Review and road test of the Audi SQ8
A GREAT Q8?
Audi's delivers some of its most sophisticated performance technology in the storming SQ8, which has switched to petrol power. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review of the Audi SQ8
The SQ8 isn't the ultimate Q8 model, but it might well be for some potential owners. 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.
There's been a change of heart here. This SQ8 was originally launched with a 4.0-litre biturbo V8 diesel; now 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 before. 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.
Whereas originally, this SQ8's arch-rival was the diesel-engined BMW X6 M50d, in this more recent petrol form, it's now stacked more closely against the Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe 53 4MATIC+. So of course, it needs to deliver similar performance to that car - and does. In this Audi, you get a 4.0-litre biturbo TFSI V8 delivering 507PS (72PS more than the previous diesel unit) and a mammoth 770Nm of torque (130Nm less than the 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 and you can get the car 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 previous 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
There's plenty of pavement theatre here, as you'd expect from a coupe-style large sporting SUV, especially one this powerful. Exterior highlights include the imposing octagonal single frame front grille, pronounced quattro blisters above the wheel arches and striking underbody protection. HD matrix LED headlights flank the grille and at the back, there's the full-width light strip which is characteristic of all high-end Audi models.
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. 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 £81,000 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+ (which is petrol-powered) and the BMW X6 M50d (which is diesel-engined). There's a standard trim level and a mid-range '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 over £104,000. 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 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 previous 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.
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?
Audi SQ8 review by Jonathan Crouch