Audi SQ8 long-term test: you drive our cars

Published: 08 June 2020

► CAR lives with an Audi SQ8
► It's a brash, fast, diesel coupe SUV
► At least it's not a BMW X6...

Audi has never made an SQ8 before, and its big, premium, SUV-coupe rivals are rare and offer little to match the Audi's monstrous twin-turbo, 429bhp diesel V8. So assembling a panel of readers with direct prior experience of such cars to test my long-term SQ8 would have been tricky.

Most buyers will be converts from another breed of car anyway: maybe fast-estate owners finally going SUV, or SUV owners going properly fast. So of my test crew, two have a motoring history that has the SQ8 surrounded and makes them likely converts. And one is a wild card: a four-wheel-drive aficionado whom the SQ8 will be doing very well indeed to convince.

Meet the readers

John Potts
Long-term thumping-great V8 owner and fond of a premium SUV too, John has been finding his current Mustang a handful in the wet and has been making eyes at Ben’s SQ8

Luke Salvage
With a motoring history that includes a string of Range Rovers and a Bentley Continental, Luke ought to be a prime SQ8 prospect. Sorely tempted by an SVR; can this diesel finally win him over to super-SUVs?

Jon Holmes
A leading Land Rover restorer, Jon is more used to 70-year-old off-roaders with an 80-inch wheelbase and bodywork no higher than your hip. Can the SQ8’s mighty torque uproot his cynicism?

The test

So, the judges. One, appropriately, is retired senior lawyer John Potts. Despite his elegant courtroom manners and to the despair of his wife and children he has long favoured loud American V8 sports cars: Chevy Corvettes, Camaros and now a new Ford Mustang. But he has also run big SUVs before: most recently a Mercedes GL350. Might he consider uniting his love of V8s and premium SUVs with an SQ8? He's a neighbour, and admits eyeing up my car and wondering if it's right for him. He's also thinking about a GLS 63. Audi should consider him a hot prospect, but he's the first to rule himself out.

Audi SQ8 you drive our cars

'I've always been partial to Audis since I drove one of the first Quattros to arrive here 40 years ago,' John says, 'and I do like the idea of something that's fast but which I don't have to stoop to get into. But looking inside your car properly for the first time, the bootspace and the sloping roofline just kill it for me. If my wife bought one moderately sized piece of furniture which needed transporting with the seats down, we'd be stuck. And what's the point of an SUV that can't do that?'

Next is Luke Salvage, a property developer and building contractor, and another neighbour. Luke claims not to be a Land Rover anorak but his driveway makes him look like one, with a very early 80-inch Series 1, a Series II and a last-of-line Heritage Defender.

His daily drivers have mostly been V6 Solihull diesels, with a long line of new Range Rovers and Discoverys. But he could be tempted away from both diesels and Land Rover's keen finance deals: he got close to buying a Range Rover Sport SVR, had a Bentley Continental, and his favourite car was a Merc G-Wagen.

I know I can sway him: last summer he drove my Discovery 5 long-term test car while I was getting my kids dusty in his Series 1, and he chopped in his white Discovery 4 for the new model soon after.
And Luke seems more positive than John... at first. 'The interior is fantastic, and I like the honesty of an Audi,' he says as he drives the SQ8. 'You know that most of the engineering has been done in-house, rather than Bentley and even Porsche nicking Audi's bits for their SUVs.'

But the engine isn't the selling point I'd hoped it would be. 'That extra power is impressive but it's hard to justify. A three-litre diesel is a great all-rounder. I've been tempted by more powerful SUVs in the past but driving this now, I remember why I couldn't bring myself to commit to one.

'And I can't get over how much it is! Over a hundred grand? I thought it was a Q5 when I first saw you driving it. It just doesn't have the wow factor that people spending that sort of money want. You'd be upstaged by some lad in a 25-grand, 80,000-mile, 2013 Range Rover.

'Maybe it's the body shape. It's stuck somewhere in between a coupe and a SUV, and it needs to be either-or. I think I'd find a standard Q7 a lot more appealing.'

Oh dear. Both of Audi's actual prospects have rejected my SQ8. Audi would doubtless counter, fairly, that the SQ8 is meant to be a polarising car, and that it might only have to convert one prospect in a hundred for it to meet its 'exclusive' sales targets. But Audi might be surprised to find that the SQ8's biggest fan on our panel is a man more used to driving cars that don't have heaters, let alone speakers that pipe the sound of the engine into the cabin.

Despite his irritating youth (he's only 29) Jon Holmes is already one of the country's leading Land Rover restorers. He sourced many of the base Series 1s for Land Rover's Reborn in-house restoration programme, and his services are sought out by those who really know their stuff.

Audi SQ8 side pan

He is probably not an SQ8 prospect, but he does know a thing or two about off-roaders, drives a Toyota Land Cruiser V8 daily and likes a powerful diesel, having just sold a viper-green, 5.5-litre Unimog.

'It has a proper engine in it,' says Jon, chuckling softly as he floors the SQ8 for the first time, clearly enjoying it in a way the other two did not.

'It's mad quick. The torque numbers are insane. I'm not even trying and I'm already speeding. I do take Luke's point about the image, but I think there's a lot of people who'd like a car this fast that just blends in.'
And the SQ8's off-road ability, irrelevant though it may be? I'd expected talented mud-plugger Jon to be scathing. 'It would be just as good as a Range Rover for what you'd actually need it to do. These systems are really clever on slippery surfaces like wet grassy car parks. And if it did get stuck, imagine how high it would throw the mud.'

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Audi SQ8

Price £104,240 (£106,640 as tested) 
Performance 3956cc twin-turbo V8, 429bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph 
Efficiency 36.2mpg (official), 27.0mpg (tested), 240g/km CO2 
Energy cost 22.0p per mile 
Miles this month 789
Total miles 4159

Month 2 living with an Audi SQ8: when it comes to the crunch

I’ve just had the weirdest accident in the SQ8. I won’t share the details (yet) lest I cause the insurers any anxiety, but I doubt I’ll ever experience anything odder than the slightly hallucinogenic quality of the behaviour and appearance of the other driver. I can tell you about the car’s behaviour and appearance, though.

If it wasn’t for the SQ8’s extraordinary braking, grip and stability helping me to get out of the way, a front-end kiss and light panel damage might have been a lot worse. All that stuff about feeling secure people come out with when they buy a tall SUV is justified, as is the idea that a high-performance car with a surfeit of braking and grip is more likely to avoid an accident than an ordinary one.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Audi SQ8

Price £104,240 (£106,640 as tested) 
Performance 3956cc twin-turbo V8, 429bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph 
Efficiency 36.2mpg (official), 27.3mpg (tested), 240g/km CO2 
Energy cost 22.7p per mile 
Miles this month 407
Total miles 3370

Month 1 living with an Audi SQ8: hello and welcome

Audi SQ8 hello

Ben Pulman, the HAL 9000 of CAR's long-term test fleet, informs me that this is the first SUV-coupe we've ever run. I wonder what you'll make of it. Old-school car enthusiasts aren't keen on SUVs, tend to dislike performance SUVs even more, and find marketing-led SUV-coupe mash-ups to be troubling, to say the least. My new Audi SQ8 is all three.

For a brief, glorious moment the SQ8 was Audi's flagship SUV, before the covers were whipped from the petrol-powered, 592bhp, Urus-lite RS Q8. I don't feel like my new wheels and I have been upstaged, however. I still have Europe's most powerful diesel engine at my disposal: a 4.0-litre twin-turbo which makes 429bhp, 664lb ft and a lovely, subtle (though electronically enhanced) V8 gurgle.

There's a slight concession to conscience in the form of a 48-volt mild hybrid system which doesn't drive the wheels directly, but allows the SQ8 to coast above 35mph and powers the active anti-roll system, improving efficiency by around five per cent to a claimed 36.2mpg average on the old NEDC figures.

Audi SQ8 interior

It's hard to believe an Audi SUV with an on-the-road price of £104,240 – before options – isn't the top of its range, but we live in strange times. The base SQ8 costs £81,740. My Vorsprung version is the only other trim level and attempts to justify the gigantic leap in price by including pretty much Audi's entire suite of comfort, infotainment and safety features, including the active anti-roll and rear-steer systems which can't be added to the base car.

Of the few options it's possible to fit to a Vorsprung, mine gets the £475 rear side airbag and £325 upgraded tyre pressure monitoring system, both of which feel like they ought be standard. And £750 for anything other than solid paint is just cheeky. I remember metallic paint being an exotic option on the Nissan Bluebird my mum ordered new in 1987: on a £100k premium SUV in 2020 it feels like a stealth tax. The £450 for red brake calipers and £400 for roof rails are more matters of preference: I'd choose the rails, to give me the option of compensating for the SQ8's lesser boot volume with a roof box.

I collected the SQ8 from CAR HQ, where it was busy polarising the staff. Most seemed to love the way it drove but disliked the looks. James Taylor, in whose dynamic assessments you can usually have utter faith, disagreed, liking the looks but saying the SQ8 felt like it was permanently driving over a cattle grid. After my first 1000 or so miles, I have to say I'm siding with the majority. Dynamically, the SQ8 feels as crushingly omni-capable as you'd hope. I'm just not sure I get on with the design. It looks like what it is: a full-size SUV below the glasshouse, and a hatchback above it. This gives it odd proportions, the heavy, bulbous nose seeming unrelated to a rear upper-deck which looks like it's been pinched from a car two classes below.

Audi SQ8 LTT front quarter

At least it's not as offensive as an X6. A friend squinted slightly at mine, asked 'What actually is it? Is it the same kind of car as that BMW that everyone hates?' and then reassured me she didn't think it looked anywhere near as awful. I agree: in Orca Black the SQ8 is fairly subtle for a 2.3-tonne performance SUV. It's a pity a car which flies under the radar has its nose disfigured by two actual radars, which protrude very obviously through the grille.

Polarising cars such as the SQ8 make the best long-term tests. And if it's a type of car we've not lived with before, even better. I'd probably feel broadly the same way about an A6 Avant at the beginning and end of a long-term test. With the SQ8, I've no idea if its performance and quality will outweigh the fuel bills, compromised practicality, and the hours lost staring at it and scratching my head. But I look forward to finding out.

By Ben Oliver

Logbook: Audi SQ8

Price £104,240 (£106,640 as tested) 
Performance 3956cc twin-turbo V8, 429bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph 
Efficiency 36.2mpg (official), 26.2mpg (tested), 240g/km CO2 
Energy cost 22.7p per mile 
Miles this month 1301
Total miles 2963

By Ben Oliver

Contributing editor, watch connoisseur, purveyor of fine features