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Audi SQ8 review: a torque monster blunted by diesel demons

Published:02 July 2019

Audi SQ8 review: CAR magazine's first drive of range-topping 2019 Q8
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

► New 2019 Audi SQ8 review
► It’s the range-topping Q8 SUV
► On sale this month from £82k

The Volkswagen group fightback continues as it continues to back diesel engines in some of its biggest and fastest models. So the new 2019 Audi SQ8 arrives with the second-generation 4.0-litre V8 TDI first offered in the SQ7. Here, it produces an unchanged 435bhp and a plait-braiding 664lb ft (a fulsome 900Nm!) of torque. 

To eliminate shortcomings like gnawing turbo lag and delayed throttle action, Audi has installed an electric booster fed by a 48-volt system, qualifying this engine for mild hybrid status. Up to 8kW of regenerated energy stored in a buffer battery allows the heavyweight to coast engine-off for up to 40 seconds at speeds of between 35-100mph. It’s all clever, fuel-saving stuff - but with a performance twist. 

Sporting a massive and aggressively styled Audi Singleframe grille, optional bronzed 22in alloys, underbody protection elements integrated in both bumpers and four fat tailpipes (the outer ones are fake…), Audi’s flagship SUV oozes presence and self-confidence. And so it should, because this 2.6-tonne behemoth on steroids performs on-demand like a thoroughbred sports car, relays all the street cred one can ask from a full-size crossover for well-heeled city slickers, has the overtaking prestige of an R8 on stilts and may be kitted out with just about every comfort and convenience enhancing item marketing could dream up. 

Audi SQ8 rivals: what is it aimed at?

The SQ8 is Audi’s answer to the BMW X7 M50d, Mercedes GLS 450d and the Range Rover Sport V8, according to its makers. Read on for our full review to see if it meets their challenge.

Like all Q-cars wearing a four-ring bandana and displaying flared Quattro arches, the latest effort by Ingolstadt’s Sport division is a quality piece of kit. The doors pull themselves shut with a silent swoosh, the cabin trim scores 10 out of 10 for craftsmanship and style, and the available equipment satisfies every whim. 

Audi SQ8 steering wheel

Wiped clean, the centre console sparkles like a high-end jeweller’s window display, but every single touch adds one more ugly grease mark, the reflections make it hard to read the keys embedded in the shiny surface, and the complex layout is a major source of distraction. There are three displays in total, plus the head-up read-out beamed on to the windscreen and the main instrument panel in the usual place. Would someone please catch and cage that overkill devil?

Performance figures and specs 

In combination with the eight-speed torque converter automatic, the high-tech diesel engine beams the battleship SQ8 from 0-62mph in just 4.8sec, while maximum speed is limited to 155mph. That’s the good news. 

The bad news concerns the driveline’s reluctance to release all 664lb ft with the due punch it deserves. With the gear selector in Drive and the vehicle set-up in Comfort, the black box can take up to three seconds before deploying the full forward thrust, which is rather baffling.

Audi SQ8 engine

Even with the transmission in Sport and the drive mode in Dynamic, there is a two-second delay. You need to switch to manual and strike the right balance between revs and gear in order to knock off another second from your overtake. Sorry guys, but this is simply not good enough for a car that should take off like a slingshot on wheels.

Is it comfortable?

Ride comfort varies from low-speed knotty to pleasantly composed above 50mph, which is not bad at all in view of the rather extreme, low-profile 22in rubber. Roadholding, traction and cornering grip team up to outfox the laws of physics. The SQ8 hangs on to the blacktop like a centipede on crampons, hugging bends like a four-arm octopus and fighting g-force like a close-combat bloodsucker. 

This is a big, heavy SUV, make no mistake - don’t go expecting any power-on or lift-off oversteer antics. Like other Q models, the SQ8 is instead docile and composed at all times, seriously quick on any turf yet not particularly involving. Under the current R&D regime, dynamic torque split is evidently not part of the approved terminology.

The test car was fitted with rear-wheel steering (RWS), active anti-roll bars, carbon-ceramic brakes and the sport differential in addition to the standard air suspension. Rear-wheel steering reduces the turning circle from 13.3 to 12.3 metres which is a big bonus not only in the Pyrenean Alps where the tightest corners describe ridiculous radii.

Audi SQ8 rear tracking

Active roll compensation (also powered by the 48-volt system) effectively controls excessive lurching, pitching and yawing motions. Most importantly, it helps to partly offset the stupendous front axle weight of around 1650 kilos (which equals an entry-level A4 Avant!). Although the steering feels a little vague and synthetic, gearing and effort are on target, so the driver is at all times fully connected to the road.

The high-end brakes disappoint in more ways than one. Their initial response is not sufficiently committed, and when the fat calipers do bite the disc fractions of a second later, it takes an excessively firm step to continue the deceleration. All along, the pedal feels dead and not particularly progressive. Perhaps the standard steel rotors are the wiser choice, after all…

Verdict

Priced at €102,600 before options and from around £82,000 in the UK, the new Audi SQ8 is an oddball effort: an unfinished masterpiece, a talent defeated below its true potential. The vehicle concept follows a proven formula, and yet this is another new Audi which comes to market even though it still needs work in terms of engine and transmission adaptation. 

Like the A6 and A7, the A8 and the facelifted Q7, the first model to receive the revised V8 diesel is struggling to fully absorb the side effects incurred by the mandatory changes made to meet the EU6 and WLTP norms. While the hardware may be hard to fault, the software still has serious integration issues which delay throttle and shift action. It is possible that the high outside temperature of 40deg C at the time of our test affected the SQ8’s performance. Be that as it may: to give the diesel a second chance, Audi needs to debug the system once and for all.

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Specs

Price when new: £82,000
On sale in the UK: July 2019
Engine: 4.0-litre V8 turbodiesel, 435bhp, 664lb ft @ 1250-3250 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all wheel-drive
Performance: 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph, emissions and mpg tbc
Weight / material: 2.4 tonnes, aluminium and steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): tbc

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Photo Gallery

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  • Audi SQ8 review: it's aimed at the BMW Q7 M50d, Merc GLS 450d and Range Rover SV8
  • Audi SQ8 interior
  • Audi SQ8 goes on UK sale in July 2019, priced from around £82,000
  • Audi SQ8: like a Q7, only a bit more lower-slung and sporty
  • The V8 TDI: part of the problem with the SQ8 is its tardy engine
  • SQ8: a badge sitting right at the top of the Audi Q8 range

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

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