The fastest seven-seat diesel SUV in the world has landed in Oz, but can Audi's new SQ7 deliver large on its promises of super-sized performance and family friendliness?
The “fastest seven-seat diesel SUV in the world,” as its maker claims, has hit Aussie terra firma and I’m surely not the only observer to view the concept around the 2017 Audi SQ7 TDI with a degree of logic-driven skepticism.
Even the concept is tricky to pin down: does the new large-SUV tree-topper from Ingolstadt favour performance? Or sportiness? Or both? And why would you need lots of either, or both, in a device intrinsically purposed for hauling half of the under-nines soccer team to the local park on Sunday morning?
Of course, the thick end of premium market caters more for wants than needs, despite how comprehensively the latter is covered off. In some buyers’ eyes, the allure of simply owning “the most-powerful diesel SUV in Australia” alone is well worth the $153,616 admission before you get Audi’s first-ever SQ7 on the road or tick any options boxes.
Still, its 320kW, monstrous 900Nm, heady sub-five-second 0-100km/h claim and frankly unusable 250km/h electronically governed top speed, while sealing the deal for some, don’t go far in enlightening how good the big Audi is at either hauling loved ones or carving curves. But, it does inform that, positioning wise, this is more a ‘performance’ than a ‘high-performance’ SUV. That said, given’s Audi’s trepidation in marrying an ‘RS’ badge with diesel power, this could well be as hot a Q7 as the market might see for quite some time.
Now that local pricing and specifications have been released, it turns out that the version we drove at the international launch in France back in May, a car that scored a resounding nine-from-10 rating, was loaded with options not featured on the standard Australian vehicle. Thankfully, the local launch, which covered around 300 kilometres of driving and much of it across glorious Snowy Mountains twisties in southern New South Wales, offered a mix of lightly and heavily optioned SQ7s with which to compare various features.
Our main test car was fitted with a number of options lifting its as-tested list price to $179,366. Which is around a sum total of two base Q7 160kW versions ($96,855 list price apiece).
While the $2200 to upgrade the standard fit LED headlights to an all singing and dancing LED Matrix design seems a reasonable ask, charging extra for cosmetic stuff such as metallic paint ($2250), ‘titanium black’ highlights ($1850) and red painted brake calipers ($950) is little rich for a premium vehicle priced north of $150k. Our tester also gets 21-inch rolling stock, up from standard issue 20s, adding $5000 to the bottom line.
The big-ticket item is the Dynamic package that wants for a frosty $13,500 premium. This suite adds all-wheel steering, electromechanical active roll stabilisation and a Quattro sport performance-type rear differential and right here is the rub: stonking 4.0-litre V8 diesel engine apart, the tricky anti-roll and differential system are key features separating the humble Q7 base from the loftier SQ7 spec. And yet you have to pay extra for them.
As we’d discover comparing differently optioned SQ7s at launch, omitting the pricey Dynamic package and 21-inch wheels – which fattens the rubber footprint at each corner from 235mm to a whopping 285mm – markedly impacts everything from ride comfort and handling to noise and fuel consumption. More of which shortly…
We covered off the intricacies of the revolutionary ‘electrically compressed’ twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 in our international review and, out on Aussie roads, it’s a gem of an engine. Shoehorn this engine and its ZF-sourced eight-speed conventional automatic into a reasonably lightweight A4 Avant, say, and you’d have one helluva ballistic rocketship. When tasked with hauling 2270kg of SUV metal, glass, leather and rubber, though, and the net effect ranges from adequate to stunning depending on the driving situation.
Where the diesel V8 shines best is in low-speed tractability and near instantaneous throttle response. There’s a formidable 900Nm on call from just from 1000rpm and, frankly, you rarely need to rev the engine beyond the 3250rpm point where torque drops off. Better yet, the urgency of the engine, even in lazy Comfort mode, is fantastic. Despite the complexity (and weight penalty) of the 48-volt architecture required to run the lag-eradicating electric compressor system, the newfound drivability it brings to diesel motivation more than makes up for it.
It sounds great, too, with a properly rich and deep V8 burble coming through the sound actuators (in Dynamic mode), though set the drive mode to more leisurely Comfort and the bent eight is whisper quiet. There’s five different modes to choose from – Allroad, Efficiency, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic – plus a user-assignable Individual, though you really need to be pushing on to need to dig into the more sporting settings.
When you do dig in, it doesn’t quite feel as swift as its 4.9sec 0-100km/h claim even though it patently is. Perhaps it’s the sheer size and weight of the thing that dulls the perceived pace. Where the powertrain feels merely adequate is when asked to pile on pace from a cruising velocity: there’s a slight pause before it mans the battle stations – even in Dynamic mode – and it doesn’t quite have the sledgehammer shove you expect from 900Nm on tap. To be fair, spend time with the SQ7 and a sledgehammer effect clearly isn’t the vibe Audi was chasing.
It’s quite frugal, with consumption on test close to its 7.6L/100km combined cycle advertisement, though it was during one light-throttle, 100-kilometre highway cruise where it’d brush the seven on occasion. In outright terms and for the energy on tap, that’s a fairly remarkable return. Interestingly, its rating on smaller 20-inch 235mm tyres improves to a 7.2-litre claim – yes, a difference of 0.4L/100km/h just in rolling stock!
Sat on standard-issue adaptive air suspension, the SQ7 is a well polished cruising experience if one lacking the proper lustre of a regular Q7 (fitted with optional adaptive air suspension).
At a cruise, the initial ride quality is a little fidgety and terse even in the softest mode settings, and those 285mm Continental ContiSport Contact tyres emit a fair amount of noise on coarse road surfaces. There’s some noticeable thumping, booming and slapping, not to the point of annoyance or fatigue over long-distance touring but, for sheer quietness and serenity, it doesn’t quite match the regular (air-suspened) Q7’s lofty excellence.
In terms of handling and dynamics, the SQ7 is something of a mixed bag, even if actual corning ability is nigh on astounding. Grip from those fat tyres is formidable, and the roll mitigation – an active anti-roll bar arrangement powered by the 48-volt lithium ion system that tightens in curves and loosens during straight ahead driving – allows the SQ7 to sit incredibly flat when hooking hard through all manner of corners.
It’s a planted, predictable and co-operative handler, if one governed by its conspicuous body mass and the high levels of lateral inertia at play should you treat it like a sports car. It’s not agile. It doesn’t shrink around you. It doesn’t respond to being manhandled with abandon. From behind the wheel, and despite the consummate grip, you sense that the arrival of gravel or black ice in the middle of corner-carving heroics might demand a large degree of driver correction.
It points faithfully and steers quite accurately though, again, it’s no sports car. There’s actually decent feedback and steering weight increases in direct relation to load across the front axle, but there’s fake layer of extra weight thrown on top that doesn’t do anything to improve the driving experience. Dynamic mode is proper arm-burner, and unnecessarily so, while even in its lightest Comfort setting the steering is a bit cumbersome when tasked with around town, family hauling business.
We did sample an unoptioned SQ7 and as well as saving $18,500 removing big wheels and the Dynamic package from the cost equation this introduces a quieter, suppler riding and generally more genial driving experience.
Problem is, the drop in dynamic talent – in grip, in body roll, in general cornering pace and engagement – impacts negatively on the credentials steering buyers towards the SQ7 to begin with. You do get the ‘S’ look, the lavish equipment and that energetic and characterful V8 unfiltered, though, and if you honestly have no intention of regularly chucking your SQ7 down a twisty back road there’s a lot to like with this stripped back format, starting with the hip-pocket saving.
There’s little else about the SQ7 package that robs from the high-quality, family friendly SUV goodness of the regular Q7 – goodness that continues to garner praise in CarAdvice review. Inside, there’s not a lot the ‘S’ version adds to design, materials and presentation beyond the obligatory flat-bottomed sports steering wheel and racier-shaped seating.
It remains spacious and airy, slick if slightly austere, and the combination of digital screen and information overload continues to frustrate or delight depending on user taste and preference. In fine Audi tradition, you can spend the GDP of a small nation personalizing the spec and equipment level with various cost options. You can even opt for a five-seat version, though this is through special order only.
If rationality rules and urban family friendliness is the highest priority, there are plenty of strong reasons why the regular Q7 is a slightly better option even with money notwithstanding. And if punting across the Snowy Mountains without haste is part of your regular routine, then the smaller, leaner and more engaging SQ5, at just $92,955 plus on-roads, is arguably the smarter alternative to its larger S-badged brethren.Large