A smorgasbord of technological firsts, and the fastest diesel-powered seven-seater money can buy.
WHAT IS IT?
The already accomplished Audi Q7 SUV has evolved into the SQ7 after a week-long bender of protein powder and science fiction. It’s more muscular and technologically advanced than anything else in the four-ringed line-up. This is Audi’s big, bold, brute of a seven-seater.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
It’s the fastest SUV of its kind, and promises an experience unlike any competitor, thanks in part to the first road-going application of Audi’s electronic compressor tech. This is our first chance to experience the 320kW/900Nm SUV on local roads, specifically the foothills of the Snowy Mountains.
The BMW X5 M50d ($148,855) and Range Rover Sport SDV8 HSE Dynamic ($153,600) are the obvious diesel-powered rivals, but Audi would be crazy to think buyers won’t cross-shop petrol options like the Volvo XC90 T8 R-Design ($122,900) and Mercedes-AMG GLE43 ($133,616) and GLE63S ($190,615), though the Mercs are five-seater only, as is the diesel Maserati Levante Sport ($159,990) and Porsche Cayenne S Diesel ($149,000).
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The SQ7 is an eye-widening smorgasbord of tech firsts. Its ambitious triple-turbo diesel doles out unrelenting torque, and will decimate a clean licence if given half a chance. Otherwise, it’s a luxuriant people mover with badge cachet that sets it apart from the regular Q7.
PLUS: Refinement, performance, technological superstardom
MINUS: Remote steering, expensive options, yearns for an autobahn
THE WHEELS REVIEW
STANDING on the Audi SQ7’s seemingly innocent throttle pedal is a bit like watching an A380 take off. Something tells you this big bird won’t fly, but before you can say “nine hundred Newton metres” the SQ7’s Virtual Cockpit display shows three figures entirely incompatible with the speed limit.
Foot flat, there’s a momentary pause as the 2330kg SUV inhales, followed by a deep, rising rumble from the 4.0-litre V8, mashed with the rushing air of three turbochargers that surge the five-metre lump forward on an almighty wave of torque.
It’s not quite a Tesla-rivalling, all-electric sock to the back of the head, but it ticks over 100km/h in 4.9 seconds; quicker than a Audi TTS Roadster. It takes one of the most complicated powertrains currently on sale to manufacture all that thrust.
Beneath myriad plastic covers the diesel donk is accompanied by two variable vane turbos running in sequence, and a third, electronic compressor to assist. The latter spools to 70,000rpm in 250 milliseconds and can provide boost from below idle.
Passing on the highway the SQ7 puts on pace effortlessly, and has such effective sound isolation that one’s perception of speed is often way off. Its long-legged eight-speed gearing is good for 150km/h at 1900rpm, which doesn’t help.
Audi’s electric turbocharger tech debuted nearly three years ago in the relatively conventional RS5 TDI concept sports car. Yet here we are in the first road-going application of that system – a 320kW seven-seater.
Hidden under the SQ7’s floor is a 48V electrical subsystem sending up to 7kW of electricity to the turbo and another 6kW to an optional Dynamic package ($13,500), which includes electromechanical roll stabilisation, four-wheel steering and a sports differential. Of the 300 people currently holding SQ7 pre-orders, 80% of them have ticked that box.
Selecting Dynamic mode flexes all systems simultaneously. The air suspension drops, active sway bars tense and steering weights up. This is not a naturally athletic car, but the electronics try earnestly to convince otherwise.
There’s monstrous grip and bizarre agility. Front and back axles feel connected, though the SQ7’s obesity is exposed in delayed reactions when switching back through tighter corners.
Strangest of all is the body control. With the electromechanical roll stabilisation in full swing, there is just one degree of lateral body roll for every 1G of cornering force, of which normal road tyres only handle around 1.2G – at maximum. Away from the limit of tyre grip the system is impressive, though it does make it difficult to judge where that limit lies.
Having all four wheels turning at once is similarly varied. Stability at high speed is excellent, and low speed manoeuvring is sharper – the SQ7 with all-wheel steering has a smaller turning circle than a Q3 - but it’s less convincing when facing a challenging road, needing constant wheelwork to trim and adjust the trajectory. The base SQ7 without all-wheel steering is noticeably purer.
As a demonstration of what’s possible the SQ7 is astonishing. As a performance car in its own right it’s remote. Layer upon layer of computer interpretation and intervention sit between driver input and car response, forever relaying signals to open and close solenoids, switch on secondary intake and exhaust valves, tighten up stabilisers and regenerate energy for the 48V system.
It’s a marvel of tech that Ron Dennis would be proud to put a McLaren badge on, but ultimate driver appeal is diminished when really on it once the shock and awe factor wears off.
Perhaps that distant feeling is in keeping with the SQ7’s impeccable road manners and refinement. As and a day-to-day tool for families, the SQ7 loses none of the Q7’s appeal. Its semi-autonomous assists will drive for you in slow traffic, it seats seven in luxury, its economical, and in Comfort mode the air suspension slackens and the active sway bars decouple to let the car stop sucking in its gut and relax.
It can be incognito, too, especially when left to ride on standard 20-inch wheels rather than the 21- or 22-inch rims most buyers choose to option. In a plain colour without any extras it doesn’t immediately look like an Audi S car. Fitting a blackout option pack and the exclusive Sepang Blue colour ups the ante.
The SQ7 is confused and deeply impressive at the same time. It shows off tech likely to trickle down to Audi’s other sports cars, and that’s something to look forward to. As a performance car in its own right it’s a bit like using a jackhammer to crack a walnut, but all that grunt under the right foot is addictive. And as a conversation starter at the pub, three turbos are hard to top.
Model: Audi SQ7
Engine: 3956cc V8 twin-turbo diesel, dohc, 32v, electric compressor
Max power: 320kW @ 3750-5000rpm
Max torque: 900Nm @ 1000-3250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 7.2L/100km
On sale: Now