Daddy Bear - Audi SQ8 TDI
The Q8 dotted down last year as the daddy of the Q line-up. Not for long though as the SQ8 is now here.
Given the SQ7 was a sales success here and overseas, it’s no surprise that Audi has repeated the formula with a hotted up version of the mechanically similar Q8. In fact, anything beginning with a Q has been hot to trot locally, with two in every three new vehicles sold here starting with the high-scoring letter.
SQ8 probably won’t be quite the sales success of the SQ7, which has space for seven individuals. And the SQ8 carries a reasonable premium too. But for those after a bit more in the way of dynamics and panache, they certainly get that in the SQ8.
From the exterior, it looks really nothing quite as large as the SQ7, and yet on road it is genuinely a sizeable vehicle, just under 5m long and 2m wide. Our particular example showed signs of someone having miscalculated on the width front. It only just fits down our driveway - make memo to trim hedge this weekend - and on a busy motorway it’s best to leave the lane keeping device active. On that, Audi makes it particularly easy to nullify that particular driving assistant; merely tap the end of the indicator wand and steering reverts to fully manual.
And on simplicity, Audi has seen fit to drop the MMI rotary controller, relegating minor functions to a haptic touch screen. This takes a bit of familiarisation, but don’t they all? Touch too lightly and nothing happens. Touch too briefly and nothing happens, but if you bear down a bit longer, you can sense the button reacts to your input. No wonder we couldn’t turn off ESP initially. Eventually we managed, optimising systems to test whether this would be the second diesel to run 0-100 in under five seconds. The first, unsurprisingly as it was the donor of the SQ8 engine, was the original SQ7, with a blistering 4.79sec run. Not bad for a diesel-powered vehicle weighing the better part of 2.5 tonnes huh!
Anyhow, the SQ8 is currently the top SUV offering from Audi, at least in a pecuniary sense. At $194,400 it is precisely $10k more expensive than the SQ7 and you’d happily pay that for exterior design chops alone, unless you really did need those extra couple of pews. There’s something about that gently plunging roofline, the coupe effect, that really works on this model. And it’s quite subtly different from the Q8, with a bit more framing around the large grille up front, four exhausts out back and the silver lining of the mirror caps. Otherwise, they’re hard to tell apart, unless of course you’re following one and you won’t be for long if it’s the SQ8.
Most people shelling out around $200k for a luxury SUV will be buying petrol these days, but if ever there’s a case for a diesel this is it. Not many full-sized performance SUVs will outrun it, and none will come close to using as little fuel as this does, so if it’s long journeys you’re buying it for or towing (3500kg braked), this makes sense. Audi rates fuel use at 7.8L/100km overall and we had no trouble matching that with a bit of restraint, thanks in part to its coasting function (engine off for up to 40sec on low loads). Give it the full jandal and you’ll use no more than double that amount of diesel, a far cry from the 20- to 30-plus figures you’ll see in similarly sized petrol-powered monsters.
Not that this engine is exactly pint sized. It’s twin-turbo 4.0L V8 is ably assisted by electrically powered compressor (EPC) technology - think of this as an electric turbo that spins up much quicker than a conventional one, minimising lag. So there’s only the slightest delay between application of throttle and actual response from the 320kW/900Nm mill. That’s a lot of mumbo but then this is a lot of SUV. With full height adjustable air suspension, adaptive sway bars (by virtue of the 48-volt electrical system) and replete spec (powered leather seats, electric tailgate and the rest) this scales up at over 2.5 tonnes with a full load of fuel aboard. That it can actually hit its performance claim of 4.8sec then is quite something. Initially, in damp conditions - yes, it sometimes rains in Auckland - we couldn’t quite break 5sec, though eventually did, but the first launch control run on dry roads saw it knock off the 0-100 sprint in 4.76sec, equalling the SQ7’s effort. An overtaking time of 3.28sec was a hundredth behind that vehicle. That’s quicker than an X6 M50d, but licked by petrol powered SUVs like the GLC 63S by a full second. However, the RS Q8, Audi’s version of the Urus, is inbound soon so if it’s the ultimate Q8 you want, best hold off.
But still, this can fly when optimised, but is equally at home trolling along at less than breakneck speeds. Actually, keeping it down to the legal limit is a bit of a trick; it is absurdly high geared, ideal for those autobahn dashes, with 2000rpm in top equating to a theoretical 150km/h. And at regular speeds on hot mix or chipseal there’s reassuringly little tyre roar, despite the immense footprints. The engine is well muted too.
You pays your money for this but you do get a multitude of drive personalities. And each is noticeably different. Most will leave it Comfort we’d guess. The air suspension is wonderfully cushy so it’s perfect for general wombling in town and even out. Our tester had the $13k Performance package that includes active roll stabilisation (active sway bars) and torque-apportioning rear sports diff. If you’re dynamically inclined, just do it. That package makes the Comfort setting perfectly workable if you raise the stakes, while Auto (formerly known as Adaptive) is even better, a mixing of strenuous body control and applied dynamics. Of course Dynamic mode ratchets everything up a notch further, steering, transmission, engine performance, suspension, even synthesised sound and this then goes like it has no right. With its fast shifting auto trans, and torrent of torque from 3000rpm when the big turbo kicks in, you’d not credit how this 2.5 tonne techno-marvel can hike. It has rubber to burn (especially with the $3300 22s) so there’s gobs of grip and when that starts to go west the 56/44 weight split sees the front gradually give up the ghost, tyres squealing on smooth hot mix. But for the most part this is simply stuck and neutral, aided by its four-wheel steering system. The sorts of corner speeds this can hold are stupefying considering its height and weight.
Back into the burbs where normal transmission resumes, literally, and it doesn’t feel quite such a bear, yet it pulls with authority from 1500rpm (peak torque is on tap from 1250rpm) and is rambunctious with anything over 2000rpm showing. Paddles aren’t required much because the transmission reacts so well to throttle inputs. Brakes are stellar too, as they need to be on something this solid, with a beautifully progressive pedal.
In practical terms this also impresses. The rear seats are on sliders so legroom and luggage space are adjustable, according to needs. This is more of a four-plus-one on the seating front, the rear middle pew best for a child. The boot, at 605L, is big enough, but the more rounded SQ7 gets one over it’s costlier sib, with 770L of space. Drop the rear seat backs of the SQ8 though and you’ve 1755L of luggage capacity. Heaps then.
Which is also what you get on the safety and convenience front. Some though will still pine for the revs and the bravura of petrol power but they’ll pay for the extra performance in the form of the incoming $244k RS Q8. Figure on 440kW and 0-100 in 3.8sec, making it amongst the quickest of the full-sized luxury SUVs. The sensible will probably make do and be exceedingly happy with the tamer but still quite wild SQ8.
Model Audi SQ8 TDI Price $194,400
Engine 3956cc, V8, TDI, 320kW/900Nm
Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Vitals 4.76sec 0-100km/h, 7.8L/100km, 205g/km, 2523kg