SEA RANCH, Calif. – Take a deep breath. Thumb the electronic shifter toggle into Park. Get comfy. Enjoy everything else about the 2024 Audi Q8 E-Tron besides driving it.
The road ahead may be spectacular, but it’s also under construction. Automated red lights meter traffic at various one-way portions, which means you’re inevitably stuck waiting around for extended periods of time. And worse than that, once underway, there will still be traffic ahead. Actually, “traffic” is too kind. There will be a succession of leisurely moving leisure vehicles, which in my case at various points was a Ram ProMaster RV by coachbuilder Entegra that might have topped 25 at one point, a 2003 Silverado HD with a bed-mounted camper towing an Airstream, and whatever the hell this was.
Such a pace is basically what you can expect your driving experience to entail while traversing the California 1 north of San Francisco. Its spectacular scenery rightfully draws a crowd, which means you’re stuck in that crowd. Learn to accept that, and you’ll have a much better time. Be behind the wheel of the Q8 E-Tron and you just might have the makings of one of the most pleasurable and memorable drives in recent memory – I know I did.
Q8 E-Tron would be the new name for the electric SUV formerly known as just E-Tron (you can dive deeper into the changes in our Q8 E-Tron and SQ8 E-Tron First Drive Review). Audi says this was to emphasize this particular vehicle’s status as a range-topping blah blah blah, but come on, it’s to make it a lot easier to differentiate it with the E-Tron GT, Q4 E-Tron and whatever other E-Trons are coming down the pipe in Audi’s electrified future. That said, it is, in fact, a mid-cycle refresh of the previous E-Tron, and not a new electric version of the Audi Q8. The two Q8s are different vehicles, albeit with similar footprints and feature content.
For the purposes of a road trip like this one up the coast and back from Healdsburg in Sonoma wine country, the Q8 E-Tron is now good for 285 miles with its SUV body style, and 296 for its “Coupe” body style that to date has represented only about 10-15% of sales. That’s a substantial improvement over the outgoing SUV’s 226 miles thanks to a new, more efficiently designed battery pack good for 114 kilowatt-hours versus 95 kWh. It also charges quicker: a still so-so 170-kW max versus 150 at public fast chargers. AC home charging is either an equally so-so 9.6 kW or, with the optional second charger, a nutty 19.2 kW that should futureproof your car for whatever advanced home chargers are introduced (my state-of-the-art Wallbox Pulsar tops out at the same 11.5 kW as many of today’s other EVs). All told, I would return after a day of driving – mostly leisurely, but some bits more vigorous – with 61 miles left. Good thing it got those 59 extra miles, eh?
Besides the upgraded battery, those extra miles also result from the redesigned exterior’s aerodynamic improvements that reduce drag by 6%. They also improve cabin noise, which Audi says is as quiet or quieter than the A8. Or, if you prefer, my iPhone’s decibel meter app registered an average of 44 dB during a two-minute steady cruise at 60 mph. That’s basically the same volume as an RS Q8 … parked.
With that in mind and the Bundeswehr troop transport still waiting for the light to turn green, it was time to make sample of the Q8 E-Tron’s Bang & Olufsen sound system. Because, wow, is it ever good. The combination of silent car, soft-touch interior surfaces and whatever speaker magic B&O cooked up results in the closest thing you can get to a rolling recording studio. I heard things for the first time in tracks I’ve listened to countless times: birds chirping in Daisy the Great’s “Record Player” and water babbling at the end of Lord Huron’s “The Night We Met.” I could hear individual Dua Lipa’s singing with Elton John on their quasi-duet of “Cold Heart,’ and a lot more of Alanis singing backup for Dave Matthews on “Spoon.” I could swear the tambourine in the Beatles’ “Day in the Life” was literally in the car banging away against the dead pedal.
As Bang and his friend Olufsen provided the soundtrack, California provided the visuals as I mercifully managed to shake RVs on occasion in favor of a minivan or Tahoe. Up here, California 1 hugs the coast atop gently rolling headlands still amply green after the winter’s many atmospheric rivers. Glimpses of sandy white cliffs and the beaches below appear at points as the coast turns, while the ocean below has a surprisingly almost Caribbean-like turquoise hue (yes, we drove the white Q8 below but the photos were taken of a blue one). Though the pace remains leisurely, the constant corners provide just enough driver involvement as I glide the smooth, consistently weighted steering back and forth. All told, it truly was a joyful morning of driving and a feast for the senses: sound, sight and feel. And sure, the Q8 E-Tron smells pretty nice, too.
The lunch stop is The Sea Ranch Lodge, or rather the ocean-view restaurant adjacent to the soon-to-be-reopened hotel nestled on the headlands overlooking the Pacific. Every interior inch of its 1970s modern architecture is lined in wood – if it wasn’t for the California coast out the windows, I’d swear I was in Sweden.
Scrumptious grilled cheese consumed, I climb back into the Q8 E-Tron and start running through the Apple CarPlay music app for my next selection when it suddenly dawns on me that no cars have passed by the driveway in quite some time. There must be a hold-up. CarPlay abandoned, I tap the shifter-toggle thingy into Drive and pull up to the driveway to see a phalanx of three more campers leading a downtrodden regiment of cars uphill: a fancy off-roading Sprinter, a Tundra with a canoe on the roof towing a 15-foot camper and, in the lead, that damn Entegra again. They really should’ve bought the Type S.
This was my chance. Sure, an electric bicycle could outrun this parade, but I gun it. Foot to floor, the Q8 E-Tron does not possess that snap we’ve come to expect from high-powered EVs. Yes, it has 408 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque, but it’s also expected to launch about 6,000 pounds of rolling recording studio, I mean, Audi midsize SUV. Interestingly, power actually seems to progressively build as, well, not as revs rise but that is kind of what it feels like. The faster you’re going, the quicker the E-Tron is to pile on even more speed. It’s all accompanied with an electronic whine, which gets a bit rumblier in Dynamic mode, that sounds appropriate for the car and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself.
Though the road ahead is now clear, I maintain a subdued pace until the route veers inland and the road gets even twistier. Time to see how Audi’s engineers managed to address the outgoing non-Q8 E-Tron’s biggest shortcoming: it was a flabby, bounding mess that made you aware of every one of the those 6,000-ish pounds. The steering is quicker, and 50% stiffer front control arm bushings were added for better response, especially on-center. It’s still a bit too loosey-goosey on center in Auto or Comfort mode, but in Dynamic, its added on-center heft is more confidence-inspiring. The extra weighting upon turn-in is less appreciated, though, as it numbs some of the response and feels a tad unnatural.
The suspension retains air springs at each corner, but they, along with the stability control system were re-tuned to improve body composure while handling, and it absolutely succeeded. You still feel its heft, but there’s a poise and athleticism here that was missing before. The Q8 E-Tron glided through a lengthy series of tighter corners along a winding river woodland, back and forth, up and down, smoothly maintaining pace and composure despite speeds of 60 to 65 mph. No tire squeal, no anxious stability control interactions and definitely no bounding about. Turns out the Q8 E-Tron now has some GT chops.
Reaching the 101 South, I charge the Q8 E-Tron onto the two-lane divided highway only to discover in the right lane an Infiniti G37 trope: slammed, carbon-look hood, fart can exhaust, windows down, face in phone. The vape must’ve been out of batteries. I try to hang back, but he too slows down, subliminal tractor beam engaged. Great. I can either have my serene rolling recording studio sullied by the fart can for 40 minutes, or I can … Yeah, buh-bye. Q8 E-Tron autobahn credentials thereby confirmed.
With its greater range and improved driving manners, the Q8 E-Tron is quite simply a phenomenal day tripper. If I was going on a lengthier journey up the coast to Fort Bragg or Redwood National Park, I’d definitely run into charging issues, but those types of journeys are the exception, not the rule. Besides, it’s a safe bet that anyone who can afford this $92,390 Q8 E-Tron also has room in the budget and garage for a non-EV. Or just fly. Either way, there’s a very good chance the journey won’t be as enjoyable – even when sitting still.