Audi does its level best to ensure that it has a contender in every vehicle segment, with myriad performance-branded spin-offs aimed at buyers with a little extra to spend.
The range-topping Q8 arrived last year, and now Audi has broadened its appeal further by introducing the sporting SQ8 version, sharing some of its innovative technology with the SQ7 – giving the German firm a rival for Porsche’s new Cayenne Coupe, as well as the soon-to-be-replaced BMW X6 M50d and Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 Coupe.
Available in standard and higher-specification Vorsprung trims, all SQ8 models feature the 4.0-litre V8 TDI diesel engine with its unique twin-turbocharger and electric supercharger configuration, designed to maximise performance and efficiency as well as delivering a monstrous 452bhp and 900Nm of torque. It also has quattro four-wheel-drive as standard and specially-tuned air suspension, while the Vorsprung version gets active anti-roll control and four-wheel steering for a sharper driving experience.
On the outside all models get huge 22-inch wheels, wider wheelarches and discreet ‘S’ badging, with a unique grille design adding extra muscle to its appearance. Inside, the SQ8 keeps much of the standard car’s attractive cabin, including the high seating position and the full touchscreen MMI infotainment system. Added to that are standard sports seats, diamond-stitched leather upholstery in a choice of colours, and aluminium or carbon trim depending on the specification. The cabin feels luxurious and well built.
Although space is reduced compared to the bigger SQ7, front seat passengers still have plenty of space, and even those in the rear are well catered for. For many buyers, the sharper exterior looks will be a worthy trade-off for a little less practicality.
Given the power and torque on offer it would be easy to assume the SQ8 had become a highly-strung performance machine, but it is just as capable as the standard car in terms of comfort and refinement. Despite riding on huge 22-inch wheels, bumps are absorbed with ease and only severe potholes cause any disturbance in the cabin. The standard air suspension allows different levels of firmness through the Audi Drive Select system, but even in its firmest setting it is composed in almost all conditions.
Even more impressive is the effortless performance that the 4.0-litre diesel delivers. The electric compressor is designed to ensure instant torque even at low engine speeds, and for the most part, it is highly effective. A gentle squeeze of the accelerator is enough to release the 900Nm of torque, and with the eight-speed automatic transmission shifting smoothly, the SQ8 fires forward with incredible ease, especially given that it weighs over two tonnes.
Shifting manually through the gears allows better control when driving at speed, and despite its diesel configuration the 4.0-litre unit provides an engaging exhaust note when revved, too – though this is partly down to the standard-fit electronic sound actuator.
The most impressive aspect of the SQ8, however, is the level of composure and lack of body roll during hard cornering. In the UK, SQ8 models in Vorsprung trim are fitted with the active roll control system as standard, powered by the 48V mild hybrid system. It works seamlessly to restrict body roll through corners without hurting the ride – so much so that it is easy to forget the SQ8 is over five metres long and almost two metres wide. Although it is too large to be driven like a smaller sports car, it can cover the ground at speed with little effort.
Less impressive is the steering, which is quick and accurate but rarely provides much feel, regardless of the drive select mode engaged.
With an expected starting price of £85,000, the biggest hurdle that the SQ8 faces is in respect of its rivals. The comparable BMW X6 M50d and Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 Coupe are likely to cost at least £10,000 less, or £25,000 less in the case of this top-specification Vorsprung model. The faster and petrol-only Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe may be within £5,000, but its superior dynamics and image might be enough to tempt potential SQ8 buyers away.