Test Drive: Five minutes with an Audi SQ7

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What is it?

The monstrous Audi SQ7. The German brand didn’t used to apportion its sporty ‘S’ badging to its SUVs, but broke the mould in 2013 when it decided to make the original generation of the mid-sized Q5 off-roader both the first SUV and the first diesel to receive the accolade, giving birth to the utterly superb SQ5 in the process.

However, Ingolstadt clearly never felt the larger, MkI Q7 deserved the same treatment, so it remained excluded from the S-club.
For the MkII, though, Audi has had a rethink and blessed the goliath Q7 with a truly jaw-dropping 4.0-litre V8 biturbo diesel engine, capable of delivering 435hp and 900Nm when it’s fully on song. That’s not all that’s clever about the SQ7, as we shall come to see, but in essence this is one of those mega-performance SUVs that is starting to find favour these days – the main difference being, it drinks from the black rather than the green pump when the time comes to refuel it.

Why are you driving it?

Who wouldn’t want to drive an SUV with 900Nm of torque? So blessed, the SQ7 has some tremendous stats, because despite weighing 2,405kg with a driver on board it’ll hit 62mph from rest in less than five seconds flat.

But its simply brutal power only tells half the story about this mammoth Audi. First up, it has something called an Electric Powered Compressor (EPC). This, if you will, is a ‘third’ turbo but instead of being driven by exhaust gases, like the mighty sequential blowers bolted to the 4.0 V8, it has its own 48-volt electrical system with a lithium-ion battery to control it. Yes, that’s right – the SQ7 has two batteries and two electrical systems. Wow.

This EPC almost totally eliminates turbo lag and means the full 900Nm is on tap from a scarcely believable 1,000rpm, which is essentially tickover. But that’s not all the SQ7 has hidden up its sleeve.

For £5,700 – no, we know, not an inconsiderable sum on a vehicle that’s £70,000 to start with – you need to tick the Driving Dynamics Sports Pack (DDSP). This equips the following: a torque-vectoring rear differential; four-wheel steering; and, using that 48-volt system again, a set of ‘powered’ anti-roll bars, which are proactive about quelling body roll in the SQ7 before it even starts.

There’s more. Carbon ceramic brakes can be fitted, and probably should be to halt a hard-charging SQ7, but they’re an eye-watering £8,100. There’s a wonderful Bose 3D sound system; another £1,100. You can have a parking pack, which will slot the huge SUV into spaces for you if you feel a bit nervous about doing it for yourself – that’ll be £1,500, please.

Nevertheless, the standard equipment includes the glorious 12.3-inch TFT Virtual Cockpit, air suspension with adaptive dampers, a powered tailgate and reversing camera, natty leather seats and an active exhaust, among more. But not keyless entry, which is utterly bizarre on something operating at this exalted luxury level.
Needless to say, you can see the SQ7 is an almighty tech-fest, most of it employed to defy the laws of physics and get this battering ram of an SUV down the road at serious pace.

What do you like about it?

It’s mind-blowingly good. No, really; the SQ7 might just be one of the very finest performance Audis of the marque’s current line-up. Fitted with the DDSP, the SUV’s handling is unearthly. It never leans into corners. It seems to summon up additional grip from another physical dimension, just when it seems every single component in its chassis is loaded up to breaking point.

It has traction like you would not believe in the dry, thanks to its quattro all-wheel drive. In short, it is a phenomenal thing. You can take this physically gigantic machine and toss it about on the roads like it’s some sort of hot hatchback.

It’s not just possessed of bludgeoning pace across the ground, though, but it actually involves its driver like many an RS Audi has failed to in recent times. The steering is really quite excellent, beautifully weighty and feelsome, while those carbon stoppers will calmly leach off tens of mph in the blink of an eye if you stand on the brake pedal. And on the motorway, there appears to be nothing built which has a mid-range haymaker of equal devastation to the SQ7; once slower-moving traffic in front of you clears on a multilane road, the Audi SUV will simply waltz away from anything behind it with contemptuous disdain.

And all this is to say nothing of the wonderful, wonderful noise it makes. It might be augmented but in Dynamic mode, the SQ7 genuinely sounds like an old American V8 muscle car. Even in its lesser drive settings, the menacing growl of those eight cylinders is always present as the rev counter climbs past 3,000rpm. Honestly, this seven-seat Audi is possessed of a drivetrain and chassis of the highest possible calibre.

Yet, it obviously still functions as a family motor. The SQ7 can be as docile and tractable as you want, easing itself around town in gentle fashion and generally riding in an exquisite manner, thanks to the air suspension. Like any Audi, it has a cabin unsurpassed in terms of quality by anything even remotely comparable for badge prestige, and in general this super-rapid SUV makes a great first impression upon you… and then only goes on to get further and further under your skin, the longer you spend with it. By the end of a week, you’ll adore the bloody thing, we guarantee you.

Any issues?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but the Q7 is not the greatest-looking large SUV of the moment and, even with the visual boost of the ‘S’ addenda – the body kit, the big 20-inch alloys, the quad exhausts, the subtle badging that tells those in the know how senior the SQ7 is – it’s still not what you’d call handsome.

Something about its stance makes those aforementioned wheels look lost in the arches, which is a poor bit of design as 20s are hardly small in diameter. And it’s blinkin’ expensive at nigh-on £100,000; that’s fitted with all the kit you’re going to want on the SQ7 to make it drive in its most astonishing style.

OK, it undercuts the mechanically similar Bentley Bentayga Diesel by a good margin, but if you say to someone ‘I spent £100k on an Audi SUV’, as opposed to ‘I spent £136k on a Bentley’, they’re going to look at you like you’ve lost your marbles.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

Regrettably, although it’s a diesel, it doesn’t quite manage to slide into a lower benefit-in-kind tax bracket than the top 37% level. It’s also one of the cars which (by far) transgresses the £40,000 threshold that now means so much to VED rates, so you’ll be paying £450 per year to keep the SQ7 on the roads from years two to six of ownership, instead of £140 annually for anything below that fiscal benchmark.

Still, for a 2.4-tonne SUV, a claimed 33.6mpg isn’t too shabby – and we actually saw 32.2mpg with some fairly spirited driving thrown into the mix, which is incredible stuff, all told.

Where does it rank in class right now?

There’s a wide variety of high-performance, big SUVs, and you can go many different ways about getting your driving kicks from them. Have a 550hp supercharged V8 Range Rover, if you must; enjoy the sports car chassis engineering that’s so blatantly obvious in a Porsche Cayenne; obliterate all other considerations by splashing out on the mad magnificence of the Bentley Bentayga with its 6.0-litre W12… the choices are near-endless.

And yet, we think the SQ7 might be the absolutely ideal way of distilling everything you could possibly need of one vehicle into a single receptacle. It’s expensive and not that attractive, but it is preternaturally gifted and it’s a diesel, so it’ll give you 400-500 miles range on one of its massive tanks of fuel if you drive it only half-respectably. It could therefore very well be the only vehicle we know of that’s master of all trades and jack of none; that’s how incredibly talented and likeable the Audi SQ7 truly is.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Audi SQ7
  • Price: Q7 range starts from £50,060; SQ7 from £70,835, car as tested £94,650
  • Drivetrain: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 diesel with EPC, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Economy: 33.6mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 190g/km – £800 VED first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 37% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
  • 0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
  • Power: 435hp at 3,750- to 5,000rpm
  • Torque: 900Nm at 1,000- to 3,250rpm