New Audi Q8 e-tron Dakar Edition 2024 review: EV SUV with off-road upgrade

The Q8 e-tron SUV has diversified for a new off-road-focused Dakar Edition that could be popular in the UK, if Audi decides to sell it

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If we’re being cynical, we might lament the fact that Audi’s Q8 e-tron Dakar Edition only offers a vague reference to the maker’s successes at the iconic rally with which it shares a name. But the Q8’s now genuine off-road ability makes it an intriguing addition to the range. Problem is, Audi still needs convincing to build it in right-hand drive.

The Audi Q8 e-tron has been a staple model in the range since 2019, but until now its off-roading ability has been considered theoretical, at best. 

However, keen to draw some connection to the brand’s exploits in the famed Dakar Rally, it has created the rugged looking Q8 e-tron Dakar Edition for a small production run that throws more than a few off-road toys at the recently updated electric SUV

From a technical perspective, the Dakar Edition is based on the Q8 e-tron 55 quattro, with the same dual-motor setup producing 394bhp and a chunky 664Nm of torque. This is fed by the same uprated 106kWh (usable) battery pack as the standard car. While range has yet to be tested, the higher drag levels – thanks to many of its new off-road elements – will almost certainly mean a reduction compared with the standard model’s 330-mile maximum. 

Despite its low-volume status, there has been a surprising number of technical changes that facilitate some serious off-road capability. This starts with a recalibrated air-suspension system that in its default Allroad setting sits 65mm higher than a standard Q8 e-tron. In its most capable Offroad mode, the ride height extends a further 30mm, which is noticeable both in terms of design and the driving position.

The Dakar Edition also features a 57mm-wider track and bespoke 18-inch wheels wrapped in rugged all-terrain tyres. A set of 20-inch wheels with conventional rubber is also available, but either way sit in the slightly wider SQ8 e-tron’s arches, finished in a contrasting Mythos black paint. The cars we drove were fitted with the optional Dakar wrap, which will be limited to 99 units for production. All cars are fitted with a rugged roof-carrier system, with a spare tyre mounted on top.

Changes inside are more subtle, with black leather and contrasting red stitching fitted as standard. The red-striped seatbelts borrowed from Audi’s RS models are a nice touch, but everything is still superbly constructed with high quality materials as before. Audi has also fitted bespoke graphics to the touchscreen, and the car’s floor mats are now made from a hardy black rubber – which was especially useful at our test location inside a dry river canyon on Oman’s south coast. 

Our limited amount of time on tarmac confirmed the only major difference to the standard car is an increase in road noise from the all-terrain tyres. This is otherwise a controlled and well sorted driving experience with accurate steering, excellent calibration for the throttle and brake pedal, and good ride quality. However it was our stern test off-road that pushed the car to its limits.

While the notion of an all-electric adventure vehicle might seem a little counterintuitive on account of its limited range, an electric motor is actually very well suited to off-road driving. The instantaneous torque delivery combined with a long throttle pedal in the Offroad drive mode makes light work of the car’s bulk while traversing challenging terrain. The dual-motor setup wasn’t fazed during our experience, with next to no wheelspin, even on slick rock faces. 

In deep gravel and sand, the car’s evenly balanced torque split doesn’t allow for lurid oversteer moments, but instead feels tuned to apply power as cleanly as possible. The brake pedal, with a combination of regenerative and friction braking, wasn’t quite so trustworthy though. Occasional exploratory prods of the pedal were required to ascertain exactly how much stopping power was on offer, as we raised our speed within the sandy canyons.

All cars are fitted with a very effective hill descent control system that will automatically activate on steep declines. But the car’s limitations were met when more gruelling scenarios arose – especially when serious off-road qualities like axle articulation were required. Despite the added ground clearance, it wasn’t quite enough to stop a particularly unfriendly rock from meeting the underside of the bodywork down a steep and narrow canyon. This, however, was almost certainly due to the lack of spatial awareness, than a fundamental reflection of the car’s capability. 

Overall, we were very impressed by how capable and flexible the Q8’s underlying chassis was in challenging terrain. This was made even more impressive when you remember this is neither a dedicated EV or 4x4 platform, but an adaption of Audi’s MLB architecture more commonly found on saloons and city-dwelling SUVs. 

How many customers will actually use the Dakar Edition off-road is something of a moot point, however, as Audi is expecting this car to be purchased by customers that are more attracted to its design and cool-factor. This doesn’t discount the work Audi’s done to create the Dakar, but it does put some context back into the laudable job it’s done to ensure its level of capability. 

The issue for the UK is that the Dakar has not yet been signed off for right-hand drive, which means that for the meantime the Dakar is not on the menu for us Brits. However, one look around the streets of the UK might lead you to believe that this is more than a little short-sighted. The Mercedes G-Class, Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover Defender have no problem fitting in with the modern British cityscape.

Model:Audi Q8 e-tron Dakar Edition
Engine:114kWh battery, 2x e-motor
Transmission:Single-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Top speed:N/A
Charging:170kW (10-80% 30 mins)
On sale:Not confirmed for the UK
Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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