It’s almost hard to believe that not so long ago, the idea of a serious, performance SUV in the large segment would have been the stuff of pub banter and bluster – but now the segment is getting a proper roll on.
The newest kid on the block domestically is the 2020 Audi SQ7, which is very much a large SUV, and very much performance-oriented, too.
How performance-oriented you ask? Well, the 320kW between 3750rpm and 4750rpm and a thumping 900Nm between 1250rpm and 3250rpm, as well as 0–100km/h in 4.8 seconds, tell part of the story. The duality of character, though, is evidenced by the ADR combined fuel claim – just 7.6L/100km – despite the performance on offer, which tells the other part of the story.
On test, we saw an indicated usage of 8.2L/100km around town in decent traffic, and it didn’t even crack double digits after a, shall we say, enthusiastic country drive. The SQ7 has a significant wick, and when you wind it up, you soon forget you’re sitting in a large SUV, but it doesn’t guzzle fuel like a performance petrol engine would either.
First, though, the styling. You get the Audi Sport ‘S’ body styling, 22-inch wheels, Matrix LED headlights with dynamic rear indicators, red brake callipers, adaptive air suspension, aluminium-look mirrors, tinted windows, power-assisted door closure and metallic paint.
The standard equipment list goes on and on, but I think despite the physical size of the SQ7, it’s attractive with a delicate edge. The edges aren’t as sharp and hefty as they might otherwise be, and while styling is subjective, I think it cuts a svelte figure on the street.
The vehicle we drove at launch starts from $161,500 before on-road costs, and had the following options: Dynamic Package – active roll stabilisation, quattro sport differential – ($10,900), Audi Exclusive titanium black exterior styling package ($1450), and Sensory Package, which brings with it interior niceties as well as a Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 23 speakers, front massaging seats, rear heated seats among others, ($1950).
That rounds the starting price out to $189,100 before on-road costs. Yes, it’s significantly more expensive than a regular Q7, and no, it’s not cheap to play at this end of the performance pool regardless of the badge on the bonnet.
Having reviewed the new Q7 not so long ago, slipping into the SQ7’s driver seat is like pulling on your favourite hoodie. It’s comfortable, high-riding, stylish and premium inside the cabin. Quiet, too, when you close the door and get ready to peel out.
The diesel is almost impossibly insulated at everything bar redline, where you effectively hear more of the exhaust note than diesel clatter anyway.
The SQ7 has had what the industry calls a facelift, but from behind the wheel, it might as well be an all-new vehicle. It really does feel different to the model it replaces, bang up to date and so equipped.
I love the now expected integration of Virtual Cockpit and the way you can customise it to suit your preference. For our launch drive, I had the map as large as possible in the driver display, with the digital speedo off to the corner, and the centre screen displaying phone functionality via wireless Apple CarPlay. The wireless charging dock – under the small centre console lid – works quickly enough and keeps the phone secure out of sight.
There’s more than enough storage available, and there’s a distinct sense of quality to the switchgear and design of the cabin in general. The Arras red trim with contrasting anthracite stitching is understated despite what you might think, and tasteful.
At this end of the pricing spectrum, you’re competing with other high-end metal, and Audi knows that. As such, there’s attention to detail and quality in the fit and finish.
The view forward from the driver’s seat is broad, and the combination of steering wheel and seat adjustment means you can get into exactly the right position to combine comfort and visibility. Our launch drive covered 300km and it was a comfortable run, that’s for sure. We didn’t test the second row extensively – our drive was solo – but a quick seat back there indicates that even with tall occupants up front, there’s room for adults for road trips.
There is a reason family buyers love the Q7, and the SQ7 delivers on that same flexibility promise.
When you have a crack on a twisty road, the seats keep you in place, too – something not all performance SUVs can boast. There’s no doubt that you take a seat in the SQ7 and feel like the money is well spent. It’s a large SUV you’ll enjoy spending time in if you do head this way, that’s for sure.
Now, that V8 oiler, and what an engine it is. Who doesn’t love a performance diesel engine? Peak torque from just above idle? It doesn’t get much better than that, especially when it comes to daily driving chores. There’s just a whopping surge of power as soon as you nail the throttle, and all of a sudden the big SQ7 is at the speed limit without even taking a deep breath.
It remains an intoxicating way to sample power delivery – so effortless and smooth. Its party trick is the simple fact that you don’t have to beat on it to extract its best or get to a rapid speed. It’s just a nudge of the throttle pedal away.
The twin-turbo diesel V8 is partnered with a 48V (I can’t call it a mild hybrid) system, which sounds tough as nails as the revs climb – something you might not expect. In simple terms, the 48V electrical system replaces the alternator and starter motor, and also slaps the engine with a small boost of assistance under hard acceleration off the mark.
The SQ7 feels quick off the mark for a big beast, too – certainly one that is capable of rolling around town with the family on board as easily as the Q7 platform has proven to do. It should feel quick, given the 0–100km/h time, but it does actually ‘feel’ fast.
The eight-speed torque converter auto is sensational and the quattro AWD system delivers the grip we’ve now come to expect from Audi. Whether you’re cruising around town, or slicing up and down through the ratios, the gearbox is never fussed.
I’ve criticised big Audis for riding a little too firm in the past, but the SQ7 is a revelation in terms of the balance between handling and ride quality. In Comfort mode it wafts along competently, comfortable on even nastier coarse-chip sections of road. It never loses composure either, quickly settling back into its stride after a deep mid-corner rut, still maintaining the pin-sharp line you’ve asked the front end to carve out. The ride feels solid, like everything else about the SQ7.
Our tester had the optional Dynamic Package, of course, which definitely helps here without doubt. The quattro sport differential sharpens up the power delivery, but the active roll stabilisation, which also leans on the 48V system, reduces the lean or tilt side-to-side under heavy cornering. You can sense that it’s working, too, such is the flat way the SQ7 carves through a corner.
I really think that when you get to this section of the large-SUV segment, buyers aren’t arguing the toss on price. Sure, they want a sharp deal, but they know what they are getting themselves into, and they’ve probably had a good cross-specification investigation, as well.
So, the question is, does the 2020 Audi SQ7 do what it says it will do on the box? Yep. And then some. It’s competent, brawny and built like a tank. It also hides a more delicate, functional side, and that duality of character is one of the main reasons it will impress potential owners.
If you want a luxurious and useful, large family SUV, but you want it to feel like a sledgehammer when the mood takes you, few do it as well as the SQ7.