2017 Audi SQ7 review

Rating: 8.5
$91,850 $109,230 Dealer
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It is a rolling exercise in science and engineering, but is the range-topping 320kW/900Nm Audi SQ7 the total package it looks like on paper?
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If there is one constant in this big, wide world of ours, it's mathematics.

The simple purity of numbers makes any statement ultimately measurable. For example, even the most theoretical of mathematicians will concede that 7 is greater than 5. It is an undeniable, calculable result that is the same every single time.

The 2017 Audi SQ7 may look to most like a big, blue SUV, but deep down, it is an exercise in pure maths. Numbers stacked upon numbers. A machine running on equations and calculations, producing cold, hard results.

Let’s start with the big stuff.

For $153,616 (before options and on-road costs), you get a 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 which produces 320kW at 5000rpm, plus a staggering 900Nm from just 1000rpm.

This shovels the 2535kg, seven-seater from a standstill to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds, all while returning a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km.

I’m sure there are some surds, polynomials and even Planck’s constant in there somewhere too, but whatever the case, it is currently, the fastest diesel SUV in the world.

That all might seem complex and irrational, but it’s very real. Radical, right?

That’s a maths joke. Sorry.

In a world-first for a production car, the SQ7 uses an electric compressor, essentially a third turbocharger, which doesn’t rely on exhaust gases to develop boost. This fills the response hole, previously occupied by turbo-lag, until the main turbochargers build up enough pressure to come online.

Even the ‘traditional’ twin-turbo setup is developed for maximum performance, with the primary used for low to mid engine loads, and the secondary called into action when engine speeds rise to the redline.

In the real world, what you get is an almost instant response from anywhere in the rev range, and a vehicle which pulls away with seemingly no limit in sight. There’s no shock rush of exponential acceleration either, just a linear pull toward infinity.

Running a constant all-wheel drive through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Audi SQ7 is smooth, and quick to change both up and down ratios, handy for when you need to drop all that torque on the tarmac for a brisk overtaking manoeuvre.

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There’s also a groundbreaking 48-volt electrical system powering the SQ7 (most cars still run 12-volt), not only to keep the stereo bumping but to support the clever active suspension components.

Under the big Audi, the sway bars, which help manage body roll through corners, are electrically actuated to respond, dynamically, to the way the car is being driven.

Under relaxed driving conditions, the bars are disconnected to allow the air suspension to provide a more comfortable ride. Pick up the pace and sway bars are connected, left to right, to give the car more torsional rigidity, keeping it flatter through corners.

It feels more like a nimble sportster than a giant family truckster; the mixture of engine performance and dynamic ability a true standout of the work that Audi has put into this car.

This works in concert with a four-wheel steering system, which at speeds above 60km/h turns the rear wheels the same direction as the front to improve higher-speed stability. At low speeds, the rear wheels counter steer up to five degrees to help with manoeuvrability.

We found you could perform a u-turn in the 5069mm long SQ7 in a smaller radius than our long-term Toyota RAV4 (4605mm), which is supremely handy in an urban environment.

And it is here, around town, where the SQ7 is likely to see most of its time.

With the car in its comfort setting, engine response is still swift and the ride is compliant enough to make the big Audi very usable in traffic.

That big V8 tries hard to be efficient and we saw short urban-only runs in the low 9L/100km range (Audi claims 8.4L/100km). Pretty impressive in anyone’s book.

The active safety and assistance features work well, providing good driving intelligence without being obtrusive, although the blind-spot detection lights can be pretty bright at times, but hey, at least you can see them!

It is a hugely complex yet impressive machine, punctuated in no small way by being both luxurious and functional on the inside.

From the 235-litre boot forward (expands to 900-litres and then 1890-litres), the SQ7 considers the day-to-day demands of its likely family buyers’ needs.

You can lower the loading height thanks to the air suspension, to make it easier to access the cargo area. When there, you can raise and lower the powered third-row seating at the touch of a button.

All rear seats, three in the middle and two in the back, have ISOFIX points. The centre row can be moved forward on rails, reclined or folded in a 40:20:40 configuration.

There are cupholders, air vents and storage cubbies, and while the back-back is tight for an adult (fine for kids, though), the middle row is hugely spacious and wonderfully comfortable.

Up front, vision is great and there is good storage. The 12.3-inch virtual cockpit instrument display is very easy to use, and the pop-up 8.3-inch LCD screen in the dash a particular standout when running the Google Maps navigation overlay.

As an interface, the air conditioning control, with proximity-predicting buttons and a clear digital display, is excellent. The need to cycle through drive modes both up and down, via the buttons on the middle of the dash, a little less so.

I found the MMI handwriting tablet to be a little counter-intuitive, mainly as when accessing it with my left hand (I’m right-handed), I drew all my letters and numbers back to front… but that may say something about me more than the system.

But other than that, everything worked smoothly, including Bluetooth and iPhone integration.

We didn’t like the painted lower dashboard and console plastic trim, though. You can upgrade to carbon-fibre for another $1950, but that shouldn’t mean the default trim needs to look cheap.

That said, the Alcantara door trims, flat-bottomed steering wheel, aluminium trim and Audi Sport motifs support the performance nature of the SQ7 and when you fire it up, it sounds properly meaty.

But, and there’s always a but, the SQ7 may seem to be an all singing, all-dancing product showcase, but it is missing something. Personality.

Case in point. Under full load, the SQ7 sounds sonorous, but the natural V8 diesel beat is augmented by a speaker system behind the rear bumper, helping everyone on the outside know you’ve got a pretty sweet ride.

Yes, you read that right. Next time an SQ7 zaps past and you think it sounds great, remember it has been designed to sound exactly that way. Clinically engineered awesomeness.

And in a way, it’s this which defines the character, or somewhat lack of character, of the big Audi.

It is impressively capable but there’s a feeling that because the SQ7 has been developed to that mathematical level of precision, there’s no real sense of engagement.

Consideration to achieve to a specification list, but not to provide any warmth or flexibility beyond that.

An example, as silly as it is, is the parcel blind. All that space, all that technology, and still there is the issue of having nowhere to put the stupid blind if you’re caught on the hop going from five seats out to seven. Sure, it’s a minor thing, but once you start looking, there are more and more ‘cold’ approaches to the car than character driven ones.

Access to the third row requires the heavy seats to be folded in a way that my seven-year-old daughter couldn’t manage by herself.

There are no USB points for rear passengers (there is a pair of 12-volt accessory outlets, though). And the all-grey interior, despite the nice quilted pattern on the seats ($2050 option), isn’t really inspiring after a while.

Even using the car’s dynamic drive mode around town, which you will, starts to take some of the shine off the experience.

The throttle is twitchy, the gearbox a bit jerky and the ride a bit too jittery. Yes, you’ve pushed the button to activate the ‘well hard’ mode, but that should make the car a bit more fun in the process. In the SQ7 it is as though the car is fighting against you, it knowing how to be more pure and efficient by science, than giving you reward by feel.

Then there’s the fact that despite this being a range-topping machine, you still have to tick a fair number of options to get the full SQ7 experience.

The cool four-wheel steering and tricky electro-activated suspension system we mentioned before? They are part of a $13,500 optional dynamic package, which, for mine, is really pushing the friendship.

These make the SQ7 what it is, a seven-seat sports machine. This is what you sign up for, so why not just make it a $167,116 car and bundle that in?

The lovely Sepang Blue paint (one of 12 choices) is a $2250 option. The 21-inch five-twin-spoke alloy wheels are a $4000 option, and still don’t look that big.

Those cool matrix-beam LED headlamps, that’s another $2000. Our car didn’t have the full-length panoramic sunroof ($3990), but for a $150k premium SUV, it probably should.

It makes the SQ7, once you factor in on-road costs, close to a $200,000 proposition, which in turn makes a regular 200kW Q7, starting from $104,855, a much more sensible choice.

Sure you have to option that one up as well, but you’ll probably get the car you were expecting, both in terms of luxury, performance and all-around friendly nature. The great size, flexible seats and usable cabin all exist there too, plus it is even more efficient at the pump (5.9L/100km combined cycle).

Make no mistake, as a rolling solution to a second-order differential linear equation, the answer is SQ7. It truly is a marvel of engineering intelligence and efficiency.

But like many mathematical problems, the solution offers no grey area (except perhaps the seats), lacking any type of free-form interpretation, or in terms of the car, character.

And as much fun as it was, you can’t spend your whole day doing impossible 4WS u-turns as a way to rationalise the whole car.

If your daily commute takes in a winding, open road where you can stretch the legs of the 2017 Audi SQ7, then you will love it.

But for the rest of us, it makes more sense as a statement of what is possible rather than what is needed, and perhaps a contrary point to mathematical formulae as we know it, showing here that the lesser Q7 is, for the most part, the greater Q7.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.

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