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Driven: Audi SQ8 Vorsprung. Image by Audi UK.

Driven: Audi SQ8 Vorsprung
The mega ‘trip-turbo’ V8 TDI engine finds its way into the Audi Q8. How good is the resulting SQ8?


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Audi SQ8 Vorsprung

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Good points: good looks, quality cabin, monster engine, impressive physics-defying handling

Not so good: not quite as thrilling or rapid-feeling as we thought it might be... also, £107,000?!

Key Facts

Model tested: Audi SQ8 Vorsprung
Price: Q8 range from £67,460; SQ8 Vorsprung from £104,240, car as tested £106,640
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 diesel with Electrically Powered Compressor (EPC) and 48-volt electrical system
Transmission: eight-speed Tiptronic automatic, quattro all-wheel drive
Body style: five-door performance coupe-SUV
CO2 emissions: 205g/km* (VED Band 191-225: £1,815 in year one, then £465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 30.7mpg**
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Power: 435hp at 3,750-4,750rpm
Torque: 900Nm at 1,250-3,250rpm
Boot space: 605-1,755 litres

* = CO2 figure is NEDC-derived, hence higher year one VED requirement than 191-225 tax band rating.
** = WLTP figure.

Our view:

Timing, as they say in the world of comedy, is everything, but maybe Audi won't be laughing about the timing involved in this story. You see, right at the end of 2019, we were invited to drive the shiny new RS Q8, all 600hp biturbo ferocity of it. Glowing from its record-setting lap of the Nordschleife, making it the fastest SUV around the Green Hell in the world, and on the crest of a dynamic wave (as in, recent Audi S and RS models seem to drive more sharply and invigoratingly than they did, say, four years ago), Audi was rightly very proud of its V8 ultimate SUV flagship. It laid on some astonishing routes on the island of Tenerife for international drives, invited in the critics, sat back and waited for the plaudits to flood in.

The problem, or certainly the problem in our particular case, was timing. You see, the launch of the RS Q8 coincided with the week we were testing this Audi SQ8 Vorsprung in the UK. And despite all the Nürburgring derring-do and the raucous soundtrack of the RS Q8 and the undeniable glamour of being on the Canary Islands in the middle of a soaking British winter, we came to an inevitable conclusion: the best Audi Q8 is not the best Audi Q8. At least, not in terms of what Audi itself would deem the best model in the range...

Because we think the diesel-powered SQ8, using that tremendous drivetrain as seen in the sister SQ7 and no less a vehicle than the short-lived Bentley Bentayga Diesel, is the superior road-going machine. Oh, sure, the RS Q8 is the sharper of the two vehicles to steer, with (a fraction) more engagement behind the wheel and a more overtly sporty engine/exhaust note and its sub-four-second 0-62mph time.

But we reckon it doesn't drive better than the SQ8 by a big enough margin to make it worth the extra outlay, nor the absolutely crippling fuel consumption the RS Q8 will give you in reality. And - honestly - who among us is ever going to take a 2.3-tonne SUV onto the track, in order to push it hard enough to find out precisely where the limits of dynamic ability lie? You can argue all you like that it was the RS Q8 which set that scorching Nordschleife lap, but no one in their right mind uses luxo-SUVs like this for track days.

All of which rather eliminates the RS Q8's edge. That, of course, and the fact the SQ8 is just so damned capable in all situations. It looks fantastic; took us a while, but we've really come around to the Q8's styling after the initial appraisals, and the SQ8 is magnificently moody in its fully murdered-out black-on-black-on-yet-more-black colourway of our test car. The interior is another Audi gem, of course, and as this is the high-ranking Vorsprung model, the toy count is huge within the cabin; blanking plates are not an issue here. Visually, the SQ8 seems to lose absolutely nothing to its RS sibling, either outside or in.

It is also the better car on the roads. It just is. The ride, even on the 21s of our Vorsprung, is utterly majestic, and you can thank the powered anti-roll bars and air suspension of the SQ8 for that. There must be enough sound-deadening crammed into the Audi's hidden cavities (steady...) to match the thickness of the armour plating at Fort Knox, because - aside from slightly elevated tyre whoop from the 285/45 rubber when you're on rougher surfaces - you'll aurally ascertain next to nothing of the SQ8 bludgeoning its way through the airstream and rolling along the roads. Further, the SQ8 is positively disdainful of munching up motorway miles, throwing in a 34.2mpg return on a run back from Gatwick to the environs of Newark-on-Trent, in and amongst an overall 28.1mpg across 564 miles of mixed roads driving. This, may we remind you, from a 435hp, 2.4-tonne SUV (yes, the SQ8 is marginally heavier than the RS Q8) that'll hit 62mph from rest in a mere 4.8 seconds.

And, talking of performance, the SQ8 is mighty. It doesn't quite feel as bonkers-demented quick as we remember the SQ7 feeling on our first acquaintance with it, but it still picks up and goes with an intensity that's remarkable for such a physically ginormous machine. It even sounds good, too, if - again - not quite as good as a pre-Dieselgate SQ7, but there's enough of a V8 rumble to the SQ8 to banish any worries that emissions regs are taking the acoustic joy out of all combustion-engined motors. Oh, and don't let anyone tell you that automatic-gearbox-equipped Volkswagen Group products all have some hideous delay in their step-off acceleration, because this SQ8 exhibited no such hesitance - sit at the lights, even in Comfort mode, smash the throttle when the signal goes green, laugh to yourself as a thumping 900Nm punches you off into the distance, to the resulting incredulity of all other road users in the vicinity. Yes, the SQ8 might limit its leviathan twist slightly in the lower gears, perhaps to save the poor Tiptronic 'box from being torn asunder by the torque, but you can nip out of junctions and into traffic in this Audi with no bother whatsoever.

So it's unquestionably the best Q8 in the range, in our opinion, a fabulous all-rounder with some real street cred among those who know and an innate desirability that means it will be the envy of many other motorists. Yet we've only given it four out of five. Why?

Ah. Well, it's a great Q8... but a great performance SUV? Hmm. It doesn't seem to drive in an appreciably sharper fashion than the SQ7, and surely - if you're sacrificing the two back seats and having that rakish coupe roofline as recompense - the whole point is you want it to feel better than the seven-seat machine. Yet, in much the same way the SQ8 undoes the case for the RS Q8, the SQ7 somewhat does for the SQ8; it's more hilarious to have a family SUV that goes tear-arsing around the place, upsetting people in mid-ranking sports cars as it thunders along, than it is when you're in a vehicle that looks a bit like a Lamborghini Urus, if you squint a bit. Also, the 2,440kg SQ8 felt ever so slightly more ponderous in the curves than the last SQ7 we drove, although that might just be familiarity breeding a little contempt for Audi's superfast-SUV dynamics.

More alarming was the near-£107,000 optioned-up price of our test car. As a Vorsprung, it supposedly comes with everything on it and we totally understand that it is related to the likes of the aforementioned Bentayga, Urus and also the Porsche Cayenne. But a basic figure of £104,240 for a diesel five-seat Audi SUV remains criminally exorbitant, (relatively) attractive monthly PCP deals or not. And if this is the Kitchen Sink model of Q8, then why do you have to pay £450 for red brake callipers with an 'S' logo, £400 for black roof rails, £475 for a rear side airbag and £325 - THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-FIVE NOTES, MARK YOU - for a tyre-pressure monitoring system, something which comes as standard on most self-respecting city cars these days? Crikey, even £750 for Orca Black metallic paint seems a liberty at this level, and the resulting asking price of £106,640 just feels like too much for the vehicle you end up with.

Therefore, while we like the excellent SQ8, and like it rather a lot, it's not the Audi SUV we'd be going for. You can argue it does much of what its more prestigious Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche cousins do, only for less cash and with far more palatable running costs (given none of the above offer diesel power any longer, or at least, no longer offer diesel power in Europe, in the case of the Bentayga), but you could then just as easily argue that the SQ7 is the more fun, the more practical and the more affordable machine out of it and the SQ8. Still, at least if you're in the market for a high-performance Q8 of some kind, you know the RS is not the one to go for - like we said at the outset, the timing of this SQ8 test drive could not, in Audi's eyes, have come at a worse time.


BMW X6 M50d: you can get the latest BMW X6 with the quad-turbo M50d powertrain, but why would you? Look at the state of its bodywork. Ugh.

Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupe: the current GLE is spawning a coupe model soon and there'll be a few tiers of AMG performance. We doubt a rapid diesel will be available, though.

Range Rover Velar D300: from a class below the SQ8 and not as powerful, with 300hp and 700Nm. But it feels every bit as nice inside, looks great on the outside and is usefully cheaper. Worth a look, if you don't need even seats.

Matt Robinson - 6 Dec 2019    - Audi road tests
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2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.

2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.2019 Audi SQ8 Vorsprung UK test. Image by Audi UK.


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