Two impressive luxury sports utility vehicles make their debut and Steve Smith gets behind the wheel.

They are both big, they are both German, and each represents the halo SUV model in their respective stables … but each approaches this luxury segment from a distinctly different angle.



Almost as imposing as its Teutonic counterpart (it is 4.99m long), the apex Audi SUV counters with stealth fighter looks that usher in a new, more Audi-aggressive design DNA.

And it is a change of direction that bodes well for a brand criticised for its cookie-cutter approach to automotive design.

Low and wide for an SUV, with thin, gunslinger-eye headlamps and a roofline that sweeps back to muscular rear-wheel arches, the Q8 cuts a menacing figure on the road.

On the road

And it has the fast draw to back that up too. The responsive V6 turbo-petrol engine delivers 250kW and is hooked up to a smart-shifting eight-speed auto. Straight-line speed is not all that this big Audi is packing, though – it is underpinned by one of the best chassis in the SUV segment.

Like the new Volkswagen Touareg, the Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, and its Q7 sibling, the Audi Q8 is built on the VW Group’s MLB Evo platform, and that imbues it with a class-leading blend of refinement and supple agility.

A bespoke version of Audi’s adaptive suspension comes standard, while air suspension is an option. Our test car was equipped with the latter, and its ability to handle a pockmarked section of road I know well was the best I have experienced.

Audi Q8 rear view

And on the inside

Along with its design DNA, the Q8 also introduces the latest version of Audi’s MMI infotainment system in an interior that is hard to fault. Fit and finish is top-notch –wonderfully tactile at all touchpoints, and beautifully designed with a sweeping dash that nestles the three crisp Audi Virtual Cockpit digital display screens.

Standard interior spec is impressive – Virtual Cockpit with MMI Navigation Plus, a panoramic glass roof and 360° cameras are among the list – and there are three S Line packages you can select to further customise your Audi.

And don’t let the coupé-like silhouette fool you – from luggage space to rear legroom, there is also plenty of room inside the Q8.

Which one to choose then? While roughly in the same ballpark (as specced, our Q8 test car retails for nearly R1,7 million), the one that is right for you is going to depend more on the required application – luxury people carrier or sporty family SUV?

Breaking new ground for their respective brands, though, both vehicles have some compelling cards to play.



The biggest and most luxurious SUV yet made by BMW, the X7 inaugurates a new nameplate for the brand and leads with a third row of seats in its opening gambit. And it is a proper third row that hosts two adults in comfort while still offering significant luggage space.


At a little over 5.1m long and 2m wide, the X7 is a sizeable vehicle, offering the kind of interior space that means the svelte design is always going to be sacrificed at the altar of pragmatism.

There is, therefore, more of a form-meets-function feel to the X7’s exterior styling that is absent in its sleeker siblings. You can, however, choose between two design packages – the more elegant Design Pure Excellence or the sportier M Sport – to tailor it to your taste.


Open the door and you will find an interior somewhere between a business jet and a luxury hotel – especially if you opt for a second row with two individual “comfort seats”, as opposed to the standard bench arrangement.

Standard spec on the X7 is high, including an electrically operated panoramic glass roof, ambient lighting, and a Harman Kardon surround sound system (in the M50d).

Mirroring the exterior, the interior styling leans toward the functional rather than overly elaborate, and, like the new 8 Series, the X7 is equipped with BMW’s impressive Live Cockpit Professional with BMW Operating System 7.0 as standard.

The fully digital instrument cluster and console display each features a 12.3-inch screen, and as futuristic as its graphic interface is, the system is intuitive to operate.

BMW X7 rear view

And on the road

BMW purists may grumble that the X7 doesn’t display too much of the brand’s signature dynamic driving DNA, but that is not what a big, tall seven-seater luxury SUV is all about.

Thanks in most part to the air suspension at both axles and adaptive suspension that comes standard, the ride in the X7 is a wonderful blend of poise and comfort.

Along with a host of state-of-the-art driver assistance systems and deeply impressive noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) damping, piloting the vehicle is an appropriately quiet and refined experience.

At the launch, there were two engine options – both 3.0-litre turbo-diesels, but with different outputs – and while the xDrive30d certainly feels punchy enough, you will immediately feel the extra grunt of the M50d.

The latter also comes standard with the M Sport differential, and a little more agility tuned into the chassis. An M50i turbo-petrol model will be added to the range in October.