Audi Sport’s first performance version of the range-topping Q8 will arrive here in the first half of next year. Like the firm’s other recent S-brand additions, the Audi SQ8 TDI is diesel-only for now, with the same 4.0-litre 320kW V8 engine as in the related SQ7.
Petrol fans will have to wait for the even more angry and powerful RS Q8 rumoured to be in the works to answer the apparently pressing need for 500kW (!) fireworks.
In this top-of-the-line ‘Vorsprung’ trim, the SQ8 gets plenty of electronic trickery like four-wheel steering, adaptive air suspension (capable of adjusting ride height through 90mm of travel), active anti-roll bars and an actively locking rear diff in addition to the centre Torsen diff. It therefore has the ability to switch between surprising handling agility and driver engagement to luxurious, refined touring comfort.
Identified externally by a wider, chromier grille surround, unique alloy wheel design and quad exhausts, the SQ8 has a cabin that differs from an S Line-spec Q8 only in the details, so it remains a very agreeable, comfortable place in which to travel.
The driving position and seats are first rate, and Audi now thankfully offers a round steering wheel in a move away from fitting only flat-bottomed ones in cars like this – many S and RS customers advised they don’t like them.
That electric-assisted engine has real versatility of character, being refined, relaxing and long-striding, then taking on greater responsiveness and aural drama when you select Dynamic driving mode, where noise enhancers inside both the exhaust and the cabin enrich the V8’s sound. It then sounds sweeter and more tuneful than you expect, but isn’t dialled up to ridiculous volumes or made to seem unnatural.
The car’s power delivery is always smooth and quite cultured, but leaves a little to be desired on high-range potency and outright linearity. You don’t begin to get peak torque until the bigger of the two turbos comes on stream just under 3000rpm, but above 3500rpm your rate of gain tails away.
Ride and handling mirrors the adaptability of the powertrain. The adaptive suspension stops well short of loping along in Comfort, but it still rides very well indeed considering how good the car’s body control is, how strong its grip level and how keenly it can change direction in Dynamic.
This is the sort of car for someone who’s been around the block with fast SUVs before. Someone who would value its just-so compromise of pace and space; of cruising range, ride comfort and driver appeal; of off-road capability, onboard technology and luxury; and the status it implies and desirability it reflects, blended with an understated performance aesthetic.
Those looking for the biggest, loudest, fastest, most exciting or most bombastic luxury SUV for the money should probably apply elsewhere.
All about the drive with MOTOR reviews
2019 AUDI SQ8 TDI SPECS
Engine: 3956cc V8 turbodiesel, DOHC, 32v
Power: 320kW @ 3750-4750rpm
Torque: 900Nm @ 1250-3250rpm
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (claimed)
Price: $180,000 (est)
Like: Brisk, quiet, smart and spacious; technologically rich; excellent ergonomics
Dislike: Fussy ride around town in Dynamic mode; hefty size and price
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars