Car reviews - Audi - Q7 - SQ7
Ride comfort, masses of torque, quattro grip, slick interior design, strong tech and spec levels
Room for improvement
Difficult to hide size, lack of acceleration vs petrol, large alloys can hurt NVH, fiddly infotainment operation
Audi’s thunderous V8 diesel-powered SQ7 and SQ8 take the fight to petrol rivals
18 May 2020
AUDI turned the performance SUV segment on its head in late 2016 when it launched the Audi Sport-fettled version of its second-generation Q7 large SUV, with the new SQ7 underpinned by a new twin-turbo-diesel V8.
Fighting against rivals underpinned mostly by petrol engines, the SQ7 provided a point of difference for those preferring mountains of torque and superior fuel economy.
Now, the updated SQ7 has been joined by its all new sloped-back SQ8 sibling, making for a two-pronged oil-burning assault on other performance-enhanced SUVs.
So how do Audi’s two new flagship SUVs stand up to the competition?
First drive impressions
The SQ7 and SQ8 touch down in local showrooms priced from $161,500 plus on-roads and $165,500 respectively, pitting them against the likes of the BMW X5/X6 M50i ($151,900/$155,900), Range Rover Sport SDV8 HSE Dynamic ($159,759), Maserati Levante S ($164,990), Mercedes-AMG GLE53 ($166,700) and Porsche Cayenne S wagon and Coupe ($156,200/$166,200).
With the exception of the Range Rover Sport, the defining characteristic of the SQ7/SQ8’s rivals is that they are all powered by petrol engines, giving Audi’s contenders a clear point of difference.
The engine in question is a 4.0-litre twin-turbo-diesel V8, good for a hearty 320kW from 3750-4750rpm and a monumental 900Nm of grunt from a low 1250-3250rpm.
The twin-turbo system also makes use of an electric-powered compressor and 48V mild-hybrid system, that helps eliminate turbo lag low in the rev range while also boosting fuel efficiency.
Its considerable outputs are sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, with standard all-wheel steering helping to improve manoeuvrability at low speeds and stability at high speeds.
The power delivery of the turbo-diesel engine means that after a brief moment of turbo spooling, all 900Nm of shove kicks in, sending the big SUV on its way in a manner that defies the SQ7’s 2460kg tare weight.
Having a diesel engine suits such a heavy car well, with the masses of torque and ample power at high engine speeds providing a level of performance worth of the Audi Sport name.
Diesel engines traditionally do not provide the same level of aural pleasure as their more refined and high-revving petrol counterparts, however Audi has done a great job of engineering the diesel V8 to provide a throaty and deep rumble from the quad-exit exhaust system.
The SQ7 and SQ8’s engine also makes for a comfortable and restrained daily driving proposition, with the driver only ever having to commit a small percentage of throttle input to ensure the big bruiser effortlessly cruises around town.
On our drive in the two models, we averaged a fuel consumption figure of 10 to 11 litres per 100km over a range of driving conditions, a reasonable figure for a car and engine of its size but still well up on the 7.6-7.8L/100km official figure.
The one primary area where the diesel engine has its drawbacks in relation to a petrol mill is in acceleration, with the oil-burner unable to match the consistent forward thrust of a petrol.
Where a petrol engine will keep accelerating harder and harder as the revs climb, the diesel V8 hits its sweet spot in the middle of the rev range, lacking the extra level of thrust that occurs before shifting upwards.
Audi actually offers a petrol SQ7 and SQ8 in overseas markets, with a detuned version of the RS6/RS7’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, good for 373kW/770Nm and able to reach 100km/h from standstill in 4.3s – 0.5s quicker than the diesel.
Adding the petrol version would provide greater choice for buyers, however Audi Australia has said it has no plans to bring it here.
Both versions ride on massive 22-inch alloy wheels, which when combined with their sporty persona might lead you to believe that ride comfort will be compromised, however we are pleased to report that both have a wonderfully supple ride quality, no doubt aided by its flexible adaptive air suspension system which comes as standard.
In comfort mode, the big SUV glides across road surfaces, deftly countering any imperfections served up despite the large alloy wheels and low-profile rubber.
Noise, vibration and harshness does suffer slightly due to the large alloys, however the cabin is certainly still a serene environment.
Engaging dynamic mode sees the suspension stiffen up considerably, with the dual-personality nature of Audi Sport offerings being one of their most attractive features.
When in dynamic mode, both versions do a good job of remaining agile in corners, with the quattro all-wheel drive ensuring grip is ample in all situations.
However it is difficult to truly hide the size of the S twins, with a considerable kerb weight and vast exterior dimensions blunting its dynamic abilities.
Handling and steering feel are both well calibrated, however with nearly two and a half tonnes underfoot, there is only so much Audi’s engineers can do.
The best way to improve nimbleness would be to option the $10,900 Dynamic package, which includes the quattro sport differential and active roll stabilisation, the latter of which helps keep the vehicle as flat as possible through corners.
It should come as a surprise to no one by now that the interior of both the SQ7 and SQ8 is a beautifully crafted cabin with a simple but elegant layout, cutting-edge tech and well-finished materials, with Audi consistently putting out some of the nicest interiors in the industry.
With both sporting identical interiors, the updated SQ7 now comes with dual 10.1-inch and 8.6-inch haptic touchscreen displays that control the MMI infotainment and climate control functions.
While providing a stylish and modernistic look, the removal of the old analogue button and dial controller hampers ergonomics and usability, especially when driving as it requires one to spend more time looking at the screens and less time with eyes on the road.
The interior is otherwise luxurious and well specified, with the 12.3-inch Virtual cockpit, panoramic sunroof and Valcona leather upholstery four-zone climate control and a 19-speaker Bose sound system all offered as standard.
The SQ7 even comes standard with seating for seven, ensuring a potent mix of performance, practicality and luxury.
While performance fans may rue the omission of a petrol engine, the SQ7 and SQ8 still provide a good point of difference to their rivals, with a powertrain that is smooth, powerful and relatively fuel efficient.
As for those Audi fans who demand petrol however, they will have to wait for the launch of the 441kW RS Q8 later this year.
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Model release date: 1 May 2020
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