What Car? says...
Rapid, refined, luxurious – but we’re not talking about the Audi SQ8 just yet.
So, then, hopes should be very high for the 500bhp twin-turbocharged V8-powered SQ8, which is a performance-focused sports SUV version of the standard car. It promises to turn up the thrills by a notch or two – and it better be good considering it’s one of the most expensive Audis you can buy.
So, does the Audi SQ8 deliver, and should you choose it over its main rivals in the big, luxurious and ridiculously quick SUV arena? Read on to find out whether it can match the fastest BMW X6 for pace, the swiftest Mercedes GLE for plushness or the paciest Porsche Cayenne Coupé for handling.
And when you’ve decided what model is best for you, check out the most competitive prices available through trusted dealers by using our free New Car Deals pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
From the moment you push the Audi SQ8's starter button and hear its characterful twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine rumble into life, you know you’re in for something special, performance wise. Not surprising, really – it’s a detuned version of the engine in the Porsche Cayenne Coupé Turbo and the Lamborghini Urus.
When you put your foot down, in any gear, it sounds deep and resonant. Once the turbos kick in (at around 2000rpm), the engine’s mighty forward thrust is like surfing a tsunami of power and shove. The 0-62mph time says it all: 4.1 seconds. Yes, that is correct. It’s really, really quick. So fast that you have to wonder why you’d need the even more powerful Audi RS Q8.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox can hesitate when you put your foot down, so the best way to execute a down shift for a swift overtake is by pulling on one of the gear change paddles behind the steering wheel. Hesitation aside, the automatic gear shifts are ultra-smooth and keep the engine’s tone barely perceptible if you just tickle the accelerator or settle into a cruise. Yes, this car does relaxing too.
Indeed, at a steady 70mph there are few cars this quiet. The SQ8 gives off a bit of background rumble from its fat tyres and the faintest flutter of wind noise from around its door mirrors. We’re talking light noise, though, so it's absolutely brilliant for peace and quiet on any long-distance trip.
"Relaxing" also sums up its gentle ride. The SQ8's massive 23in alloy wheels should, in theory, make the ride terrible, but they don't. This sports SUV will waft away your daily commute with aplomb. The air suspension is tuned with a sporty bias, but it still does a great job of calming rippled motorways, and only the roughest road surfaces cause occasional jolts.
You might think that as it rides well, it must be a bit of a boat in the corners. Well, it's not. The SQ8 is a nimble thing thanks to its standard rear-wheel steering, which adds agility at lower speeds and stability at high speed. It’s very able round bends because it has massive tyres with lots of grip, quattro four-wheel drive and, if you pop the suspension into Sport mode, it’s stiff enough not to lean like an ailing ship.
The range-topping Vorsprung model is even better. That’s the one with some trick suspension: the electromechanical active roll stabilisation (or eAWS). Essentially, it has clever active anti-roll bars that actively prop up the SQ8 in corners to limit its body lean without compromising ride quality over bumps.
It’s far more nimble than most similarly-sized rivals, including the BMW X6 M50i and the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupé – although the Porsche Cayenne Coupé is more engaging because of its more playful, rear-biased balance. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio pips the SQ8 for driver excitement, but that’s a lot smaller inside.
Strengths Rapid acceleration; great engine note
Weaknesses Not as fun as some rivals; hesitant automatic gearbox
The interior layout, fit and finish
There’s an extensive range of adjustment for the steering wheel and the Audi SQ8's Super Sport driver's seat is well-bolstered for good side support.
The seat is electrically adjustable and includes four-way lumbar support and an extendable seat cushion. Vorspung trim includes an electrically adjustable steering column and a massaging function for the front seats.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit delivers a fully digital driver display with a high-definition 12.3in screen. It shows lots of data in an easily digestible and helpfully configurable way.
In the centre of the dashboard is a 10.1in infotainment touchscreen. The software is very responsive and the screen has haptic feedback so you feel it shake when you press the screen, although you still have to take your eyes off the road to make sure you hit the right icon.
That's one of the main reasons we prefer the physical rotary controller in the BMW X6 – you can use it to scroll and make selections with greater ease while driving. The SQ8's system is also controlled using natural voice recognition, but as with most systems like it, it can be hit and miss in its operation.
The infotainment system is well kitted out. It comes with built-in sat-nav, a range of online services, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. You also get a 10-speaker stereo with 180 watts, or a 17-speaker, 730-watt Bang & Olufsen system if you add the Comfort and Sound Pack (that's standard with Vorsprung trim).
There's another haptic-feedback 8.4in touchscreen below the infotainment touchscreen. It looks after the climate control settings but it's unnecessarily fiddly to use compared with simple, physical buttons, which many of the SQ8’s rivals have. Still, at least the air-con controls are always visible and clearly labelled.
All-round visibility is good, and all versions have a rear-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors. A 360-degree parking camera is available as an option (another item that’s standard on the Vorsprung trim). Matrix LED headlights are included too. They use clever technology so you can leave the main beams on without dazzling drivers in front.
You can’t fault the build quality in the SQ8. Everything is tightly screwed down and the switches operate with slick precision.
The top-spec Vorsprung model is even plusher, with extended leather wrapping the dashboard and centre console, generous amounts of carbon fibre and Alcantara suede trim for the roof lining. It’s right up there with the Porsche Cayenne Coupé for build quality and beats the Mercedes GLE Coupé, which looks great inside but has some flimsier bits of trim.
Strengths High-quality interior throughout; brilliant digital driver display
Weaknesses Lack of physical buttons to control infotainment
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Audi SQ8 is a monstrously large car, and that means there’s lots of space inside. Front passengers have masses of head and leg room, and there’s plenty of space between them.
There are also lots of storage spaces dotted around, including large door bins and a roomy glovebox for larger items, as well as trays and lidded cubbies for any smaller paraphernalia.
While a sloping roofline can do wonders for a car’s looks, it's usually bad news for rear head room. The SQ8’s rear passengers do well, though. True, it's not as spacious as the Audi SQ7 but they won’t feel hemmed in even if they’re tall, and it’ll fit three rear-seat passengers fairly easily.
The back-seat leg room is every bit as generous as it is in the SQ7 because the two cars are the same length between their front and rear wheels. However, unlike the SQ7 – which is a seven-seater – there are no fold-out seats in the boot.
The rear seats still recline and slide backwards and forwards, giving passengers more comfort and allowing you to increase the boot space when required.
Speaking of which, the boot is huge, with a minimum of 605 litres on offer with the rear seats fully back (680 litres with them slid forwards). That’s enough for a couple of sets of golf clubs, or for your family to go on holiday without stressing about what to leave behind. It’s also a little more spacious than the 580-litre X6. The tailgate is electrically operated.
Strengths Great rear-seat space; massive boot
Weaknesses Audi SQ7 is more practical
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
If you’re already considering a high-spec Q8, the Audi SQ8’s price premium actually looks fairly slim – although the similarly fast BMW X6 M50i is a bit cheaper. The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupé is about the same price as the SQ8, as is the Porsche Cayenne Coupé S E-Hybrid.
PCP finance payments won’t be cheap because of the high list price, but they’re relatively competitive because of the SQ8’s excellent resale values. It’s predicted to hold on to a higher percentage of its list price than the X6 M50i and GLE 53 Coupé, but the Cayenne Coupé is stronger still.
Fuel consumption is heavy, despite the engine’s ability to shut down four of its eight cylinders on a light throttle. Officially it averages just over 20mpg, and you’ll just about achieve that driving it gently. When you drive it hard, it’ll drink a tank of fuel quickly.
Every SQ8 comes well equipped. The entry-level trim has 23in alloy wheels, privacy glass, power-folding door mirrors, leather seats (heated in the front), two-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting and cruise control, which is on top of the parking aids and infotainment features we’ve already covered. That’s a better kit count than you’ll get as standard with the Cayenne Coupé.
Vorsprung trim is quite a price jump but it’s still worth considering because you’ll want for nothing. It brings additional tech, such as the active anti-roll bars and Bang & Olufsen premium stereo we’ve mentioned, along with power-closing doors, keyless entry, a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a head-up display, electric rear sun blinds and adaptive cruise control.
As for reliability, Audi finished a not-so-impressive 26th place out of 32 manufacturers in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey. BMW and Mercedes both did better. Every SQ8 comes with a three-year or 60,000-mile warranty, which is pretty average.
Euro NCAP awarded the Q8 a five-star safety rating. It does a fantastic job of keeping rear-seat child occupants safe in a frontal accident, but the Porsche Cayenne does a fractionally better job of protecting front passengers from chest injury in the same type of crash.
To help you avoid an accident in the first place, the SQ8 comes with active safety equipment including low-speed automatic emergency braking (AEB), which alerts you to potential frontal collisions with cars and pedestrians, and applies the brakes if necessary.
The Vorsprung trim adds heaps more safety kit, including high-speed AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and traffic sign recognition.
Strengths Five-star safety rating; decent amount of equipment as standard
Weaknesses Expensive to buy and run; Audi’s poor reliability record
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Yes it is. With 500bhp, it can hit 0-62mph in a rapid 4.1 seconds, which is particularly incredible given that it weighs nearly two and a half tonnes.
The Audi SQ7 is bigger than the SQ8, and it’s also available with seven seats, whereas the SQ8 is five-seat only.
The SQ8 is powered by a 500bhp twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine, which is a detuned version of the one you’ll find in a Lamborghini Urus.