Some impressive innovations make an already commendable SUV great, just in time to compete with premium rivals like the Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5

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It’s not often that a car comes along that’s sufficiently bold or innovative to leave a mark on the lexicon of automotive technology.

But that’s what the new Audi SQ7 is threatening to do.

Bootlid badges can be deleted as a no-cost option; but not on the front wings or the grille. Surely they should either all stay or all go?

This new, full-size performance SUV merits our attention for several reasons, but most of all for the new 4.0-litre V8 diesel engine that powers it.

Alongside twin sequential turbochargers, the engine uses a particular type of forced induction that has never been seen on a production car before: an electrically powered compressor.

It’s not quite a turbocharger, nor is it quite a supercharger; instead, in Audi technical parlance, it is an EPC, and it has already won Audi an Autocar Award for innovation.

The SQ7 is the first S-badged performance derivative that the Audi Q7 range has had, but it’s not the first go-faster Q7 that Audi has built.

If you can recall the short-lived, ultra-rare Q7 V12 TDI of 2008, you will remember a car with an even more monstrous engine than the SQ7’s, developed from that of the multiple Le Mans-winning R10 TDI race car. As early water-testers into the market for fast luxury SUVs go, the Q7 V12 TDI was as mad as a 24-carat gold ceremonial meat cleaver, but as crazy as the idea sounds, it did exist.

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And it evidently sowed a seed. The idea of a hot Audi 4x4 would be later refined and formalised with the smaller Audi SQ5 (also diesel-powered) in 2013 and then developed further with the RS Q3 in 2015.

While it may not have quite the grunt of its 12-cylinder forebear, the SQ7 should certainly have enough go to put its relative place within the current fast Audi 4x4 hierarchy beyond question.

That advanced TDI engine develops 429bhp and a titanic 664lb ft, giving this two-and-a-bit-tonne seven-seater a sub-five-second 0-62mph acceleration claim that any Autocar road tester worth his salt is duty bound to verify.

Now to find out if the car that Audi’s state-of-the-art 21st century blower powers truly deserves its footnote in history. 

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Audi SQ7 rear

A more powerful engine, bigger wheels, stiffer suspension, some body addenda: these are the mechanical ingredients commonly used to differentiate top-of-the-line performance SUVs.

World-first engine technologies and expensive specially engineered electrical architectures – the technical stuff of this SQ7 – are not typically on the menu.

Shame we couldn’t weigh the SQ7. It would be interesting to know how much this car’s options add

But Audi has gone above and beyond what might have been expected of it in engineering this car, with a legacy in mind that has already benefited the Bentley Bentayga and will go on to the improvement of the next Audi SQ5, the new Porsche Panamera and plenty of others to follow.

Based on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform, the SQ7 is directly related to the models above. Like a standard Audi Q7, it features mixed-material monocoque construction, an aluminium body and height-adjustable, adaptively damped air suspension.

And, like a standard Q7, it offers four-wheel steering as an option. But unlike the lesser model, the SQ7 gets a specification that can also include an optional torque-vectoring ‘sport’ rear differential for its quattro four-wheel drive system and the electromechanical active roll cancellation system we first sampled on the Bentayga.

Those active anti-roll bars are not only exceedingly clever but also necessarily powerful, charged with the not insignificant task of keeping upright a high-riding car weighing no less than 2270kg in five-seat mode. Powered by the bespoke 48V electrical architecture that also runs the engine’s electrically powered induction compressor, the anti-roll bars actively decouple to allow a more compliant ride when the car is tracking straight, only to recouple (under up to 885lb ft of electric motor torque, no less) as the car corners, to the benefit of handling response.

They can even ‘recuperate’ electrical energy from long-wave ride inputs and store it up in the car’s lithium ion high-voltage battery to deploy later.

The 90deg, 3956cc V8 diesel engine under the SQ7’s bonnet is designed with its pair of turbochargers in a ‘hot inside vee’ layout, like the similar-sized twin-turbocharged petrol V8 that powers the RS6.

But upstream of those sequential turbochargers, on the intake side of the cylinder heads, it has a supplementary electric motor-driven induction compressor that can be spun up to 70,000rpm in just a quarter of a second, charging the engine with enough boost pressure to produce its 664lb ft torque peak from just 1000rpm. This is also the first Audi diesel engine to use variable valve lift technology.


Audi SQ7 interior

From inside, the SQ7 has no problem living up to its price hike.

The model’s supplementary items are modest enough – standard Virtual Cockpit, sportier seats, leather upholstery, some badges – but serve as the glaze atop an already conspicuously plump cherry.

Somewhat surprisingly, the flat-bottomed steering wheel isn’t standard. We’d save the cash and stick with the pleasingly round original

Its dashboard is less overbearing than those adorning the Range Rover Sport and the Porsche Cayenne, but the brushed metal and peerless finish of the Audi can nevertheless consider itself the equal of any contender – save, perhaps, its Bentley-stitched sibling.

Previously we applauded the Audi Q7 for its capaciousness, too. That accolade still stands, although it’s worth mentioning that the level of additional tech incorporated in this range-topper does have an impact inside.

The requirements of housing that 48V electrical subsystem does mean that the boot floor isn’t quite as deep as it is in the regular Q7, meaning that SQ7 owners will lose around 60-65 litres of capacity, no matter which seating configuration they choose.

That isn’t a prohibitive loss, but it’s worth thinking about if load space is regularly going to be at a premium.

Where the new engine architecture makes practically no dent is in the Q7’s highly regarded refinement. So well insulated is its seal from the outside world that the cabin almost seems pressurised; the 65dB it recorded at 70mph is usually the amount of noise you’d expect from a decently hushed car at 50mph.

By default, that V8 engine is that ideal presence: a distant but dauntless hum and the warp drive to the SQ7’s space-age Virtual Cockpit.

Should you wish to hear it, though, you can. In Dynamic mode, the V8’s warble migrates from a whisper-soft throb to a faraway bellow under throttle. It’s aided by a symposer but plainly not generated by one.

For an oil-burner, it is about as evocative as they come and ties a very neat, desirable bow on this luxury SUV’s technocrat ambience.

Getting Audi’s 12.3in Virtual Cockpit as standard is a sensible upgrade for the SQ7, but the car’s embedded SIM card, which delivers internet-based services without you going to the trouble of sourcing a data-only chip yourself, is at least as welcome.

You get free data for three months at the point of purchase, but if you stump up for the Technology Pack (a £1400 option that adds a wireless smartphone connection, inductive charging and a head-up display), you get three years’ worth thrown in.

With Audi Connect, the Virtual Cockpit offers Google Earth and Google Street View, news, weather and traffic plus other entertainment options.

With the myCarManager package, there’s roadside assistance at the touch of a button and, via the Audi MMI app, the ability to fiddle with the door locks and lights from your phone, should you feel the need.

The standard stereo is fine, but there are two 3D surround systems on the option list: a 19-speaker Bose set-up and a Bang & Olufsen alternative that promises to fill the SQ7 with up to 1920W of musical heft. 


4.0-litre V8 Audi SQ7 diesel engine

As compelling as the V8 sounds (or can sound), it’s important not to get the wrong idea about the kind of performance that’s being delivered here.

While the engine’s capacity for near-instantaneous torque delivery is genuine, its implied potency has not caused the Audi Q7 to mutate into an unbalanced or needlessly frenetic prospect, and nor has it yielded the uncanny and disconcerting shunt of a purely electric drivetrain.

Lift through fast dips and the SQ7’s rear axle announces itself far more vigorously than the Bentayga’s

Instead, the combination of V8 diesel engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox is both orthodox and very well resolved.

Despite its latent power, the SQ7 doesn’t feel the least bit constricted at low speeds, while the remarkable amenability available anywhere between a creep and 155mph is so sleekly managed that you grow accustomed to it within moments.

The revelation – which you subsequently work back to long after becoming acclimatised – is just how small your throttle inputs tend to become.

Most large SUVs, handicapped by a combination of kerb weight and turbo lag (even with multi-cylinder engines), want an impertinent stab to get confidently under way or move assertively between speeds.

The SQ7, in contrast, barely requires an unfurling of the toes to have it gliding keenly forwards. The progressiveness of the accelerator pedal is superb and adds to the impression of an extremely biddable experience.

Having said that, even with the epic reserves of torque on tap, the car is still keen for the gearbox to share the V8’s burden. Long upper ratios mean that rapid downshifting remains almost as common in the SQ7 as it is in its lower-powered siblings, and in its default setting the car will decouple the driveline and coast – meaning throttle off/throttle on acceleration comes with the familiar half-second pause, too.

In S mode, though, or Dynamic, the engine remains on a deeply satisfying hair trigger, and immoderate use of it is addictive.

At 5.1sec to 60mph, the SQ7 is hasty away from the line but not unsettlingly so; rather, it is the relentless, full-toned surge evident in the 4.5sec sprint from 30-70mph (almost a second quicker than the BMW M50d tested) that makes the V8 so mesmeric – not least because, as with the 6.0 V12 TDI, it remains so idiosyncratically a diesel even as its sheer forcefulness confounds that description. 


Audi SQ7 cornering

The SQ7 is not the first performance SUV to bedazzle us with a substantial engine.

There are by now a plethora of other examples – and yet only a couple that we’d recommend wholeheartedly.

I don’t like the way the steering loads up in Dynamic mode. It’s like fighting the car into corners at times. But knowing Audi, I’m sure you can tune every control weight to your personal taste

The rest are typically undone in this section, where, in order to successfully incorporate sports car levels of performance in a high-sided machine, manufacturers have been forced to make ugly dynamic compromises that fatally handicap the reward of driving them day to day on UK roads.

It is the broadening of this mediation between comfort and handling that much of the SQ7’s optional chassis cleverness is devoted to achieving. And, much as they were with the Bentley Bentayga, the results are impressive.

Certainly you don’t need to know the technical details of the adaptive air suspension or the active roll control systems to know that the car is effortlessly good at the kind of imperious ride and well-mannered cornering that ought to be contradictory in an SUV that weighs the same as two Audi A3s.

Being on slightly smaller wheels than the Bentayga we tested earlier in the year, the SQ7 might actually marginally exceed the Bentley’s comfort levels – meaning that the isolating quality of its mostly steadfast aloofness is right from the top drawer.

Totally impervious it isn’t, but any intrusion on your state of relaxation is tempered by the car’s unlikely accuracy at the next corner.

It is here where the beefed-up electrical supply and cost-option cleverness of those active anti-roll bars collude to resist the kind of flabby body movements that ought to naturally result from the syrupy ride quality you were treated to the moment before you started turning the steering wheel.

But the really striking thing is how organic and progressive this all feels. There’s no marked transition from pliancy to poise; rather, the SQ7 seems – in its Comfort setting and at seven-tenths – unruffled, supple, candid and very wieldy.

And by being all these things at once, it manages to make assimilating the V8’s boundless energy seem almost effortless.

The steep undulations and extreme cambers of the Hill Route are notoriously unkind to heavy SUVs, to the extent that even the technological prowess of the SQ7 failed to tame it.

Quite often the persuasiveness of a chassis’ apparently tacked-down composure proves its undoing.

Because the SQ7’s ungainly steering relays little — if any — feedback in its Dynamic setting, there’s a tendency to throw the car around based on its preternatural lateral balance alone. That’s fine for brisk road driving but insufficient when at nine-tenths on a proving ground.

As such, the SQ7 is prone to coming unstuck at the front as the effort to contain its mass becomes too much for the tyres.

Given the right camber, coming off the power at this point can cajole the car into tightening its line to the point where a degree of correctional lock is required — but you’ll need to have switched out the traction control entirely in order to encounter this.


Audi SQ7

With prices starting from just under £71,000, the SQ7 takes a healthy advantage into comparisons with many of its opponents.

Next to the Range Rover Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, whose speed the car approaches without quite equalling, the Audi enjoys a £25,000 incentive, and even lined up against the performance diesel options within the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne ranges, it doesn’t look expensive.

Expect stellar values compared to the SQ7’s closest rivals as a reflection of the Audi badge’s presumed exclusivity

Emissions of CO2 from 190g/km will make for a relatively appealing BIK liability next to almost any rival of similar performance (save, admittedly, for the latest breed of petrol-electric plug-in hybrids).

Meanwhile, our CAP sources suggest there are few similar SUVs you could buy right now that will hold their value better than an SQ7.

The car is expected to perform even better, over three years and 36,000 miles, than its lesser-powered range mates – almost unheard of among expensive performance derivatives.

No True MPG testing was conducted on the SQ7, but our direct experience suggests that owners can expect an average fuel economy return of around 24mpg, making for a real-world range of 450 miles from an 85-litre fuel tank.

If you are tempted, then we suggest speccing your SQ7 with the 21in rims we have here, even though the 22in wheels may improve the scrappy limit handling. We would also tick the Driving Dynamics and Technology packs and the option of extended leather too.

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4.5 star Audi SQ7

The SQ7 graduates Audi’s likeable SUV to previously uncharted heights.

Its V12-powered part-predecessor provides a yardstick for this car’s performance, but that model’s absurd clout only ever achieved partial integration into an already overweight car.

A class-topping blend of superlative comfort and usable performance

This V8’s oily panache is absorbed far more satisfactorily, to the point where, on the road at least, it feels like a better fit for the trick chassis than any equivalent petrol engine might have been.

The diesel prerogative does at least keep the SQ7 at arm’s length from powerhouse SUVs such as the Range Rover Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which is for the best.

Even with the right option boxes ticked, the Audi is no dynamic rival for either the richness of the former or the raw pace of the latter.

But it is quieter, cheaper, efficient, more easy-going and comfortable than either. It feels more usable, too – a symptom of the broad-battedness that Audi has expensively sought for and triumphantly found.

The SQ7 is assuredly among the very best large SUVs on sale today, which is why it tops our top five against its quickest diesel rivals including, the Range Rover Sport 4.4 SDV8, Porsche Cayenne Diesel S, Mercedes-Benz GLS 350 d and the BMW X5 M50d.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi SQ7 First drives