So if Ford Puma ST vs. VW T-Roc R is one end of the sporty SUV spectrum, here’s what the opposite end looks like. Big, V8-powered, with an attitude to match. And big speed, too. Through a combination of 600hp, mild-hybrid 4.0-litre V8, electric anti-roll control, adaptive air suspension, torque vectoring (with a sport differential), quattro four-wheel drive and giant 440mm front ceramic discs, the Audi RS Q8 was declared the fastest SUV around the Nurburgring. Until the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT went three and a bit seconds quicker.
These aren’t meaningless times, either. The Audi got around the Nordschleife in 7:42.25. That’s the official Nurburgring-approved time, too, so without any nefarious manufacturer influence. In the same league table, an M3 Touring is only seven seconds ahead, and a Megane Trophy-R a few behind. Look at the old lap times and the list of scalps grows even more incredible: Exige Cup 380, M3 GTS, Murcielago LP640, AMG E63, EB110, Zonda 7.3 S – all recorded slower laps than that the one in the book for the 2,315kg Audi SUV. Remarkable.
Furthermore, it doesn’t take long on the road to establish just how the RS Q8 laid down such a benchmark – this thing is utterly indefatigable in the way it does everything. The acceleration, braking, grip and traction seemingly know no limit. Sure, it’s not going to make you any friends, however awesome a spectacle it feels from your lofty perch behind the wheel. But what a machine.
The feeling of an overgrown RS6 or RS7 should come as little surprise given what’s common to all three, and particularly so given the familiarity of this car, but the RS Q8 still has the power to shock years after its launch. The combination of four-wheel steer and yard-wide Continentals mean immense turn in, with zero appreciable delay between your input and what the front axle does. Don’t believe us? Watch the ‘ring video again for evidence of just how little effort is needed to heave the huge Audi this way and that. Perhaps it isn’t the most natural feeling in the world – both from the perspective of what the car is doing and what’s coming back to your hands – but the effectiveness is undeniable. And spectacular.
That such a tenacious front end is allied to monstrous traction, boundless power and huge braking performance (even with the standard discs) ensures the RS Q8 covers ground at a genuinely astonishing rate. The usual criticism about an Audi maybe not delivering on the touchy-feely front seems churlish in light of what’s it’s capable of; nobody ever seems quite so bothered about light steering in an RS6 or a tough ride in the Dynamic mode of an RS7. For an Audi SUV that weighs as much as it does, the RS Q8 is a righteous achievement. It flies in the face of the naysayers.
But it turns out there’s something beyond staggering: it’s called a Cayenne Turbo GT. We’ve discussed the technical spec at length already so we needn’t go over every last detail again – but a direct test against another SUV with which the Cayenne shares more than a few bits really goes to show what’s been achieved.
Everything that the RSQ8 does well, the Porsche improves upon. Don’t forget these are different twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8s, despite identical swept capacities, the Cayenne going without the mild hybrid technology. And boasting a whole load of exciting upgrades to elevate above both a regular Turbo and its rival here: bespoke pistons, con-rods and crank, uprated injectors and turbo tweaks for some extra boost mean impressive numbers on paper – 640hp and 627lb ft, against 600hp and 590lb ft for the Audi – and a tangibly different feel on the road.
Once the turbos wake up the Porsche charges harder for longer than the RS Q8, acceleration savage even coming straight from the Audi. It’s a revvier and more responsive V8, aided by an eight-speed auto that’s quicker witted as well. Which makes it an absolute knockout of an engine in any circumstance. The tremendous titanium exhaust, complete (or rather, not complete) with its absent middle silencer plays an important part, too. It makes a wonderful racket (and looks rather good), the V8’s stride from mellifluous gurgle to rampant roar making the Audi feel a little muted. Chalk that up as another facet of these two that certainly won’t make you popular in a cul-de-sac. But will undoubtedly make you smile.
In addition, while the indomitable Audi is just as fast, really, down a road – three seconds around the Nurburgring is nothing, for all Porsche’s work – the uber-fast SUV experience is all the more gratifying in the Cayenne. The steering weight is more authentic, meaning that, even allowing for some frantic moments as the additional negative camber makes the front end darty, you’re more confident pointing the Porsche into a bend. Standard ceramic brakes not only deliver a more reassuring pedal, they’ll weigh less than the Audi’s iron rotors; combine that with 22-inch wheels rather than 23s (which must also shave a few kilos) as well as a bespoke Pirelli and a better ride/handling balance is struck. The unique spring and damper setup play a major part, too. In the Audi the familiar hunt for an ideal drive mode persists, with none quite delivering the same blend of assured control and liveable comfort as the Porsche does in its default setting.
Now we’re talking pretty fine margins here; every statistic puts these two very, very close indeed. But as SUVs continue to become an established performance car niche, so the margins become more important. And that’s where the Porsche – as is so often the case with two-door GT cars – begins to press home its advantage. The addition effort invested in reworking this and retuning that really pays dividends. On a Nordschleife record run the sounds you hear, sensations you feel and joy you’re having don’t really matter – on the road they most certainly do. Where the Audi feels like a really good RS product, the Cayenne absolutely gives the impression of a bonafide GT sports car, even if it does weight as much as one and a half Cayman GT4s.
Perhaps most impressively, the same things that mark out the established GT cars have survived the transition intact: the driver is always connected to the experience yet not overwhelmed by it, the control weights and feedback put all others to shame, and the powertrain is of exceptional quality. This isn’t the Porsche GT car we’re used to, and it might not be the Porsche GT that purists crow over – but there’s no doubting it’s cut from the same (expensive) cloth. The fact that the feel comes through two and a quarter tonnes of SUV is arguably as impressive as creating another sub-seven-minute 911.
Ultimately, they’re both great – no keen driver could fail to appreciate them, even if they wouldn’t care to admit it. Nevertheless, it’s hard to overlook the elephant in the room. Or rather, elephants – both the big grey beasts are simply enormous. And breathing in every time a car comes the other way, squeezing between white line and kerb all too often and bullying other road users with your mere presence does occasionally take the sheen off. Which is to say nothing of the £195 it would cost to fill the Cayenne’s tank at the 216.9p-a-litre the last fill of V-Power cost.
It means that for all their freakish talent, both RS Q8 and Cayenne Turbo GT do feel a bit… excessive. Which is not something we’re used to saying on PH. But with both the SQ8 and Cayenne GTS further down the range, each boasting a likeable version of the V8s used here for tens of thousands less, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the really driver-focused flagships. Let’s hope the engineering nous that marks both these two out makes it to smaller Porsche and Audi SUVs in time, because this sort of ability in a more compact package should be brilliant.
That said, the demand for precisely this sort of flagship appears insatiable, with Lamborghini readying an even more potent Urus to surpass the mighty Aston Martin DBX707, Maserati continuing to offer a Levante Trofeo and BMW preparing the XM despite the protestations of children who can’t sleep at night. Both Audi and Porsche are chasing the same buyer here, and by a margin that’s larger than 3.328 seconds on the Nurburgring might suggest – and even taking into account its premium – the Porsche is the record-holder to have. The RS Q8 is very well judged indeed, yet it serves to identify the Cayenne as something else entirely: an SUV that actually earns its GT badge. What a world.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 AUDI RS Q8
Engine: 3,996cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 600@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 590@2,200-4,400rpm
0-62mph: 3.8 secs
Top speed: 155mph
SPECIFICATION | 2022 PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO GT
Engine: 3,996cc, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 640@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 627@2,300-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.3 secs
Top speed: 186mph
Weight: 2,220kg (DIN)
Price: £147,510 (price as standard; price as tested £156,002 comprised of first aid kit for £9, Fire extinguisher for £105, four-zone automatic climate control for £581, Side airbags in the rear for £291, Ambient lighting for £287, Ioniser for £203, Heated windscreen for £336, Soft-close doors for £497, Adaptive Cruise control with lane keep and speed limit indicator for £1,986, ParkAssist including Surround View for £522, Head-up display for £1,035, Privacy glass for £354, Matrix LED headlights with Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus for £333, 20-inch collapsible spare wheel for £270 and Arctic Grey paint for £1,683.)