Audi SQ8 e-tron review: can a 2.7-tonne electric SUV really be sporty? Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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First Drive

Audi SQ8 e-tron review: can a 2.7-tonne electric SUV really be sporty?

£114,500 when new
Published: 02 Feb 2023

How exciting, is this a new car?

Sort of. Well, no. Audi has facelifted its flagship electric SUV, the e-tron, and the biggest change of all is probably the name. It’s now the Q8 e-tron, to avoid any confusion with all the other electric cars in the company range that are also badged e-tron these days.

Except the Q8 already exists in the line-up as a combustion-powered SUV, and it’s a different car to this one. Gulp. Still, Audi reckons it’ll all be sorted out soon, which presumably means the old Q8 is getting canned or itself rebadged.

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Thanks for that. What are the SQ8 e-tron headlines?

There’s not too much in the way of breaking news here, it’s been a light touch facelift on the original e-tron. There remains a choice of two body styles – an SUV with a roof that goes all the way back to where you’d expect it to, or a Sportback coupe-style option where the roof tails off and you can put less stuff in it. The coupe version is mildly more efficient, though, thanks to its more slippery aero.

There are a whopping three electric motors stuffed inside the SQ8 e-tron: one for each rear wheel and a lazy one on the front axle that only pipes up when extra power or handling prowess is needed. With that in the mix there's 496bhp and 717lb ft of torque on tap, while the car does 0–62mph in 4.5 seconds and has a top speed of 130mph. 

The Q8 e-tron range also gets the new Audi badge, which despite the inevitable millions spent on its drawn-out development turns out to be a bit of plastic with the Audi logo on it in a very 2D fashion. Can’t say it gets any more thrilling than that.

Oh. Does it drive in a thrilling and dynamic manner?

This is where we are very sad to have to disappoint you. Or maybe, more likely, you took one look at the hefty large electric SUV and correctly surmised that it wouldn’t be giving a Caterham sleepless nights.

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Then again, that the SQ8 e-tron feels as perky as it does is still impressive. It’s relentlessly fast, in the sort of rollercoaster fashion that leaves you clinging grimly on until it’s all over. The control weights all have a heft to them, which is nice, and it doesn’t feel overassisted.

The brakes are particularly well-executed, with a progressive blend between regen and the physical discs (Audi says it’s put special effort into getting the brakes to harvest electricity for as long as possible). 

It all adds up to a premium-feeling drive, but the SQ8 e-tron’s strengths lie in cruising. And you certainly won’t be taking the long way round, it’s still an electric car.

Doesn’t look like it’ll be winning any economy prizes though...

Nope. Sure, you’ve got a perkier drive, but that’s at the expense of 48 miles of WLTP range over the thriftiest Q8 e-tron in the line-up. The coupe version, the SQ8 Sportback e-tron, is rated at 295 miles of range from a full battery. That's a decent enough figure... until you remember that there’s a 106kWh-wedge of lithium-ion in there, and 295 miles isn't such a mighty return. And you’ll have to drive like your grandma to get close to the official range figures. Hmm.

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Not to mention that this supposedly sporty car weighs in at 2.7 tonnes. At least the earth will move for you.

Go for the more practical SUV body style and you’re down to 284 miles. Start to enjoy yourself and you’ll be looking for a plug much sooner than you might think. Still, at least the latest version of the Q8 e-tron has been engineered to sustain its 170kW peak charging capacity for much longer. Audi says that it could have gone for a much higher rate than that to grab the headlines, but it wouldn’t have been able to suck in juice like that for very long. Very sensible. 

Let’s talk money…

You can only get these faster flavours of Q8 e-tron in the top-end Black Edition and Vorsprung specs. The former starts at £97,500 and the latter costs from £114,500. The Sportback adds £2.5k to the cost of the SUV. Standard equipment is a significant chunk of the 2.7-tonne weight, though, if you’re after the sort of car that you can show off. The digital door mirrors are a particular talking point on the Vorsprung car, although we do have our issues with them. 

On the Black Edition car you get 10.1in and 8.6in touchscreens stacked on top of each other in the middle of the dashboard, fancy electrically adjustable front seats, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, four-zone climate control, all sorts of high-tech safety equipment, LED headlights and huge alloy wheels: 21in on the Black Edition and 22in on the Vorsprung model. The latter also chucks in power-closing doors, a panoramic roof and heated rear seats. 

Should I get one over a standard Q8 e-tron?

Don’t let us stop you if that’s what you really want, but we’re still trying to get our heads around performance electric SUVs. Most electric cars are reasonably quick, it’s just the way the tech works. But does the SQ8 e-tron add anything to the range? Not to us.

It’s an impressive bit of kit, but it's a pity all the tech geniuses behind aren't solving the issues of our time, like global warming or why jars are really hard to open. We’d save a whole lot of money and go for the rangiest Q8 e-tron instead.

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