Audi Q8 e-tron first drive: Notable improvements where it truly counts – in the battery and motor

Last November, Audi announced a rebranding of its flagship e-tron model to the Q8 e-tron, establishing it as its top-of-the-line EV model and solidifying its place in the c-segment without any more confusion. I recently got the opportunity to explore the added performance of both the Audi Q8 e-tron quattro and Sportback through the Redwoods and along the coast of Sonoma County in California. Here are my thoughts.

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Isn’t the Q8 just the original Audi e-tron?

Yes. Yes, it is. But this isn’t a simple rebranding. The total changes compared to last year’s model are not exponential, but any upgrades that have been made by Audi are beneficial to consumers from a performance standpoint. We’ll dig into that in a minute, but first, let’s establish how we got here.

Audi’s e-tron lineup of all-electric vehicles began in 2018 with the flagship vehicle by the same name. We have since seen four additional models, including e-tron GT and Q4 e-tron, in addition to several interesting e-tron concepts.

I’ll be the first to admit that Audi’s e-tron model nomenclature still sometimes confuses me on paper, but these EVs are much easier to differentiate when you see them side by side. This past November, Audi added a bit of clarity to its lineup by rebranding the original e-tron SUV and Sportback as the Q8 e-tron.

The Audi team told us the reasoning behind the naming decision was to align with an existing model name that represents the brand’s utmost quality – and to segue that reputation into an all-electric era.

I’ve been following the progress of the 2024 model year Audi Q8 e-tron as we’ve learned US pricing and availability, but it wasn’t until last week that I finally got my chance to get behind the wheel.

Updates beyond (and beneath) the aesthetic

If you’ve been in last year’s e-tron or Sportback e-tron, you’d get inside these new models and wonder how much has changed. Truthfully, not that much… at least at first glance. What Audi has done here is deliver some serious innovation and optimization where it matters… underneath all that shiny stuff on top.

Audi has successfully improved its battery and motor design within both the Q8 e-tron SUV and Sportback. The engineers overseas utilized every inch of the EV’s battery modules by stacking each’s prismatic cells rather than winding them. The result is a battery pack that delivers nearly 20 kWh more gross capacity (114 kWh vs. 95 kWh on the 2023 version) – all in the same footprint.

Drivers of the 2024 Q8 e-tron models will be able to take advantage of 30% more range compared to previous models, eclipsing 300 miles on a single charge in the Q8 Sportback S-Line e-tron (w/ ultra package). Here’s a quick side-by-side comparison to truly grasp how much more efficiency Audi is delivering within the same footprint:

As you can see, despite adding more battery density, the new 2024 Q8 e-tron models weigh nearly the same as their predecessors while delivering range improvements. In speaking with Audi senior manager of product planning, Anthony Garbis, I learned that the automaker reduced the amount of Cobalt in its battery chemistry. Combined with some swapping of components for lighter materials, Audi delivered a more powerful EV without adding unnecessary weight.

The revamped battery chemistry also contributes to better charge curves (Audi says it will hold 100 kW at 80% before winding down) and will enable the new Q8 e-tron models to reach higher charging rates (170 kW vs. 150 kWh previously), thus reducing charge times to 31 minutes to replenish from 10-80%.

But enough about specs, let’s talk about my experience driving two variations of the new Q8 e-tron.

Changes to the interior and exterior, plus US pricing

As I reported last fall, the dawn of the new age of the Q8 e-tron includes some new badge styles that will set the tone for the luxury brand’s future as it continues to go all-electric.

The first thing you’ll notice in the images above is the new 2D rings logo on a redesigned single-frame front grill, featuring more efficient apertures that help deliver an air curtain around the EV. This increase in the air curtain significantly contributes to the lower drag coefficients detailed above.

I also snapped some images of Audi’s new laser-etched model badge on each e-tron’s B-pillar. Going forward, if you’re ever confused about what model you’re looking at, just check the door!

Inside, the Q8 e-tron should be very familiar to previous drivers. The layout and design are mostly the same, although Audi has integrated sustainable materials more. For example, the greyish inlet on the dash (see below) is made from recycled PET bottles. I love to see stuff like this, but it needs to happen more!

Real quick, let’s get pricing out of the way so you know what you’re dealing with as a consumer:

Wonderful. Onto the drive.

Driving the Audi Q8 e-tron quattro and Sportback e-tron

My drive consisted of a couple of hours along the coast in a white Audi Q8 Sportback S-Line e-tron (yes, it’s as tough to type as it is to say), followed by a lovely afternoon drive through the Redwoods in a Plasma Blue Metallic Q8 e-tron quattro (SUV).

I’ve driven plenty of electric SUVs and crossovers, some through the same coastal roads I experienced last week, but this ride felt different in a lot of ways. When I turned out of the hotel, I naturally gunned it to see what the Sportback e-tron could do. Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by its giddy-up, but I could immediately tell this was a pretty heavy vehicle.

Although its 0-60 time is nothing to drool over, the acceleration grew on me because of the overall ride. It is so smooth and quiet that you don’t even notice the acceleration. I found myself suddenly going 25-30 mph over the speed limit (nobody likes a snitch) without a single hair on my neck standing up – it just felt natural.

Since some of our route went through spotty cell areas, we used Audi’s UX navigation for the route rather than Apple CarPlay. That being said, I connected to CarPlay wirelessly and only had one issue – whenever I got a text, the center screen would switch over to CarPlay, and I’d have to tap back to Audi navigation. Kind of annoying, but I had my next two turns on display in front of me thanks to the HUD, which was top-notch, in my opinion.

The haptic touch took me a while to get used on the center screen as, at first, I wasn’t tapping hard enough for it to register. Once I got the hang of it, I still saw some delays between the tap, the haptic buzz, and the actual action taking place. This was by no means a deal breaker, but the software could be optimized a bit for responsiveness.

The menu was easy to navigate, though I found the tap-through process for certain menus a bit too labyrinthine, especially while driving. I would have liked the drive mode menu to be a bit easier to access as I shifted through the modes often to get the full experience. In the Q8 e-tron Sportback, I felt the most at home in Auto Mode.

When I tried to whip around my first curve along the coast, I had to steel myself for a second because I came in a little hot for such a heavy EV. The Q8 e-tron is a sturdy gal, let me tell you. “Comfort and luxury” is the name of the game here, not track records.

When I got into the Q8 e-tron SUV on the second half of the day, however, I was more comfortable with the feel of the Audi and spent most of my 2+ hour trip back to base in the sporty Dynamic Mode. I had an absolute blast in this vehicle, whisking through the beautiful forest and around mountainsides – when I wasn’t stuck behind a giant motorhome, that is.

It was here that I felt Audi’s quicker 14.6:1 steering ratio and stiffer front control arm bushings. Or maybe I’m just saying that to sound cool, and actually simply felt like a professional driver for an Audi e-tron commercial, accelerating through turns and passing lame gas pickups on any available straightaway.

Either way, I was in my element, and I was smiling.

Electrek’s take

While this is a new e-tron from a model name standpoint, it is by no means a complete revamp of last year’s version. That being said, there’s much to be excited about if you’re an Audi e-tron fan and you’re in the market for a new ride.

The most important change to note, in my opinion, is the upgrade to the battery technology. Delivering significantly higher energy density in the same dimensions, while offering consumers more range and better charging is a win for Audi’s assembly lines and its customers.

Although it’s only in the Q8 Sportback S-Line e-tron with the ultra package, being able to advertise 300 miles of range is huge, especially when you consider last year’s model topped out 75 miles shorter than that.

I’d argue that the average consumer will still want to see an even higher range to truly be enticed at the Q8 e-tron price point, but there are plenty of other perks to sway the purchase. All in all, anyone who is a fan of Audi, especially the original Q8 is going to enjoy these updated vehicles.

If you’re already driving an e-tron, you might not see enough different about it to upgrade just yet, unless you’re looking for more range. Either way, the Q8 e-trons are further evidence that Audi is serious about EVs as its future and is continuing to innovate in order to try and give its customers the very best.

I’m looking forward to seeing (and driving) what it comes up with next.