2021 Audi RS Q8: 3 Ways It’s Worthy of the Badge

audi-rs-q8-03-exterior-front-gray-headlight Audi RS Q8 | photo by Jennifer Geiger

As SUVs continue to take over the automotive landscape, automakers are going great lengths to differentiate themselves from the pack. Audi cranked the dial to 11 with the performance version of its Q8 SUV, called the RS Q8.

Related: 2020 Audi RS Q8 Specs: Big SUV, Big Performance, Big Price

The Q8 is the automaker’s first SUV to get the brand’s RS performance treatment, joining cars in the lineup such as the RS 3, RS 5, RS 6, RS 7 TT RS and R8. When Audi adds those letters, they translate to go-fast fun, at least in our experience. Here are three ways this performance newcomer is worthy of the RS badge.

1. Performance

audi-rs-q8-05-angle-exterior-gray-profile-rear 2021 Audi RS Q8 | photo by Jennifer Geiger

Being the first SUV to wear Audi’s RS designation in the U.S., the expectations are high for the RS Q8, and Audi has already broken records. The RS Q8 is currently among the fastest production SUVs ever to lap the Nurburgring racetrack — and it was the fastest when it debuted — with an official time of 7 minutes, 42.2 seconds. Power comes from a 591-horsepower, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that makes 590 pounds-feet of torque; it’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It joins the regular Q8’s 335-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 and 500-hp, twin-turbo V-8 for the SQ8 mid-performance model.

Our biggest complaint with the Q8 was its substantial accelerator lag, but like the SQ8, the RS Q8’s added power does much to resolve this issue despite 210 additional pounds of weight over the SQ8 (and 530 pounds over the Q8). A stab of the accelerator pedal summons instant, thrilling power from the RS Q8; Audi says it sprints from 0-60 mph in just 3.7 seconds. Quick-ratio steering and a standard air suspension help deliver nimble, sports-car-like road manners from what’s still a large, five-occupant SUV.

The Audi Drive Select system also helps, especially in Dynamic mode, which firms up steering, alters transmission timing for a more aggressive feel and dials up the exhaust note. As with other RS models, the RS Q8 also has two individually configurable RS-specific modes, RS1 and RS2, which can be activated directly via the “‘RS-Mode” button on the steering wheel.

Aside from the standard air suspension, a few other enhancements keep the driving experience on the civilized side. Active torque vectoring, which can shift power to the left or right rear wheel, works to enhance agility while cornering. Similarly, the standard active roll stabilization system can actively distribute roll torque between the front and rear axles for added stability. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes, included on our test car, furnish strong, smooth stopping power.

The RS Q8 sounds like a thirsty beast (literally, thanks to that throaty exhaust) but it’s tempered by a 48-volt mild-hybrid system and cylinder deactivation, which help the SUV earn a respectable EPA-estimated gas mileage of 13/19/15 mpg city/highway/combined. During my 170-mile drive, which was mostly highways, I averaged 19.1 mpg.

2. Style

audi-rs-q8-07-exterior-gray-rear-wheel 2021 Audi RS Q8 | photo by Jennifer Geiger

The SQ8 doesn’t stand out much from the regular model visually, but the RS Q8’s overall look is typically Audi, with low-key aggressiveness thanks to an RS-specific octagonal honeycomb grille, plus gloss-black front air inlets and matte-aluminum exterior trim.

My test car wore the optional Black Optic Package — lots of gloss-black and blacked-out trim — but there’s also an available Carbon Optic Package that adds carbon to the side mirrors, front spoiler and rear bumper.

The RS Q8 rides on standard 22-inch wheels or optional 23-inch wheels (our test car had 23s, included in the Black Optic Package) and sports a large functional roof-edge spoiler, which Audi says provides downforce on the rear axle for improved high-speed balance.

Inside, upscale extras include Alcantara simulated suede on the headliner and door panels, plus matte carbon-fiber trim, and sport seats with cushions stitched in the RS lattice pattern that matches the grille. Our test car also came with the Executive Package that includes a panoramic moonroof, as well as Audi’s latest Multi Media Interface system with standard wireless Apple CarPlay, which felt like strange compensation for the lack of center-console storage space and wireless Android Auto connectivity.

3. Price

audi-rs-q8-02-exterior-front-gray 2021 Audi RS Q8 | photo by Jennifer Geiger

This category doesn’t really determine worthiness from a shopper’s perspective. But in Audi’s view, at least, the RS Q8’s price tag fits. Our test car rang in at $137,990 (all prices include the destination charge) with packages and options, and the 2021 RS Q8 starts at $115,595 to sit at the top end of the RS lineup ($110,045 for the RS 6 Avant and $115,045 for the Audi RS 7). It’s considerably more than both the regular Q8 at $69,295 and the SQ8 at $90,195. Though the RS Q8 is no bargain, it offers plenty of performance and exclusivity, which helps it stand out from the ever-expanding class of everyday-looking — and everyday-driving — SUVs.

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Photo of Jennifer Geiger
News Editor Jennifer Geiger joined the automotive industry in 2003, much to the delight of her Corvette-obsessed dad. Jennifer is an expert reviewer, certified car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats — many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer Geiger

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