2020 Audi RS Q8: Green Hell’s Fastest SUV
Nürburgring Nordschleife, Germany—Somewhere between the famous Pflanzgarten and Schwalbenschwanz bends, the new Audi RS Q8 goes up in the air as Frank Stippler jumps the rumble strip at the apex of a left turn sitting on a ridge.
Strapped to the passenger seat next to him, I’m extremely impressed with Frank’s skills (he won the past edition of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring with an R8 LMS) as well as the composure displayed by Audi’s new high-performance SUV on the legendary north loop nicknamed “Green Hell.”
I will never forget this day. Riding shotgun and going full speed in a vehicle driven by a winning race car driver on a world-class track that features 73 bends over a distance of 20.8 kilometres is an absolutely fabulous experience. I was lucky enough to be part of the small group of journalists invited by Audi Sport to discover the RS Q8 (in pre-production form) and the development process of every car and SUV wearing the RS badge.
These machines go through several durability tests on the most technical and demanding track on earth, the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The RS Q8, in particular, has covered more than 18,000 kilometres so far with test drivers like Frank Stippler pushing it to the very limit.
The vehicle totally meets the specifications of the production model. The only modifications are a roll cage, competition buckets and a pair of five-point harnesses. To make up for the extra weight, our RS Q8 was devoid of a panoramic sunroof and rear seats, so it tipped the scales at a little over 2,000 kilograms exactly like the road-going version.
Even the Pirelli P Zero tires wrapped around the available 23-inch wheels were identical to the production model’s. Audi Sport did not choose Corsa or Trofeo tires just to put on a show on the track, because these would be useless on the road under the rain. This rational way of thinking is typically German.
A Record Lap on the Nordschleife
And yet, with Frank Stippler behind the wheel, the new Audi RS Q8 completed a lap in 7:42.253 minutes, making it the fastest SUV on the mythical Nordschleife. If you do the math, its average speed was 162.238 km/h.
The previous record of 7:49.369 was set by the Mercedes-Benz GLC 63 S, while the Lamborghini Urus achieved an unofficial time of 7:47 minutes. Setting a new mark was not the main goal of Audi Sport, but it validates the colossal efforts made by the entire team.
The quattro all-wheel drive system it’s mated to is specifically calibrated for RS models. Other standard performance features include an eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel steering and air suspension. In my case, the optional sport rear differential and the active sway bars were fitted, as well.
The RS Q8 owes a lot of its record-breaking speed to advancements in electronics. For example, the torque-vectoring differential can shift the 590 pound-feet from one side to the other almost instantaneously when attacking the Wehrseifen turn.
In the famed Caracciola-Karussell corner, the RS Q8 achieves 1.6 G of lateral acceleration as the suspension and gearbox are seriously put to the test by the uneven pavement.
After flying at more than 300 km/h on the two-kilometre long straightaway following the Döttinger Höhe turn, a slight bend in the track caused the inside wheel to slip for a fraction of a second before it regained control. All of that was recorded by the on-board telematics system and will be used by engineers to fine-tune the RS Q8 and improve performance.
Watching Frank Stippler negotiate the sometimes dry, sometimes wet portions of the track with such a heavy vehicle was quite entertaining.
Also, the Nordschleife boasts an elevation gain/loss of more than 300 metres per lap. The lowest point is the Bergwerk turn where Niki Lauda suffered a terrible crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix, while the highest point is the Hohe Acht turn where dense fog is regularly present.
Fortunately, Frank has an intimate knowledge of every single turn and I made lots of mental notes while listening to his comments about the track and the RS Q8.
Because someday it will be my turn to drive this super Audi SUV and tackle the Green Hell…