Audi huge, powerful SQ7 TDI re-writes the rulebook for large, family-sized performance-minded SUVs. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Audi's SQ7 TDI is theworld's first series production car combining turbocharging with an electrically powered compressor, there to deliver impressively immediate response. Consigning 'turbo lag' to history, this boundary-stretching technology underscores this SQ7's eligibility for an 'S' badge that denotes extra performance across the Ingolstadt maker's range.
If you're going to have a really large seven-seat SUV and want a very, very fast one, there aren't many options. The choices you will have almost all feature very thirsty V8 petrol engines that'll have the local green lobby up in arms every time you nip to the shops. So what if you could have a car of this kind that was a little more planet-friendly - maybe this model, Audi's SQ7 TDI. The figures here may cause you to do a bit of a double-take: 435PS and 900Nm of torque from a V8 bi-turbo TDI diesel fitted with an innovative electric-powered compressor. At the same time, the car is capable of nearly 40mpg in regular use, with a CO2 return of well under 200g/km. As we said, you'll probably need to read that again....
At the heart of the SQ7 TDI is a redesigned V8 BiTDI engine that develops 435PS and 900Nm of torque, firmly staking this performance flagship SUV's claim as the most potent diesel model of its kind on the market. The electrically powered compressor dispenses with any sign of turbo lag from step-off acceleration, helping to set an impressive 0-62 mph sprint time of just 4.9 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph. The 4.0TDI unit in the SQ7works with strong partners, including a redesigned eight-speed tiptronic that changes gears extremely quickly and efficiently. A self-locking centre differential is the heart of the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system. It is compact, lightweight and interacts very precisely with the suspension control system. An optional sport differential provides stable and precise steering, particularly during fast acceleration out of bends. Variable torque between the wheels on the rear axle offers supreme control in curves and the car is pressed precisely into the bend as a result. The maxim of lightweight construction also applies to the suspension - its links aremade primarily of aluminium. Electromechanical power steering, the Audidriveselect driving dynamics system and adaptive air suspension with S-specific tuning are standard. Buyers will be offered an optional driving dynamics package comprising three technology modules: sport differential, electromechanical active roll stabilisation and all-wheel steering.
Design and Build
The SQ7TDI has a model-specific radiator grille with an S design at the bumpers. Other distinguishing features are the side air inlets, the mirror housings and door inlays in standard aluminium. The exhaust system terminates in four rectangular tailpipes. LED headlights are fitted as standard and have a pronounced three-dimensional appearance with a double-arrow signature. At the wheel, you view analogue instruments with grey faces and white needles, special welcome screens and S badges while all interior lights use LED technology. Plus there's the clever 'Audi Virtual Cockpit' instrument binnacle, with its 12.3-inch display presenting logically structured information with brilliant graphics. Driver ergonomics are excellent, and operation is intuitive. The driver chooses the display mode via the multifunction steering wheel and a head-up display is also available as an option. The standard 'MMInavigation plus with MMI all-in-touch' infotainment system includes a large glass surface on the centre tunnel console that provides the finger with haptic feedback after each click. The MMI logic allows for intuitive system operation and also understands terms from everyday speech. As with other Q7 models, this car is a seven-seater. Passengers experience the largest interior in the segment. The second row has a three-section backrest with segments that can be folded down separately, while the final third row folds up and down electrically.
Market and Model
You'll need around £71,000 for SQ7 TDI ownership. The car offers a wide range of 24driver assistance systems to help drivers travel safely, fuel-efficiently and comfortably. Take the standard 'Audi pre sense city' system for example - an anticipatory warning and emergency breaking function for avoiding accidents and protecting pedestrians. 'Adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist' relieves the driver in slow-moving traffic on well-paved roads by taking over the steering in many situations. This predictive ACC set-up enables the anticipatory adjustment of driving speed to the route and speed limits, such as when entering towns. There's a whole host of clever options available for the car, but we particularly liked the optional Audi tablets for the rear seats. One (or optionally two) Audi tablets with 10.1 inch screens serve as rear seat monitors. They're connected to the 'MMI navigation plus' system via WiFi, thus gaining access to the radio, media, navigation and car functions of the Audi Q7. Rear seat passengers can surf the Internet via the WiFi connection. Android-based, the system gives access to the huge number of applications, games, movies, music and eBooks in the Google Play Store. At the end of the trip, the Audi tablet can be removed from its mount and used offline or on any external WiFi network. It features a full HD camera, 32 GB of internal storage and an additional Bluetooth and NFC interface for connecting headphones, for example.
Cost of Ownership
The SQ7 manages a pretty impressive sets of efficiency stats for such a large high performance SUV. Audi talks of a 39.2mpg combined cycle reading and 190g/km of CO2. So how has Ingolstadt done it? Much of the answer lies with the cleverness of two exhaust-gas turbochargers which are activated selectively according to the concept of sequential charging, since exhaust gas only flows through one turbocharger at low and intermediate load. The second turbine is only activated at higher loads. The car's unique electrically powered compressor augments the work of the two turbochargers, particularly in the lower engine speed range, providing for extremely responsive off-the-line performance. Obviously, the weight savings, sleeker aerodynamics and extra technology of the second generation Q7 range also play their part here. Take the 'predictive efficiency assistant' system for example, which provides extra information in the instrument cluster to help the driver save fuel. Plus the redesigned eight-speed tiptronic gearbox is impressively efficient. It changes gears extremely quickly and efficiently, and at high speeds allows coasting at idle.
Did we ever think we'd see a huge seven-seat performance SUV quite like this one? Possibly not. Audi could have simply stuck a big, thirsty turbo petrol V8 in this car in the way that rivals Mercedes do in their comparable GLS AMG model. Instead, the Ingolstadt brand has done something much cleverer, developing world-leading electric-powered compressor technology that, allied to TDI diesel efficiency, makes ownership of this car economically credible. Of course, there are still many more frugal options when it comes to owning a car of this kind. But will you look forward to driving them in the way you would with an SQ7? We think not....