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First drive: Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi SQ7 TDI
Audi's new SQ7 is a bit mental, thanks to new technological trickery.

 



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Audi SQ7 TDI

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Power, power, technology and power - the Audi SQ7 takes the rapid, large SUV formula and knocks it up a notch, thanks to a clever forced induction breakthrough and some heavy-duty chassis hardware. It's not perfect and it's not cheap, but even if you're an extreme anti-SUV car nut, you'll have a hard time convincing yourself the SQ7 is anything other than exceptionally good.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi SQ7 TDI
Pricing: Q7 range from 50,340; SQ7 from 70,970
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 diesel with 'third turbo'
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door, seven-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 190g/km (VED Band J, 500 first 12 months, 270 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Power: 435hp from 3,750- to 5,000rpm
Torque: 900Nm from 1,000- to 3,250rpm

What's this?

The first performance-oriented series production version of the Audi Q7 to emerge from Ingolstadt since the brand's original bulky seven-seat SUV was launched in 2006. Instantly leaping atop the Q7 pile and heading a three-strong hot-rod 4x4 Audi offering comprising the RS Q3 and SQ5, the SQ7 is officially the most powerful diesel SUV in the world. That's because it delivers scandalous figures of 435hp and 900Nm from its twin... no, triple... no, twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 diesel engine.

Why the confusion on the amount of blowers this thing possesses? Ah, that comes down to perhaps the single most important item of tech fitted to the SQ7, which is the electrically powered compressor (EPC). This little gizmo, slotted into the air intake path between the intercooler and the engine, is designed to eliminate turbo lag by working, er, electrically (there's a clue in the name), rather than utilising exhaust gas pressure like a traditional turbocharger. It therefore responds to throttle inputs in just 250 milliseconds, spinning up to a frenzied 70,000rpm to ensure the engine always has a huge chunk of air to swallow while the two 'regular' sequential turbos on the 4.0 V8 are napping, and it's so crucial a part of the SQ7's make-up that the big SUV has two batteries and two electrical systems on board because of it; there's a regular 12-volt affair to control humdrum things like the headlights, sound system and so on, while a new 48-volt subsystem deals with powering the EPC, and also the anti-roll bars.

Oh yes, there's even more of a tech-fest on this SQ7 to run through. Standard kit includes quattro all-wheel drive (obviously; it is a Q model, after all), S-tuned air suspension, big brakes, an eight-speed Tiptronic torque converter automatic with paddle shifts and that megalomaniacal V8, but buyers can also opt for carbon ceramic brakes with ten-pot front callipers (TEN!), plus a dynamic driving package. That incorporates three things: a torque-vectoring sport differential for the rear axle, a first for any Q Audi; four-wheel steering; and the active anti-roll bars, which use planetary gear sets and that 48-volt subsystem to generate up to 1,200Nm of twist to prevent the body of the SQ7 rolling. Funny to think that the suspension delivers 33 per cent more torque than the mighty engine, but there we are.

In terms of other specification, the SQ7 gets subtle styling updates outside - enlarged air intakes, quad exhausts, standard 20-inch alloys that can be jacked up to 22-inch rims if you're feeling ostentatious, a lower body kit and badging - none of which hugely improves the Q7's rather clumsy aesthetics. Inside are Valcona sports leather seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, some carbon trim and more badging; again, not transformative, but when an interior is as beautifully put together as this, why bother going to town on it? Perhaps the best news is that the SQ7 is the only model of Audi's flagship SUV line-up to get the exquisite Virtual Cockpit TFT instrument cluster as standard fit, although an options list including Matrix LED headlights, a variety of deafening sound systems, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go and the crystal-clear head-up display mean the robust starting price of 70,970 is unlikely to be representative of what most SQ7s sold in the UK will actually cost.

How does it drive?

If ever there was a car dominated by its torque output, but in a wholly agreeable manner, it's the SQ7. Thank the EPC for giving such unfettered access to the gargantuan 900Nm - it's on tap from 1,000rpm, also known as idle - but when you decide to punch the Audi forward, you'd better check there's nothing fragile within half a mile of the SQ7's bonnet. Things such as trucks. Or houses. Small mountains, perchance. When 2,330kg of seven-seat diesel SUV can move this quick, it kind of re-orders your entire idea of precisely what 'quick' really means, while also making you frantically reassess your trajectory to compensate for the ridiculous rate at which you're charging along.

It's not ludicrous shove-in-the-back stuff, though, like such petrol-powered hooligans as the Range Rover Sport SVR and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S; the Audi is far less uncouth than that. It's simply a rich, unrelenting accumulation of velocity that heads deceptively deep into three-figure territory before you've got a chance to register just how fast the scenery is spooling by the side windows. And let's be frank here, you will not hear a better diesel engine than this in the whole automotive kingdom. It never, ever lets you believe that the combustion process going on beneath the SUV's conk is initiated by compression alone; outside or in, hear an SQ7 going about its business and you'd be half-tempted to think someone has dropped an American muscle car's motor from the 1960s into this oversized people carrier. We thought the SQ5 sounded good, but the SQ7 is in another sonic league entirely.

Fully equipped as our test cars were with the active anti-roll, ceramic brakes, diff-equipped quattro and four-wheel steering, general Newtonian laws of motion seemed not to apply to the SQ7. The way it corners, finds traction out of bends, links a series of testing sweepers together; it's all utterly unearthly. If you're one of those people who automatically dismiss performance SUVs as being a contradiction in terms, give a bells-and-whistles SQ7 a try and see how you feel afterwards. It's awe-inspiring how capable this physically enormous machine is. It's also as sublimely refined as you'd expect of one of Audi's high-end models.

Sounds near to perfect then, doesn't it? Well, it's not. There are flaws. Even with air springs, a huge array of drive modes to select from and the Fancy Dan anti-roll bars, the SQ7 does not ride with the same fluidity as an S line 3.0 TDI model; outright uncomfortable, it is not, but the detailing of the road surface passing beneath those low-profile sports tyres will never be a mystery to the Audi's occupants. The steering is one of the company's better efforts, but there's still an annoyingly numb stickiness about it around the dead ahead. Occasionally, the combination of the rear wheels turning in and the shunting of torque to the corner best equipped to deal with it can lead to an odd mid-bend crabbing sensation when negotiating hairpins, while (on our car, at least) there was a really disconcerting three-step judder from the drivetrain when we backed off the throttle in the engine's mid-range. Long and short of it, as performance SUVs go, it's up there with the very best, but - undeniably brilliant as it is - the SQ7 has one or two niggles that rob it of a higher overall mark. Especially when it costs at least 71 grand.

Verdict

If you want a really comfy SUV that's reasonably fast, pick the 272hp/600Nm 3.0 Audi Q7 and save yourself a good 17,000... about Ford Fiesta ST money, coincidentally. If you want a preposterously fast SUV that's moderately comfortable, then go for the SQ7 by all means. Of course we can make the rational argument that there's no need for this brutal behemoth. Of course we can say that the technology the SQ7 possesses - specifically, that 48-volt subsystem and the lag-negating EPC - is of more interest in terms of future applications in other models, rather than what dynamic prowess it blesses this 4x4 with. Of course there are rivals that might tempt potential buyers elsewhere, such as the Porsche Cayenne S Diesel, Range Rover Sport SDV8 or the BMW X5 M50d.

But, even taking our bugbears about it into account, the SQ7 proves to be a highly likeable performance SUV. It sounds far better than many petrol vehicles and it's not just quick in a straight line, the Audi pleasingly proving itself preternaturally gifted in the corners. Maybe it wasn't strictly necessary for Ingolstadt to heat up its biggest SUV and give us the Audi SQ7, yet we're extremely glad it did, because the resulting car is a hugely (in all senses of the word) impressive creation.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 13 May 2016









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2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.



2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 

2016 Audi SQ7 TDI. Image by Audi.
 






 

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