Silence, sweat, solitude: The Audi Q8 e-tron Efficiency League

Silence, sweat, solitude: The Audi Q8 e-tron Efficiency League
PHOTO: sgCarMart

I'm not sure if I'm seeing things right initially when the silhouette of a Toyota Hiace appears to be growing bigger right before my eyes, sometime around 11:40pm.

But it turns out to be true — I am indeed in the faster moving vehicle — a position I've rarely found myself in over the past two days. Right signal on with the gentlest prod of the accelerator; then left signal on, and back onto Lane 3 again. That's the first car I've overtaken all night.

Not every luxury carmaker sees the need to position their cars as efficient fuel/power-sippers, but among Germany's Holy Trinity, Audi has always seemed to have had a penchant for doing exactly that: Highlighting its models abilities to go the distance with the right sort of driver behind the wheel. "Increased efficiency and range, sharpened design", went the official title of its press release when it quietly unleashed the Q8 e-tron SUV at the close of 2022.

We've spoken at length about how the Q8 e-tron SUV isn't technically a brand new car despite the new nomenclature, but the updates to the vehicle are also not to be understated. In fact, that title captures the essence of what one needs to know about what's new — extra range — and that's exactly what we've set out to push the boundaries of in the Q8 e-tron Efficiency League.

Both powertrain variants are officially in Singapore now — the Q8 e-tron 55 with the larger battery and more power, as well as the lower-powered, shorter-range Q8 e-tron 50. There are also the SUV and more aerodynamic Sportback body styles for both the 55 and 50, meaning you technically have four specific variants to choose from at the moment.

Beginning in Round 1, 12 participants are split equally into four groups, with each group assigned to one of the four variants Singapore is getting. The three participants then take turns to drive the car for at least 100km.

It's an instant elimination format, spread out across three rounds — think of how things work from the quarter-finals onwards in the FIFA World Cup. In our specific League, the one clocking the lowest energy consumption figure moves on to the next round.

None of the Q8 e-tron bodies (SUV or Sportback) has suddenly grown — so it's not that Audi has tapped on extra space to shove in batteries that are literally larger in size to increase their capacities.

  Audi e-tron 50 SUV Audi e-tron 55 SUV Audi Q8 e-tron 50 SUV (new) Audi Q8 e-tron 55 SUV (new)
Battery capacity (Gross) 71kWh 95kWh 95kWh 114kWh
Rated efficiency 22.6kWh/100km 23.2kWh/100km 19kWh/100km 19.5kWh/100km
Rated range (WLTP) Up to 336km Up to 436km Up to 491km Up to 582km

(Specifications for Q8 e-tron SUV shown — we drove the SUV variant throughout the challenge) 

Rather, extra potential energy is now on offer thanks to some tinkering around by Ingolstadt's engineering departments — involving new cell technology and reworked cell chemistry, a new battery management system, and battery cells that are prism-shaped in place of the original pouch cells.

Increased capacity isn't all there is to the picture, though; regardless of whether one chooses the SUV or Sportback (Audi-speak for a coupe-SUV) body style, slight tweaks to the cars' sheet metals now allow them to slip through the air a tad easier than before.

The actual drive: Round 1

The skies have just started to open and dump water down on us as we collect the keys first to the Q8 e-tron 50 SUV sometime in the late morning.

19kWh/100km, the figure the car has managed to obtain in official testing (in other words, under the most ideal conditions) sounds like the logical bar to meet here. But the competition isn't the manufacturer itself. Rather, it's our fellow group mates — also eager to progress to the next round — that we have to be mindful of. 19kWh/100km isn't the goal; it's barely the minimum.

The modified inputs begin from the get-go. Beyond just 'Efficiency' mode, which limits the ferocity with which you can floor the accelerator, the Q8 e-trons have an additional function meant to squeeze out every last possible kilometre possible from the battery cells, called 'Range Mode'.

This apparently limits your speed to 90km/h (frankly a non-issue for this challenge), while also weakening other functions such as air-conditioning to ensure that they don't drain precious energy from your car.

In the real world, one suspects this is the sort of safety measure Audi has fastidiously taken care to put in place for its more disorganised drivers — those who haven't factored a charging stop into their day and suddenly find further than they'd be comfortable with from a charging point. In this test, it's an easy switch to flip to push our Q8 e-tron SUV to its limit.

Initially, there is still some effort to simulate some driving in the real world. The rules don't dictate that you need to drive the car immediately upon collection; you simply need to clock 100km in total before returning it. Whereas a few other participants wait it out till almost midnight to start getting their miles in, we hit the road immediately.

Over one-and-a-half days, the first 50km of driving is perhaps best summarised as "Normal commuting; less-normal driving inputs".

There is no extraordinary road hogging — at least not to roadsweeper-like degrees. We keep to about 50km/h on normal roads, then not beyond 70km/h on the expressway, even as the air-conditioning remains resolutely shut off. Just as importantly, the routes don't deviate from the usual home-to-workplace, workplace-to-home bookends.

That in itself, actually works. By the time we reach the office on the morning of Day 2, the consumption figure has gone through its fair bit of yoyo-ing (the Q8 e-tron SUV unsurprisingly enjoys climbing multi-storey carparks less than it does cruising on the CTE at night; morning peak hour traffic also does it no favours). Still, we've already managed to push the number down to 18.6kWh/100km.

The next 50km, however — which we tackle all at once right before returning the car — kicks off an hour-long spate of hypermiling mania. We don't even start driving until 11.15pm, but beyond just escaping the heat, we're also attempting to escape traffic.

Again, the journey made at night doesn't go above a general speed of 70km/h, but there is extra effort to ensure that the car comes as close as possible to constantly coasting. On this note, the instant, intuitive legibility of the Q8 e-tron SUV's digital dash is also highly helpful to the hypermiling driver as he plays a game of keeping the needle in the middle — or even better, watches the bar fill up to the left in green, indicating that the regenerative braking system is recuperating some energy.

As the streetlamps slowly fall out of frame on the ECP, "60.1km" slowly creeps to "94.2km" on the Q8 e-tron's virtual cockpit. By the end of the night, we've reached out best figure yet — and one that we can scarcely believe.

The takeaway?

We'll cut straight to the end, and put the admission out there immediately: We didn't make it to the finals. 

Our 17.1kWh/100km figure of Round 1 was, however, strong enough to push us into the semi-finals, where we drove the heavier Q8 e-tron 55 SUV. Its larger battery, and larger 22-inch wheels (compared to the 50's 21-inchers) should have theoretically given us a poorer efficiency figure, but this time round, the 100km was done entirely in 'lab conditions' — past midnight, at a lower speed, and all at once. After even more perspiration, we watched the journey slowly unfold with our own eyes towards an even more unbelievable 15.4kWh/100km this time.  

The logical rejoinder to all this right now is, "But no one is going to drive like this anyway". And this much is true.

Nonetheless, one has to return to the context of what the Q8 e-tron SUV/Sportback are now setting out to do — improve on the original e-tron SUV/Sportback. When we drove the twins back in 2018, we were already largely impressed with their refinement, level of luxury and Audi-like familiarity.

The only glaring thing that perhaps left us wanting more? Squeezing out a bit more distance between each charge. Today, with the efficiency gains infused into the Q8 e-tron family, Audi has answered clearly.

ALSO READ: Updated dual-motor Polestar 2 boasts extra range and greater power

This article was first published in sgCarMart.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.