What Car? says...
If we asked you to name a vehicle capable of whisking up to seven people across Europe at great speed in the lap of luxury, what comes to mind? A Learjet, perhaps? That’s the fancy option, but it’s rather pricey. Here, we're looking at something a bit more accessible – the Audi SQ7.
The regular Audi Q7 is a car we rate highly. Not only does it offer a relaxing blend of comfort and peaceful cruising manners, but it’s also surprisingly agile for such a spacious seven-seat luxury SUV. It is, in effect, the perfect basis for building a high-performance SUV.
With that in mind, Audi plonked a whopping great 500bhp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre petrol engine up front. Yes, you did read that correctly: a 500bhp petrol engine. The 429bhp V8 diesel that powered the previous-generation SQ7 has been sent to the scrapyard, perhaps because diesel is no longer seen as an attractive option by more environmentally conscious car buyers.
As well as a new engine, the SQ7 also has standard fit four-wheel steering and S-specific adaptive air suspension – power, after all, is nothing without control. The result of Audi’s labours is astounding. Despite weighing the better part of two and half tonnes, it can now accelerate from 0-62mph in just 4.1 seconds – a 0.7sec improvement over its predecessor, and quicker than an Aston Martin DBX.
Now, that all sounds very impressive, but does it actually work? Is the SQ7 a better sports SUV than rivals such as the BMW X7 M50i, the Porsche Cayenne GTS and the Range Rover Sport SVR? Read on over the next few pages, where we'll compare them and let you know (we have a full separate review of the regular Audi Q7).
Once you’ve decided on the SQ7, or a new vehicle of any make and model, don't go anywhere until you've checked out how much you could save by using our New Car Deals pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The diesel V8 found under the vast bonnet of the previous-generation Audi SQ7 was an absolute powerhouse of an engine and felt perfectly in keeping with the car’s continent-crushing demeanour. However, the moment you thumb the starter button in the latest SQ7 and hear the rumble of that characterful twin-turbocharged petrol V8 (which is also used in the Porsche Cayenne GTS), all thoughts of the old engine are banished.
Put your foot down in any gear and the mighty forward thrust is akin to surfing a tsunami. Maximum grunt is available from just 2000rpm and doesn’t let up until the power band takes over at 4000rpm. That surge of power is complemented by the silky-smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox. In the previous diesel SQ7, there was a noticeable lag when you put your foot down, but that has been ironed out. Even around town, gear shifts are only perceptible because of the change in the engine tone.
There's no denying that the SQ7 is a huge car, of course, and you can certainly sense its heft when you steer left then right through an S-bend, but the way it handles and grips the road is deeply impressive for such a practical seven-seater. Granted, some smaller sports SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne feel even more agile and involving, but compared with the top-heavy BMW X7 M50i, the SQ7 feels positively sprightly.
Part of that is down to the fact that all SQ7’s come with four-wheel steering. At slow speeds, the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction to the front ones, helping the big seven-seater turn into tighter corners with the enthusiastic character of a hot hatchback. When you're going faster, the rear wheels turn in the same direction, giving the SQ7 more stability. The steering is nicely weighted to give you confidence in what the front wheels are up to, although you do get more feedback in a Cayenne.
The standard fit adaptive sports air suspension has a selection of driving modes to soften or stiffen the set-up, helping to broaden the SQ7s repertoire. When you pop the suspension into its softest Comfort setting, ride quality is as good as it gets in a super-fast SUV. Yes, the regular Audi Q7 is even more supple, but the SQ7 still breezes over all manner of lumps and bumps. Even the Black Edition and Vorsprung models, which roll on whopping 22in alloy wheels as standard, are remarkably comfortable, although they do pick up on surface imperfections a little more.
Sit at a steady 70mph in the Audi SQ7 and there's a little more roar from the fat tyres than you’d hear in a Q7, but the car suppresses tyre and wind noise incredibly well – better than a Cayenne and on a par with the limousine-like X7 M50i. Unlike the discontinued V8 diesel, the petrol V8 sounds fantastic at all speeds, whether it's bumbling around town or right at the top of the rev range.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Audi SQ7’s interior is a world of soft-touch materials and precision-action switches, further enhanced by leather seats, Alcantara door inserts and brushed aluminium trims. The Vorsprung model has a full leather interior package that wraps the dashboard and the insides of the doors in genuine hide.
SQ7s come with an electrically adjustable driver’s seat and manually adjustable steering wheel (an electrically adjustable steering wheel is fitted to the Vorsprung edition). The range of adjustment – which includes an extendable seatbase and four-way lumbar adjustment – makes it easy to find your ideal driving position, while the exaggerated side bolsters of the sports seats hold you firmly in place during enthusiastic cornering. They're comfortable on long journeys, too, while Vorsprung models add a massage function and ventilation in the front, plus heating for the outer rear seats.
With all its performance potential, it’s easy to forget that the SQ7 is a big SUV, and the associated high driving position is a commanding one that offers a grand view of the road ahead. With the third row of seats in use, your over-the-shoulder view is limited, but no matter – standard front and rear parking sensors, as well as a rear-view camera, help out in tight spots. The Vorsprung variant gets a 360-degree bird's eye view camera and a self-parking system (this can be added to the base SQ7 or Black Edition as part of the Comfort and Sound Pack).
The SQ7 features Audi’s latest infotainment system. It uses two touchscreens: a 10.1in screen on the main dashboard to deal with main operations such as sat-nav and music, and an 8.6in screen set below it to adjust the climate control and heated seats. The system is crisp, with sharp graphics, but the fact that you have to look at the screen to find whichever icon corresponds with the function you want to use can make it difficult to operate on the move. That's especially true of the smaller screen as it's mounted very low in the dash, forcing your eyes well off the road. The BMW X7 M50i’s iDrive system with its rotary controller is far less distracting to operate.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is standard, replacing conventional analogue dials with a 12.3in digital screen. As well as the speed, engine and fuel data you'd expect, it can show detailed sat-nav maps and infotainment information where they're easy to see. Vorsprung goes further, adding a crisp head-up display that presents sat-nav instructions and speed readings right in your line of sight.
As you might expect, the Audi SQ7 comes with sat-nav and Bluetooth, but you also get high-speed 4G internet access and services including Google Street View and Twitter, as well as live weather, news and travel reports.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Along with power, the other thing the Audi SQ7 isn’t short of is space. Up front, there are acres of head and leg room, and the interior is wide enough to provide plenty of elbow room, too. The SQ7 has lots of oddment space in the front, with large door bins and other trays and cubbies dotted around.
Getting into and out of the middle-row seats is easy, thanks to the big, wide-opening rear doors, and once inside, you'll find plenty of leg room and more shoulder room than in a Porsche Cayenne. The SQ7's width means it’s one of the more comfortable cars for three large adults sitting side by side, helped by the fact that each has an individually sliding and reclining seat.
The two fold-out third-row seats are fine for kids and shorter adults, but anyone tall will have stiff knees if asked to spend too long there – ultimately, if you’re going to be carrying more than four people fairly regularly, you’d be far better opting for the huge BMW X7 M50i with its spacious third row. The seats are easy to operate, though, with convenient switches by the tailgate that power them up or down electrically.
In five-seat mode, the boot is easily big enough to take a couple of buggies, while we managed to fit an impressive 10 carry-on suitcases inside. Even with all seven seats in place, the boot will still swallow a few large shopping bags. There’s also a small amount of extra storage available under the floor.
If you fold down all five rear seats, you’re left with a vast space and a completely flat, extended load area. This makes loading bulky items relatively straightforward, especially since there’s no lip at the boot entrance.
The Audi SQ7 comes with an electric tailgate as standard, plus you can lower the air suspension at the touch of a button by the tailgate so there’s less distance to heave up those heavier loads.
By the way, there's also a coupé SUV version of the SQ7, with a swoopier rear and a little less head room in the back. If that sounds appealing, have a look at our Audi SQ8 review.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Audi SQ7 is a pricey cash buy, no doubt, but it’s quite a bit cheaper than the BMW X7 M50i, the Range Rover Sport SVR and the Porsche Cayenne GTS. Residual values, meanwhile, are impressive (you should expect the SQ7 to retain more than half its value over three years of ownership) but it doesn't do quite as well for depreciation as the premium-badged Cayenne and SVR.
Audi claims the SQ7 will return 23.3mpg in mixed conditions, but just be aware that if you work the engine hard, fuel economy will quickly drop into the low teens. In other words, you will be spending a lot of your time at the fuel pumps, but the same is also true for the SQ7’s closest rivals. A lower list price than the X7 M50i means the SQ7 will cost company car drivers less in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax, but it's still in the top 37% tax bracket.
However, once you’ve accepted the relatively dramatic costs involved, you can at least enjoy the long list of luxuries and gizmos that come as standard. There are Valcona leather seats, sat-nav and Audi’s fantastic virtual cockpit system, as well as 21in alloy wheels and a sporty body kit to help it stand out from lesser Q7s. Black Edition trim adds to that generous equipment list with visual enhancements including larger 22in wheels, a black styling pack, adaptive sports air suspension and polished oak interior trim. It also gets four-zone climate control which allows rear-seat passengers to dial in a different temperature to those in the front.
If you really splash out and go for the Vorsprung edition and you'll also get huge 22in wheels, adaptive cruise control, a panoramic glass roof, a black styling pack, matrix LED headlights, a full leather interior and a punchy Bang & Olufsen premium sound system. It is significantly more expensive, but if you were planning to raid the options list anyway, it does make sense.
Euro NCAP awarded the SQ7 a five-star safety rating, but the Porsche Cayenne does a fractionally better job of protecting front passengers from chest injury in a frontal collision. To help you avoid an accident in the first place, it comes with active safety equipment including low-speed automatic emergency braking (AEB), which alerts you to potential frontal collisions with cars or pedestrians and applies the brakes if necessary. However, the Vorsprung variant adds heaps more standard safety aids, including high-speed AEB, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and active lane-keeping assistance.
Passive safety comes in the form of standard front and side airbags, plus curtain airbags that protect those in the front and middle seats. There’s no driver’s knee airbag, but rear side airbags for the middle-row passengers are on the options list, while all six passenger seats have Isofix child seat mounting points as standard.
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