Video review: Audi SQ7
The SQ7 is what happens when you add the world’s most powerful production diesel engine to one of the world's very best SUVs. It's a Lamborghini-beating torque monster, that can carry a family of seven.
When we drove the latest Audi Q7, we declared it to be among the very best SUVs but lacking in style. It was still a monstrous size, seated seven people and had more equipment than you could almost imagine, but it was possibly just a little bit bland.
Audi has fixed that.
The big news
Its first step was to slot a new engine under that lengthy bonnet, but not just any engine. No, for the SQ7 it’s used the world’s most powerful production diesel engine. It’s then added some electrical wizardry and some trick suspension to create 2.4 tonnes of metal that will go from a standstill to 62mph in a laughably quick 4.9 seconds.
It’s the engine that’s the big news on this car. It’s a 4.0-litre V8 diesel engine boosted by two turbochargers that operate in a pretty conventional way – as the revs rise, the first turbo spins up and forces air into the engine. After a short while, and as the revs rise further and more power is demanded, the first turbo gives way to a larger second turbo. The idea is that lag you get with a single turbo is reduced, as the smaller turbine will work at lower revs and get up to speed more quickly.
But that wasn’t enough, so Audi has developed an electrically powered compressor to work before that first turbo comes in. This reacts to throttle inputs within a quarter of a second, using battery power to force air into the combustion chamber almost instantly.
This is possible thanks to the second innovation in the SQ7 – a 48-volt electrical system. That doesn’t sound very exciting unless you’re an electrician, but it’s quite a big deal. The 12-volt systems fitted to every car simply cannot cope with high power requirements without the need for heavy wiring looms to prevent a loss of power or a serious risk of catastrophic fire.
It’s the same reason that your house runs at 240V and not 60V. By switching up to 48V there’ll be useable power for all sorts of systems such as electric heating, mild hybrid power, autonomous driving and active suspension.
Making physics redundant
Active suspension isn’t a thing for the future, although it does remain an option on the SQ7. Naturally, our test car was fully loaded with extras, which includes this electro-mechanical anti-roll system – the same system that you’ll find on the Bentley Bentayga. It uses a couple of electric motors to engage and twist anti-roll bars when you’re taking to twisty roads, but decouples entirely when you’re just cruising along.
This ensures that there’s virtually zero body roll in corners, something that’s quite handy when there’s so much metal above the wheels. Combine that with a sports-tuned Quattro four-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring, four-wheel steering and variable dampers and it starts to make the laws of physics seem rather redundant.
It clings to the road thanks to 21in alloys shod in tyres close to a foot wide. Granted, 20in wheels are standard, but you can upgrade to these or monster 22in rims. When everything works together, the SQ7 follows a line far more accurately than anything this side of a monorail, although the weighting on the steering is oddly inconsistent. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes are more than capable of bringing the juggernaut to a stop repeatedly, with no sign of fade, but we can’t help but wonder how standard steel discs would fare.
It might sound rather like the SQ7 is a hard-edged and seriously focused sports car wrapped up in an SUV body, and there’s certainly some truth to that. However, turn the Drive Select dial from Dynamic to Comfort and the car settles down to become a luxurious cruiser. The exhaust that rumbles and growls enticingly fades away to a murmur, the suspension softens a little and the steering loses some of the heft you get when pushing on.
There’s no need to stress, as the huge wave of torque from the V8 engine up front keeps things moving with little effort - there’s an astonishing 900Nm available, more than you’ll find in a BMW X5 M50d or Range Rover Sport SDV8. However, with two turbochargers and one electric compressor, there’s some hesitations under power where it feels as if whatever is producing the boost hands over to the next step.
That aside, you’re left to relax in one of the finest cabins on the market. The design and quality is second to none, while an extensive equipment list means the only options you’ll be looking at are those that make the Audi go even faster. You get the all-digital ‘Virtual Cockpit’ customisable instrument panel that works well, and there’s seemingly no end to the safety kit that’s fitted; we’ve yet to try – and we don’t recommend you trying either – but you’ll have to be going some to bend this Audi.
Add in the sixth and seventh seats, something you don’t get as standard on the SQ7’s obvious rivals, and you get an astonishingly capable yet genuinely practical car.
It’s a behemoth that measures more than five metres in length, produces enough CO2 to make sure its driver won’t be welcome at a Greenpeace meeting, and broadcasts your wealth in one of the least subtle ways possible. It ends up being awe inspiring yet offensive at the same time – the answer to a question that nobody has had the nerve to ask.
And none of that matters. As unnecessary as the Audi SQ7 is, it ends up being spectacularly good.
Audi SQ7 at a glance
Boot space: 770 / 1,890 litres
Engine: 4.0-litre V8 e-turbo diesel (429bhp)
Transmission: 8-spd automatic with all-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 39.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 190g/km