Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The diesel V8 engine found under the vast bonnet of the previous-generation SQ8 was one of our all-time favourite engines – it had more low down grunt than a Boeing 747 and had a far greater cruising range than petrol powered rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne Coupé; we got close to realising its official average of 36.2mpg in testing.
However, from the moment you thumb the starter button in the latest SQ8, and hear that characterful twin-turbocharged petrol V8 (an engine shared with the Cayenne GTS) rumble into life, all thoughts of the old engine are banished. Put your foot down, in any gear, and once the turbos kick in (at around 2000rpm) the engine’s mighty forward thrust is akin to surfing a tsunami wave – you would never guess that the current petrol engine is down by 96lb ft of torque compared to the old oil burner (568lb ft vs 664lb ft).
And unlike a number of post-WLTP Audi’s, such as the standard Q8 50 TDI, the gearbox doesn’t hesitate when you put your foot down. You can simply leave it in drive and let it decide when to swap cogs; even around town, gear shifts are only perceptible by the change in engine tone. It’s a relaxing and yet brutally efficient set-up that makes you wonder why you’d ever need the range-topping RS Q8.
And if you’re after a sports SUV that will be comfortable enough for your daily commute, there’s more good news. Go for the range-topping Vorsprung model and your SQ8 will come equipped with what Audi calls, its electromechanical active roll stabilisation system (EAWS). Essentially, they are clever active anti-roll bars, which are designed to limit body lean in corners without compromising ride quality over bumps.
In reality, it doesn’t quite manage the latter, with the SQ8 Vorsprung picking up on some road surface imperfections that you wouldn’t be aware of in a regular Q8, even when the air suspension is in its softest setting. However, by the standard of sports SUVs, it’s still remarkably forgiving – especially when you consider that our test car was sitting on massive 23in wheels.
In addition, those active anti-roll bars help the SQ8 corner with much greater composure than its seven seat cousin, the SQ7, that has to make do without. In fact, it’s more nimble than most similarly-sized rivals, including the X6 M50i and Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupé, while its precise steering and tight turn-in add to your confidence, too. Just bear in mind that the Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupé is more engaging at similar speeds, as is the cheaper (and smaller) Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and that’s despite Vorsprung models getting a clever sports differential, which is designed to add some playfulness to the handling.
Sit at a steady 70mph and there’s a bit of roar from the fat tyres, but the SQ8 still cruises more quietly than all of its key rivals. There’s minimal wind noise and the engine is mostly very refined, although you do feel some buzz through the accelerator pedal at town speeds.
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