweight considering it tops two tons, but feels every bit 300kg lighter and is genuinely entertaining. Compared to its SUV rivals, the RSQ8 is more capable than most, although the Porsche Cayenne Turbo still feels a little sharper, even if it lacks the Audi's firepower.