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Limo-levels of space and five-star comfort won’t be reason enough to get eager Audi fans to shell out around 45 grand over the standard Q7 price tag for the new Audi SQ7 – it’s the bang under the bonnet, which lies at the heart of this killer value proposition.
Audi has dropped a 4.0-litre diesel into its humongous seven-seat SUV along with all the available high-tech gear they could squeeze into its newest ‘S’ model.
This is no ordinary TDI, but rather, a twin-turbo V8 with 320 kW of power and a truck-like 900 Nm of torque plus an electric-powered compressor (EPC) that eliminates turbo lag altogether.
At least, that’s the claim.
The science behind it is pretty easy to grasp. Instead of relying on exhaust gasses to provide the boost, the SQ7’s electrical compressor can increase the power in a fractional 250 milliseconds.
It’s all thanks to the SQ7’s new 48-volt electrical system, which itself is powered by a 48v lithium-ion battery stored under the boot floor, with seemingly no impact on standard load space.
Effectively, the Audi SQ7 marketing blurb may as well say it’s a triple turbo, when you factor in the two sequential turbochargers working alongside the EPC. It’s also the first road car to ever feature the technology, but probably not the last.
It also means with the compressor, the big Audi is able to deliver its full payload of 900 Nm from just 1000 rpm, which is a mouth-watering proposition for any enthusiast with a need for seven seats.
Does it work?
You bet. In fact, there’s simply nothing quite like it when it comes to hauling 2.3 tonne of metal off the mark with such sustained shove, and dare I say, refinement.
Unfortunately, the test route was located in France, where the maximum speed limit is sign posted at 130km/h, so it was impossible to get anywhere near the SQ7’s full potential on this particular occasion, but I see absolutely no cause to dispute the performance claim of 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds (4.9 sec for the seven-seat version).
If anything, it feels quicker, once all 900 Nm hook up to all four wheels. There’s no hesitation (well almost), no slithering, and no fuss – you just punch it, and it goes – hard.
That’s especially so, if you’ve selected the Sport setting with the eight-speed auto transmission, and dialled up Dynamic in the drive mode menu. And it doesn't really matter where you are in the rev range, either, or how much throttle you apply – the reaction is always instantaneous and the engine willing.
But here’s the thing, power delivery is just so beautifully measured and utterly vibration free – to the point where is just doesn't feel like you’re driving a diesel – ever.
That’s partly down to the silky-smooth nature of the SQ7’s eights-speed automatic transmission. It’s also a quick-shifting unit with the choice of manual mode via the paddle shifters, which look to have been lifted directly from the Volkswagen Golf parts bin.
Better still, it has an engine note like no other diesel-powered SUV I’ve ever heard. It sounds more like a thumping great petrol V8 – even at idle. Remove the TDI badge on the tailgate and no one would ever guess it had a diesel motor under the bonnet, I guarantee it.
I can’t say for certain that turbo lag has been categorically consigned to the history books with the arrival of the SQ7, particularly if you find yourself in a small Alsace village littered with endless roundabouts requiring drivers to tolerate multiple low-speed stop/starts.
It’s only on these occasions where you may experience the occasional trace of lag, but only if you’re that committed to the task of detection. Otherwise, this compressor/turbo partnership is a game-changer for turbo-powered vehicles in general.
Audi claims 7.6L/100km fuel consumption for the seven-seat version, but confirmation will have to wait until we evaluate the vehicle locally.
For a five-metre plus vehicle with this kind of mass, the SQ7 is also surprisingly light on its feet. Once you get used to it (and it doesn't take long) your confidence behind the wheel grows and the big SUV starts to feel more like a well-sorted hatch from the same Audi stable, as it blasts across the winding French countryside, with little or no lean. Not quite believable until you experience it for yourself.
Standard fitment on the SQ7 is adaptive air suspension, but our tester was also equipped with the optional Chassis package advanced that includes a Sport differential, all-wheel steering and electromechanical roll stabilisation – another particularly effective piece of technology and the reason for its sublime handling.
It’s a sophisticated system that uses a compact electric motor (with juice from the car’s 48-volt system) with a three-stage planetary gearbox that separates the two halves of the stabiliser. On an uneven road surface, they are actively detached for a softer, more comfortable ride. Get stuck into it though, and the tubes re-attach and twist against each other to negate cornering lean.
It’s a similar system to the one used in the Bentley Bentayga (also under the same VW Group umbrella), which, when working in concert with the other kit in the package, makes the car feel positively pointy up front – almost Porsche Cayenne-like.
Comfort was obviously high on the list of engineering necessities for the SQ7, because even riding on 22-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile 285/35 R-series tyres, compliance is downright exemplary – and that’s in the sporty Dynamic setting, which firms things up.
I’m not sure what the standard steel brakes are like, but I can tell you without question that the carbon-ceramic ones are simply outstanding – even after trying to induce fade with repeated high-speed stops – the pedal pressure required is the same, as is their ability to wipe off big speed with complete composure.
So far, there’s plenty to like about the SQ7, but what about the styling, does it differentiate itself enough from the standard Q7, given you’re dropping close to another 50K?
That’s the question flashy types might take issue with, and rightly so. There’s a bit more aluminium embellishment around the grille, down the sides and on the wing mirrors, but punters will be none the wiser. The only telling sign besides the badging are the beefy quad exhaust tips, otherwise it’s another Audi Q car.
Inside, it’s a standard Q7 fit-out (that’s high-end) but for a few nice embellishments like the glossy carbon-fibre inlays and superbly cosseting sports bucket seats, which are both properly bolstered and thickly cushioned to deal with all manner of driving styles and road conditions.
As Audi’s range-topping SUV, the SQ7 comes with plenty of standard kit including Audi's benchmark 12.3-inch virtual cockpit display with customisation and intuitive operation, and a power tailgate.
There’s also a high-end Bang & Olufsen sound system featuring 23 speakers, 11 channels and a 1920-Watt amplifier that can include two Audi tablets docked into the rear of the front seats – click here for a more detailed equipment list.
Safety has also been well catered for on board the SQ7, with a raft of 24 individual driver-assistance systems such as Audi's pre sense city, predictive efficiency and adaptive cruise.
Whether you like the styling or not, the SQ7 is the new benchmark in the luxury SUV segment. It ticks all the right boxes for the buyer looking for as much grunt as there is space and tech. And the proposition is even better when you factor in the proposed pricing strategy.
Audi Australia hasn't officially announced pricing or specification for SQ7, but has told the media it will wear a price tag under $160,000 plus on-roads when it arrives in October.