Performance SUVs often get derided in these parts, but the SQ7 is genuinely good to drive. And there’s no caveat attached to that assessment. It’s very quick, offers ride quality that many luxury cars cannot match, arguably handles better than any of its ilk, and is packed with equipment and technology that leaves your head spinning. And though no price has yet been set for the SQ7’s arrival into Australian dealers in the fourth quarter of this year, the brand has confirmed that it will cost less than $160,000. With what it’s got and what it can do, that price is something of a bargain
The SQ7’s brilliance begins with the press of a button and the 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel V8 fires with a charismatic burst of revs before settling to a soft V8 murmur. The soundtrack is artificially enhanced but, unlike many systems, it sounds natural. What’s more, the V8 note is enjoyable and a portent of what’s to come. Though officially twin-turbocharged, the SQ7 uses an electrically driven third compressor to spin the exhaust-driven turbos. Being electrically driven, the compressor (spinning at up to 70,000rpm) can fill the lungs of one exhaust-driven turbo in just 250 milliseconds. At low-revs, only one turbocharger is used, but as revs increase (between 2000-2700rpm depending upon the throttle input), the Audi valve-lift system (AVS), directs exhaust gases to the second turbocharger. This clever system goes a long way to eliminating turbo lag, and the SQ7’s response to large or small throttle inputs is both eager and linear. There’s no pause, nor dead patch in the pedal travel.
With 320kW available between 3750-5000rpm, and a Herculean 900Nm from 1000-3250rpm, the SQ7’s V8 isn’t operatic in its reach. But with so much torque available so soon after idle, there’s no need to needlessly spin the engine to 4000rpm, not that it ever feels strained throughout the rev range. Nor does it feel the strain of its 2270kg kerb weight. If you’re perverted enough, the SQ7 will accelerate to 100km/h in an absurd 4.8 seconds and won’t stop until it’s reached an electronically-governed top speed of 250km/h (and yet it records combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.2L/100km). That level of straight-line performance is enough to surprise and embarrass all many of sportier models.
At one point on the international drive that flitted across the border of Switzerland and France, we happened upon an early Ferrari California (no, not the classic 250 GT) being driven in the opposite direction. It took a great deal of restrain not to turn around and give chase. But surely a V8-powered Ferrari would easily see off a lumbering 2.3-tonne SUV? With the SQ7, that’s anything from a sure bet.
If you can get your head around the SQ7’s size and weight (the latter of which it hides well), this is one SUV that really puts the Sport into the name. With only moderate concessions to the laws of physics, you can float and hustle the SQ7 up or down a mountain pass. I agree that that statement sounds absurd, but having done just that on a Swiss Alpine pass, I can vouch for the big Audi’s dynamic ability and, indeed, driving involvement.
To achieve this dynamic focus, the SQ7 isn’t screwed down with a bone-jarring ride. The test vehicles wore 21- or 22-inch alloys (20-inch wheels will be standard in Australia) but regardless of the rolling stock, the SQ7 rides with a proper air of luxury. One colleague suggested it wasn’t quite as good as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but to even be considered against the Benz limo is a huge compliment. Put simply, there isn’t another performance SUV that delivers the SQ7’s blend of ride quality and athletic ability.
Ultimately, the Porsche Cayenne might be faster and a touch more fun down a challenging road, but its firm ride brings it undone against the always-composed Audi. The way the SQ7 can deal with multiple demands on the chassis is deeply impressive and is often what defines greatness in a sports car. I appreciate that this sounds like ridiculously high praise, but I can’t recall being so pleasantly surprised by another car.
The SQ7 runs adaptive air suspension as standard and couples this with Audi’s sport rear differential and all-wheel steering. In normal driving, drive is split 40 per cent to the front and 60 per cent to the rear, but this can be varied with as much as 85 per cent going to the rear during enthusiastic driving. In slippery conditions, the drivetrain will shuffle up to 70 per cent of torque to the front wheels.
The SQ7’s dynamic ability is largely thanks to its electromechanical active roll stabilisation. On both the front and rear axles, the two halves of the anti-roll bar are separated by a three-stage planetary gearbox that’s driven by an electric motor. The separate halves can be decoupled on an uneven surface to provide a better ride, or during performance driving, the two halves are actively torqued against one another. The result is a flat stance and great handling. The roll stabilisation system is optional in all markets but we think it’s a must-have.
While Audi Australia is yet to confirm local pricing of the SQ7 – it doesn’t launch until October this year – the suggested sub $160,000 tag, along with the model’s fully formed luxury and performance skillset, will cause ructions within the full-sized market.