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