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First Drive

Audi Q8 e-tron Edition Dakar review: off-road EV driven… off-road

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Published: 03 Jan 2024
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Wait, what has happened here?

Audi has finally decided to take advantage of its recent involvement in the Dakar Rally with a special edition road car. Sadly, it isn’t a road-going version of its bonkers RS Q e-tron racer but is in fact a Q8 e-tron SUV with some choice off-road mods. Still, when we heard that Audi was working on this project, we expected a set of stickers and perhaps a special edition plaque.

There are stickers though, right?

Well of course there are – it wouldn’t be a special edition without them. The shadowy sticker package you see here is actually a wrap and strangely can only be combined with black paint underneath. It’s supposed to give the Q8 e-tron a bit more of a link to Audi’s range extender desert racer, and just 99 Edition Dakar’s with the wrap will be built.

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Want to know more about the specifics of the special edition? Click these blue words for the full story.

Incidentally, we have the special wrap on the car that we’re driving out in southern Oman, but this is a prototype and won’t make up one of the 99. Probably a good thing after what we put it through.  

Remind me of the Q8 e-tron’s numbers…

Well, the ‘Edition Dakar’ is based on a Q8 55 e-tron quattro, which means you get two electric motors sending 402bhp and 490lb ft of torque to all four wheels. You also get a 106kWh battery and Audi claims 280 miles of range even with the chunky General Grabber AT3 all-terrain tyres and the roof rack.

Oh, and on the subject of roof racks, has anyone else noticed that this is exactly the same one that you get on a Porsche 911 Dakar? Audi has scratched off the Porsche badges though and will throw in a branded bag and straps to help you stick 40kg of accessories up there. 

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Audi Q8 e-tron Edition Dakar review Top Gear

And what are the off-roady stats for this edition Dakar?

The new tyres and a bump to the air suspension mean that this Edition Dakar has 65mm more ground clearance than the Q8 e-tron that it’s based on. Audi reckons that gives you approach and departure angles of 21 and 28 degrees respectively, plus a breakover angle of 19 degrees. For reference, those same figures for a Land Rover Defender 110 are 38, 40 and 28 degrees respectively.

So yeah, Audi hasn’t somehow transformed its big electric SUV into a full-on mudplugger, but in fairness it does only claim to have built something “to tackle light off-road terrain” and for “better handling on loose surfaces such as gravel or snow”.

It’s not just the tyres that are new either: the control strategy for the air suspension has been adapted for off-roading, and the track is 57mm wider with wider arches on top painted in black.

So, you’ve actually driven it off-road?

We have! We drove the Q8 e-tron Edition Dakar over some surprisingly rough desert terrain and it coped with everything we could throw at it. Heck, it was even a whole lot of fun in parts. This may be a big 2.5-tonne SUV, but its off-road mode slackens off the ESC and allows you to get properly sideways on loose terrain. Helps that there’s over 400bhp to make you feel like a proper rally driver too.

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Anything else I need to know?

Important point – off-roading with the fancy optional cameras for mirrors is not a great idea. At one point while descending a narrow gully, the expensive cameras came dangerously close to some immovable objects. They would have come off worse.

Should I buy one then? 

The small changes made to transform a standard Q8 e-tron into the Edition Dakar do allow it to be mightily impressive (and surprisingly fun) off-road. Unfortunately, most will be bought to park up slightly taller kerbs and will likely wear their second set of 20-inch wheels clad in summer tyres for the majority of the time.

And because that’s the case, we’re a little disappointed that Audi didn’t go a bit more out-there with the styling. Despite being a Dakar special it lacks character. It needs spotlights, proper underbody protection and some zany colour options.

Audi says it’ll start by building 1,000 examples of the Edition Dakar, and each one will cost €120,000 without the wrap. Ouch. And if you’re desperate for the graphics, they’ll set you back another €10,000. You’d get a whole lot of Land Rover Defender for that money…

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