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Car reviews - Audi - Q7 - SQ7

Our Opinion

We like
Instant response, strong performance, great economy for the size, astounding smooth-road dynamics with optional Dynamic package, classy cabin
Room for improvement
Expensive and with options to spare, automatic can stumble, struggles to hide its weight, some packaging downsides

Can the Audi SQ7 successfully combine sensible efficiency with surplus luxury?

Audi logo7 Sep 2018

Overview

 

ACCORDING to Oscar Wilde, moderation is a fatal thing and nothing succeeds like excess. He shuffled off this mortal coil over a century ago, though, while nowadays the likes of the Audi SQ7 could appear seemingly determined to prove that nineteenth-century poet and playwright wrong.

 

This seven-seat large SUV has all the hallmarks of excess, from its enormous footprint on the road to its huge 21-inch wheels, its burly eight cylinders under the bonnet and lashings of leather inside, all with a pricetag to match.

 

However, Audi has also developed a clever electrical system to take the environmental burden off the 4.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, helping to allow the sort of claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption to rival hatchbacks. Yet the SQ7 can also seat seven, and accelerate quickly enough to challenge Australia’s last affordable muscle car, the petrol V8-powered Holden Commodore.

 

You might even say that being able to seat seven could make it more efficient per passenger than several hatches too. So much for excess, right?

Price and equipment

 

The SQ7 certainly is not cheap. Priced from $155,140 plus on-road costs, it includes as standard 20-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors with automatic reverse-park assistance and 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, auto on/off wipers and LED headlights, leather trim with heated and electrically adjustable front seats, electric-fold third-row seating, four-zone climate control, satellite navigation, digital radio, and 19-speaker Bose audio.

 

This is in addition to a significant list of standard passive and active safety technology (see below) but not, it seems, the most progressive handling technology.

 

As tested, a $13,500 Dynamic package delivers a ‘quattro sport differential’ (to juggle torque between each rear wheel), active anti-roll bars that thwart bodyroll, and four-wheel steering.

 

Other options include 21-inch wheels ($4000), a panoramic glass roof ($3990), semi- or full-length leather interior parts packages ($3600 or $14,500 respectively), Alcantara headlining ($3400), digital television ($2650), Matrix LED headlights with auto-adaptive high-beam ($2200), and even an electrically adjustable steering column ($950) for a potential $200,330 fully-loaded total.

Interior


The new-generation Q7 could be seen to blend the best of both worlds inside. On the one hand its interior drips with high-end design, from knurled silver climate controls to fashionable dashboard inlays and perfect resolution for a duo of screens – a driver 12.3-inch and centre 8.3-inch combination.

 

Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) will soon be replaced, with the centre console-mounted rotary dial and shortcut tabs ousted for twin screens and touch-sensitive tabs – as previewed by the newer A8, A7 Sportback and Q8 – but age has not wearied this system.

The ability to blend with the Virtual Cockpit driver display and zoom in and out of maps via the steering wheel controls, or just hit the voice control and deliver a ‘one shot’ address request, remains effortless and outstanding.

 

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and the trio of individually reclining seats in the middle row provide ample space and flexibility.


Indeed, the only issue with this 5069mm-long SUV concerns the awkward entry and egress, and lack of amenities, for third-row passengers.

To allow sixth and seventh passengers in, each outboard middle-row backrest requires one lever-tug to fold onto its base, then another lever-pull upwards to spring each entire unit up against the front seat – something impossible to do with one hand, or if the sliding middle chairs are set too far forward. Conversely, though, if the middle pews are moved too far back, the electric third-row will not work.

 

It requires a fair bit of contortionist work when it really should be effortless, and once in the furthermost row, each seat is quite flat and there are no air vents.

At least outright headroom and legroom is impressive, and the boot remains of a reasonable size that then becomes expansive in five-seat-only mode (moving from a Mazda2-rivalling 235 litres to a capacious 705L respectively).

 

Engine and transmission

 

A 48-volt electrical system allows the SQ7 to become something of a micro-hybrid, powering an electric compressor that instantly spins to support the two turbochargers and help reduce dreaded ‘turbo lag’.

According to Audi it enables instant response off the line, and rapid acceleration, but at all other times it allows the auto to keep the engine lower in the rev range and use less fuel.

 

The proof is in the figures, though, because the 4.0-litre twin-turbo, electric compressor-equipped V8 diesel produces 900Nm from 1000rpm, and it holds that output strong until 500rpm before the 320kW of power comes online from 3750rpm until 5000rpm.

Yet the combined-cycle fuel usage claim is 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres, 0.1L/100km thriftier than even a 2.0-litre petrol Hyundai i30.

 

In Dynamic mode, this eight-cylinder diesel can sound overtly loud and contrived, which might suit some who want their large SUV to sound like a petrol of the same cylinder count, but thankfully an Individual mode allows for a Comfort sound mode teamed with Dynamic/Auto/Comfort for the drivetrain and suspension respectively.

In any mode, the SQ7 feels very quick and responsive when full acceleration is required off the line, the 4.9-second 0-100km/h claim feeling entirely realistic.

 

However, even with those monumental outputs, the eight-speed auto could be to blame for the not-quite-instant overtaking response at speed.

Ask for full throttle while the tachometer is hovering low, and the auto can stutter for a moment before slinging the needle back into the thrusty middle zone.

Equally, the hefty kerb weight (2405kg) can still contribute to heavy urban fuel usage, with double the claim seen around town versus a superb 8.7L/100km freeway and backroad jaunt.

 

Ride and handling

 

When equipped with the optional Dynamic package, the SQ7 forcibly feels like a supersized hot hatchback on a smooth-surfaced twisty road. And we do mean ‘forcibly’ because the active anti-roll bars use electricity to place pressure against the body lumbering through corners, to great effect, while the four-wheel steering helps this Audi feel far more agile and wieldy than its size suggests.

There is always the impression that the Continental ContiSport tyres will not last long if a driver is to slither this heavy SUV through a mountain pass often, though, and the feeling that this Audi cannot quite escape its heft is emphasised on a bumpy backroad where ride quality can be tetchy.

Generally, the compliance versus control equation is best met in Auto mode, rather than floaty Comfort or hard Dynamic, but even then the big wheel rims can jar a little here and thump a little bit there to never feel quite as refined as S-branded passenger cars such as a delectable S4 Avant.

However, despite all this it would be difficult to find a more driver-focused yet frugal seven-seater for this pricetag, and the occasional ride quality blip pales against the dominance of smooth-road handling and superbly sweet and sharp steering, as well as the reasonably low road noise levels.

Safety and servicing

Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection), ABS and ESC, forward and rear collision warnings with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active lane-keep assistance, blind-spot assistance with pedestrian/cyclist detection, front and rear parking sensors and surround view monitors feature on the Audi SQ7.

Euro NCAP tested the Audi Q7 in 2015 and it scored five stars with 36.1 out of 38 points.

Audi’s three-year/45,000km capped-price servicing plan includes three check-ups annually or every 15,000km at a $1900 total cost.

Verdict

The one thing the Audi SQ7 is not, is an off roader. Instead it is mostly a huge hot hatchback that weighs well over a couple of tonnes yet handles like something smaller, while still seating seven.

Even with its clever 48-volt electrical system, electric compressor, active anti-roll bars and four-wheel steering, it could be said that this large SUV fights excess flab with excess technology, and there are myriad ways to seat a large family for a lot less cash.

Even then, something like a Tesla Model X can show this Audi up to be inefficiently packaged, with an occasionally lumpy automatic.

However, Tesla cannot (yet) bundle in a 1000km-plus range, and the Model X is no dynamic match.

A realist perspective is perhaps the better one, then, because Australians have purchased premium SUVs at an increasing rate over the past decade, and the SQ7 most successfully allows buyers to indulge in lavish appointments, still with a practical eye, while also reducing diesel usage.

You could even say it combines moderation with excess really rather well. Take that, Oscar.

Rivals

BMW X5 M from $188,729 plus on-road costs
Only seats five, (much) thirstier, but a natural next step up for dynamics and performance.

Tesla Model X 100D from $182,155 plus on-road costs
Range aside, it bests the SQ7 for packaging and drivability, feeling even more instantly responsive.


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