Audi SQ8 review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Audi's delivers some of its most sophisticated performance technology in the storming SQ8. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the updated version.

Ten Second Review

The SQ8 isn't the ultimate Q8 model, but it might well be for some potential owners, especially in this updated form. After all, there's 770Nm of pulling power from its 4.0-litre TFSI biturbo petrol V8 and the kind of performance you might expect from a thoroughbred sports car. From a sporting large coupe-style luxury SUV able to carry the family and cruise to the Riviera. Quite a combination.

Background

This SQ8 was originally launched with a 4.0-litre biturbo V8 diesel; these days it has a TFSI petrol V8 of the same size, but with even more power - 507PS. Which means it now sprints to 62mph in just 4.1 seconds. Otherwise, everything's much as its been since we first saw this SQ8 in 2019. This is theoretically an SUV, but you'd never take it off road. And all of that before you start to get your head around the styling concept this Audi wholeheartedly embraces, that of the SUV coupe.

This SQ8 has always defied convention. It doesn't need the performance to rival the very fastest large luxury sporting SUVs like the Range Rover Sport SVR or the Porsche Cayenne Turbo because Audi has the petrol-powered RS Q8 model to do that. This SQ8 variant though, is arguably a more complete car than its RS stablemate. And here, we'll explain why.

Driving Experience

There are no mechanical changes as part of this enhancement, but you may need bringing up to date with the fact that these days, this SQ8 is petrol-powered: in its earliest form, a six cylinder diesel featured beneath the bonnet. The change to the green pump brought this car into line with two close rivals, the Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 53 4MATIC+ and BMW's X6 M60i. So of course, it needs to deliver similar performance to those cars - and does. In this Audi, you get a 4.0-litre biturbo TFSI V8 delivering 507PS (72PS more than the original SQ8 model's diesel unit) and a mammoth 770Nm of torque (130Nm less than that old diesel), credentials that theoretically enable it to propel the SQ8 with sports car-style acceleration. Rest to 62mph requires only 4.1 seconds and top speed has to be restricted at 155mph. An electrically powered compressor aids the turbochargers when starting off and when accelerating at low engine speeds.

All of that leads you to expect a really slingshot feel at the wheel, but the actual reality of torque to the tarmac is a little limited by the slight laziness of the 8-speed tiptronic auto gearbox - though you can quicken things up by using the manual gearshift paddles provided behind the steering wheel. Spend a bit more on your SQ8 (upgrading to top 'Vorsprung' trim) and your car will come fitted out with rear wheel steering, active anti-roll bars, carbon ceramic brakes and a Sport differential which helps to get the power down at speed through tight turns. Air suspension is standard. This V8 petrol unit sounds far more pleasing than the original TDI diesel of course and Audi has fitted speakers both in the exhaust and inside the cabin to digitally enhance the engine sound.

Design and Build

The visual changes made to this updated SQ8 are subtle but effective - a restyled front grille with revised air intakes and standard-fit LED headlamps with Matrix beams which now have a revised daytime running light signature. The rear LED tail light design has been updated and trim pieces like the door surrounds, the underside guard and the rear diffuser are finished in contrasting colours. Otherwise, it's as you were. As before, there's plenty of pavement theatre here, as you'd expect from a coupe-style large sporting SUV, especially one this powerful - like the pronounced quattro blisters above the wheel arches.

At the wheel, the interior is primarily finished in black, with diamond-stitched Valcona leather upholstery. As usual in a large luxury Audi, the centre part of the fascia is made up of two large touchscreens with haptic and acoustic feedback. The upper display, which is integrated in a large high-gloss black bezel, is almost invisible when switched off and is used to control the infotainment and navigation systems. The brand has now widened the range of apps available on this MMI infotainment screen to include third party providers like Spotify and Amazon Music. You'll use the lower display for managing the heating and air conditioning functions, as well as convenience features and text input (which can be done with your fingertips). As you'd expect, the Audi Virtual Cockpit screen for the instrument binnacle is standard and the top variant gets a head-up display too.

Unlike the SUV this model is based on, the Q7, this design can't offer a third seating row, but Audi insists that there's ample room for three people across the back seat, pointing out that the interior space exceeds that of the direct competitors in almost all relevant dimensions. The luggage compartment holds 605-litres, which increases to 1,755-litres with the rear backrests folded down. Two golf bags can easily fit in diagonally.

Market and Model

Audi wants around £97,000 for this SQ8 in standard form. That sounds a lot - it is a lot - but it's about the same as you'd pay for this car's two closest rivals, the Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 53 4MATIC+ and the BMW X6 M60i. There's a standard 'Black edition' variant but if it's an SQ8 you desire and you want it fitted with all the bells and whistles, then your dealer will point you towards the top Vorsprung-spec model, which costs just under £117,000. Either way, as you'd expect, lots of kit comes included as standard. HD Matrix LED headlights illuminate the road and inside there's diamond-stitched black Valcona leather upholstery.

Infotainment is taken care of by a top-of-the-line MMI navigation plus setup, which has an integrated data transfer module supporting the LTE advanced standard. The navigation system features a range of intelligent functions. For instance, it recognises the driver's preferences based on previous journeys and can therefore make intelligent suggestions. Safety kit includes city cross traffic assist front and rear, exit warning and active lane assist, all fitted as standard. You have to pay extra for adaptive cruise assist though, but it's probably worth it, this feature incorporating the functions of adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist and active lane assist. In conjunction with the on-board efficiency assistant, the system predictively slows down and accelerates the SQ8 based on its evaluation of sensor information, navigation data and road signs.

Cost of Ownership

This is a big heavy luxury SUV and despite the installation of 48V mild hybrid engine tech, the WLTP efficiency figures reflect that. Combined consumption is quoted at between 22.1 and 22.4mpg and the CO2 return quoted at 287-291g/km. That's a big step down from the original 4.0 TDI version (which, for reference managed combined consumption at between 31.0 and 31.4mpg and a CO2 return of 239-235g/km).

Audi insists that efficiency was prioritised here as highly as outright pace, and one of the key contributors to this in the high-tech biturbo engine is its cylinder on demand (COD) system, which temporarily deactivates four cylinders under low to medium load, thus reducing fuel consumption. The two twin-scroll turbochargers also reduce backpressure and optimise gas exchange for improved filling of the combustion chambers. Their positioning in the 90-degree V of the cylinder banks enables short gas paths and unfailingly keen response even at low rpm.

Summary

It's hard to assign any kind of logic to the prospect of choosing a stylised large luxury SUV with sports car performance. But if you ever did, this one might well be high on your list. An equivalent Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4MATIC Coupe offers a similar formula of stirring drive, SUV aggression, sumptuous luxury and a coupe silhouette. But this SQ8 does it with its own unique blend of cool sophistication. Given the Top Trumps stats, it probably ought to feel faster than it does, but likely buyers might not ultimately care too much about that. For them, this might well be the ultimate Q8 - possibly even the ultimate Audi.

An RS Q8 (or possibly an R8 sports car or an RS 5 Gran Turismo hatch) might feel more exciting on a short test drive, but this SQ8 is the car you'd want to actually own if you could only have one. But of course, most at this price point can have a variety of cars to fill their oak timbered garages. They don't need one, like this, that can (almost) do it all. That kind of CV's nice to have though. Isn't it?

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