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Diesel isn’t a dirty word when it comes to performance SUVs

By Cameron Kirby, 20 May 2020 Reviews

Diesel isn’t a dirty word when it comes to performance SUVs

This big brute proves you don’t need petrol to go fast

Overall Rating

5 0 5

Plus & Minus

  1. Plus Prodigious torque; generous standard equipment; genuinely practical everyday

  2. Minus Needs expensive option to excel dynamically; size is counter-intuitive to dynamic driving

The Wheels Verdict: If you have a hankering for torque, then the Audi SQ7 is just about the best new SUV you can buy today. The 4.0-litre turbo-diesel V8 had so much grunt that you are never left wanting. While it’s plenty capable of putting its terrific amounts of thrust to the tarmac through clever differentials, it’s more suited to being an extremely accomplished cruiser.

WHAT IS THE AUDI SQ7

Audi has gone against the grain with the SQ7 and its SQ8 sibling, by retaining a diesel engine for the sporting range toppers, for the time being at least (a petrol RSQ8 is coming soon, but not available in Australia yet). Where the competition has opted for petrol power for a halo model, Audi has stuck with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo mild-hybrid V8 for the large SUV duo. With a $161,500 pricetag, this updated 2020 model is looking to compete with the likes of the BMW X5 M50i, and Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 for large, pseudo-sporting SUV glory.

Read next: Move over Iron Man. Audi workers get ultra-cool exoskeletons to build cars

WHY WE’RE TESTING IT

For the 2020 model year Audi has brought the SQ7 in for some mild tweaks, while also introducing the all-new SQ8 to Australia. Changes to the SQ7 mirror the recently updated ‘regular’ range, with a fresh interior lifted from the Q8, some minor styling tweaks, more standard equipment, and drivetrain refinements. Time to find out if the SQ7 can talk the torque.

THE AUDI SQ7 REVIEW

When it comes to the SQ7, it’s all about that engine. Sure, it has a plush, extremely well-equipped cabin, with space and practicality that makes it a viable everyday family hauler. But the reason you’d buy the SQ7 over the non-Audi Sport variants in the range, is the engine. That or badge snobbery.

The eight-cylinder dreadnought under the bonnet is a powerhouse, with mild tweaks to the 4.0-litre diesel V8’s twin-turbo mild-hybrid system bringing extra refinement to its character. Peak power is a stout 320kW, available between 3750-4750rpm. However, with the SQ7, it’s all about torque, and there is 900Nm of the good stuff on tap from just 1250rpm all the way to 3250rpm.

Read next: Audi A8 used to break the automotive world’s most illegal record

The new Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 commands an extra $5000, and its twin-turbo straight-six matches the Audi on power, but is down 380Nm. The BMW M50i is cheaper, with a $155,900 pricetag, while the twin-turbo V8 produces 390kW and 750Nm.

All that shove from the Audi’s turbo-diesel engine means the gearbox is rarely worried when the SQ7 is being hustled – either in automatic and manual modes. Left to its own devices the eight-speed automatic transmission slurs between ratios without being a distraction. However, you can just as easily pick a single ratio in manual mode – in our case, third gear – and let the ample bandwidth take you from corner to corner. By time the torque begins to peter out, the peak power is on tap and you find yourself in a family hauler capable of cracking 100km/h from a standstill in a claimed 4.8 seconds. Want to lose your license in five seconds while your family watches, sir? Walk this way.

For the fuel-bill conscious, there’s plenty to like about the SQ7. Audi claims it’ll sip diesel at a rate of 7.6L/100km, which’ll be difficult to replicate in the real world away from the highway, but it does undercut similarly priced and powered petrol rivals. The 48-volt mild-hybrid system has a clever way of saving a few millilitres of fuel, by shutting off the engine when coasting. It’s unobtrusive, and adds to the serenity inside the cabin while driving.

If you have any intentions of taking your large seven-seat SUV for an enthusiastic jaunt on tight and twisting mountain roads, the $10,900 optional Dynamic package becomes a must-tick box. With it you get active roll stabilisation that markedly improves body control, and a quattro sport differential that can direct power to the outside rear wheel to quell understeer or the inside rear wheel if oversteer is anticipated.

Read next: Battle of the German behemoth SUVs

While the SQ7 is not embarrassed dynamically without this option, it does transform the car’s character when you are hustling the two-tonne diesel SUV. Where previously you really had to get the car slowed down on corner entry to get the body to turn in without ESC-inducing understeer, it now carries speed more cleanly toward apexes on corner entry. Similarly, where the heft of the large-SUV was present, shifting from side to side in corner transitions, it is now hidden deftly by the electromechanical system.

It should be noted that a challenging b-road isn’t where this car is most comfortable, even with its all-wheel steering, as its size remains an ever-present challenge. Where the car shines is on the highway, where it cruises along effortlessly. The diesel engine hums along between 1000-1500rpm depending on the speed limit and drive mode selection. With peak torque arriving at such a low rpm, overtaking grunt is always on tap, while the air suspension offers an impressive ‘wafting’ ride quality. Even with large 22-inch wheels, Continental Premium Contact rubber in girthy 285/35 sizes, and a sportier damper tune than the regular variants, the SQ7 has a calming level of ride refinement.

On bumpier roads the large wheel and tyre combo undersells the performance of the air suspension, and there is a harsher edge to the ride quality. Though if you value comfort above all else, we’d recommend stepping into a regular Q7 50 TDI with 19- or 20-inch wheels.

Forget for a moment that this luxury SUV has a six-figure pricetag, and you realise the Audi Q7 offers pretty darn good value for money. The standard equipment is very un-European, requiring little to no option ticking to get everything you’d demand from a car of this calibre. Valcona leather upholstery on the sport seats, four-zone climate control, electric steering column adjustment, power-assisted door closure, a panoramic sunroof, Audi’s full suite of safety systems, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, automated emergency calls, and theft notification, and a Bose 3D surround sound system are all standard.

RIVALS

BMW X5 M50i, Mercedes-AMG GLE 53

AUDI SQ7 SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Audi SQ7
Engine: 3956 twin-turbo V8, dohc, 32v
Max power: 320kW @ 3750-4750rpm
Max torque: 900Nm @ 150-3250rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 2460kg
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (claimed)
Economy: 7.6L/100km (claimed)
Price: $161,500
On sale: Now

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