► Facelifted Audi SQ8 driven
► 500bhp V8, 4.1sec 0-62mph
► New lights, limited likes
The Audi SQ8 is, thus far, the saving grace of the facelifted Audi Q8 range. Just like the standard models, it’s not about to trouble the best SUVs list we’re contractually obliged to mention. But thanks to S-grade air suspension, effective active anti-roll technology and a torque-shuffling rear diff, it does at least feel more resolved. The 500bhp V8 doesn’t hurt, either.
As with the regular Audi Q8, the facelift is limited to some visual tweaks, including a clever set of HD matrix LED headlights with laser high beam and ‘digital OLED’ rear lights on top spec models. But there are no major engineering upgrades, and the powertrain is essentially the same as when the petrol V8 version replaced the SQ8 TDI diesel in autumn 2020.
Nevertheless, this is a fast, spacious, SUV coupe with a hint of exclusivity versus the obvious Porsche Cayenne Coupe alternative thanks to its comparative rarity. An even faster updated RS Q8 is due in 2024.
Pros: Plenty of power, much better to drive than the regular version, spacious
Cons: Only top-spec Vorsprung gets all the chassis kit, silver exterior accents a little clownish
Audi’s overhauled the SQ8’s appearance with a new set of front and rear bumpers, updated lights and bigger grille openings. Surrounding said grilles with lots of silver plastic gives it a slightly cartoonish appearance but other drivers certainly see it coming. The diffuser at the rear is beefier, too.
The lights are narrower, exaggerating the SQ8’s width. Vorsprung models get the new HD matrix LED headlights with a choice of four daytime running light settings and matching quad-customisable OLED rear lamps. You can read more about these in our standard Audi Q8 review.
What are the specs?
The SQ8’s engine is a 4.0-litre V8 turbo, which alongside the 500bhp delivers a sizeable 568lb ft of torque. That’s enough to propel upwards of 2240kg via quattro four-wheel drive and an eight-speed transmission 0-62mph in 4.1sec, and on to at least 155mph (it’s limited).
You’re probably not in the mood for caring too much about efficiency if you’re looking at one of these, but the official figures suggest it’ll do 22.4-22.8mpg WLTP. Good luck with getting it out of the teens, frankly. The official CO2 count is 281-285g/km.
The difference in both cases is between the Black Edition and Vorsprung; both roll on 23-inch alloy wheels as standard, but the Vorsprung’s extra kit does the damage.
The engine is used elsewhere in various fast Audis – and the Porsche Cayenne S, though the Porsche gets a lesser state of tune and is 0.6sec slower to 62mph.
How does it drive?
Better than the regular Q8 – which is a relief. But we should qualify that by pointing out we’ve only sampled a vehicle equivalent to the UK’s Vorsprung specification, meaning equipped with all of the chassis toys. The less expensive Black Edition misses out on active anti-roll and the quattro Sport differential but does get the S-specific air-suspension tuning and rear-wheel steering.
If you want to drive this tall 2.2-tonne SUV quickly we’d wager the active anti-roll tech is essential. Cranking the SQ8 through a sequence of fast, sweeping bends, the extent to which this system gamely resists the otherwise inevitable body motion is palpably successful, encouraging you to push harder into each subsequent turn. It’s not utterly lean free, but gives you just enough to make it feel like you’re trying – reassuring, rather than restricting.
Regardless of this element, the other good news is the body control over bumps. The S air suspension has a much tighter grip on things than the standard Q8’s version, meaning that it deals with surface intrusions far more decisively. So although it’s firm, it actually ends up being more comfortable overall due to the reduced wallowing sensation compared with the standard car.
It’s no match for the two-chamber air setup now fitted to Cayennes, however, which offers a far greater range of comfort and control. The eight-speed transmission feels a little out of its depth in the SQ8 as well – which it doesn’t in the Cayenne or the Q8 TDI. As with the petrol V6, it sometimes seems overwhelmed by sudden demands, and a cheap-feeling set of plastic paddles on the back of the steering wheel hardly encourage you to get to grips with it manually.
Still, the V8 sounds great, and once the gearbox has got its act together, brisk progress can be made.
What about the interior?
Sports seats aside, it’s disappointingly difficult to tell this version from the rest of the Q8 range once you’re inside. Which is good as far as build quality and a roomy back seat goes, but hardly leaves you feeling special for opting for the S model. And means it suffers from the same dual-screen infotainment and climate control system.
Unlike almost every other touchscreen interface on the market, this requires a heavy prod rather than a gentle caress to activate. Which makes an already finicky task more difficult on the move. Placing almost all of the controls into flat, seamless panels makes it impossible to build up proper muscle memory, too, so you have to look away from the road to even adjust the driving mode.
Before you buy (trims and rivals)
The SQ8 Black Edition is well-stocked with creature comforts, is almost exactly the same to look at on the outside – lighting aside, the external visual differences are limited to the colour of the 23-inch alloy wheels and the lack of carbonfibre door mirror caps – and costs nearly £20,000 less than the SQ8 Vorsprung.
But you’re going to need to find the additional cash if you want the benefit of the SQ8’s full driving capabilities. Audi does throw in a bunch of extras as well, mind, so you’re just paying 20 large for the active anti-roll and quattro Sport rear diff.
Notable examples include a 360-degree camera system, electric sun blinds for the rear side windows, heating for all the seats except the centre rear, ventilation and massage function for the front seats, panoramic roof and some additional safety tech. Not forgetting those HD matrix LED headlights and digital OLED rear lights.
Seems mad that the £97,245 the Black Edition costs doesn’t net you adaptive cruise control. But you do get four-zone climate control, Bang&Olufson hifi, and a lot of leather.
Aside from the in-house Cayenne SUV and Cayenne Coupe rivals, SQ8 buyers also have some fast and handy BMWs to consider, as well as some fast and luxurious Range Rovers – a RR Sport 550e plug-in hybrid would fit the bill nicely.
If the Q8 is the car for you, then we suggest the SQ8 is the version to buy. Not because it’s faster – which is certainly is – but because it’s much nicer to drive. Compared with rivals’ plug-in hybrid offerings, however, it still feels like something of an anachronism, and the limited nature of this facelift suggests even Audi thinks it has bigger fish to fry.
If it were our money it would be going on a Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Coupe or SUV, either would be fine. You get better dynamics, better comfort and a substantial electric-only driving range combined with a maximum output of 512bhp. The SQ8 is faster in a straight line and has more rear passenger space, but the Porsche is hardly lacking in either department, and feels much more special inside. The end.
Spec below are for the Audi SQ8 Vorsprung