Audi Q8 concept: The shape of things to come

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

From also-ran to mainstream player, Audi has become a serious contender in both the U.S. and global luxury car markets, and the automaker can thank a flood of new products for broadening its appeal.

Since 2013 alone, the Audi of America line-up has grown from eight to 13 models. And it’s about to get bigger, in multiple ways, with the launch of the all-new Q8, a full-size flagship utility vehicle.

A concept version of the Q8 made its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday morning, and it reveals the new styling direction the luxury arm of Volkswagen AG is taking. The vehicle also shows some of the new technologies Audi will bring to market in the next few years.

The Q8 will be “even more luxurious than any Audi before,” proclaimed Dietmar Voggenreiter, Audi's global sales director.

The Bombay Blue Q8 Concept marks a breakout for new Audi chief designer Marc Lichte. He took over the Audi design department in February 2014, immediately winning praise as a stabilizing force in an operation that had been suffering from internal problems for a number of years. The then-47-year-old former VW brand stylist nonetheless faced the challenge of updating the design language of a brand already seen as a styling leader.

A rearview of the Audi Q8 concept.

Lichte gave the first hint of what’s coming later that year with the L.A. Auto Show launch of the Prologue concept sedan. And the new Audi Q8 concept will serve as the latest indication of the evolving theme.

Like other Lichte show cars, the full-size Q8 Concept adopts what Audi describes as an “organically integrated” version of its familiar Singleframe grille. It’s both lower and, Audi points out, “considerably wider” than what’s featured on current models. The grille, meanwhile, is framed by a pair of slit-like LED headlamps.

The overall appearance is lower, wider and more muscular, a look that is expected to carry over to all future Audi models, as well as the production version of the Q8 concept, which Voggenreiter said “will be launched next year,” likely as a 2018 model.

Inside, Lichte’s team also tweaked the familiar Audi design language. Like the flagship A8 sedan the new utility vehicle complements, the Q8 gets a rich mix of wood, leather, chrome and other high-line materials. But there’s an emphasis on technologies – both those you can see and those you might only notice while driving in heavy traffic.

The Audi Q8.

These include a new Head-Up Display, or HUD, a new touch-based infotainment system. Audi is moving away from the buttons, dials and other controls that some complain clutter its cabin and make it difficult to operate its increasingly high-tech vehicles.

One of the goals of the Q8 concept – and the production model to follow – is to offer owners “the 25th hour, time given back to our customers through driver-assistance systems and connected car technologies,” said Voggenreiter,

The Q8 will open up a new segment for Audi, company officials believe. And it could come at a critical time. Sales of traditional flagship sedans have been waning over the last several years, with vehicles like the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS collectively accounting for barely 80,000 vehicles annually, according to industry data.

At the same time, demand for high-line utility vehicles has been booming. Audi sold over 100,000 of its current top-line ute, the Q7, last year, a figure that has been growing rapidly. The German maker is hoping that the Q8 will boost upper-end demand even further.

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