Handsome in a brutalist way, good body control, interior design and quality
V8 is thirsty and less interesting than the tri-turbo diesel it replaces
What is it?
Audi announced it as a change of heart. It was, in more ways than one. The Q8 had arrived in 2018, a lifestyle alternative to the Q7, fewer seats, more ‘image’. Read into the quote marks what you will. We were left a little cold. But the following year along came the SQ8 and most was forgiven as Audi had inserted an almighty great tri-turbo diesel with more wallop than Anthony Joshua.
Because it shouted a bit louder, the diesel SQ8 (664lb ft of torque, people!) didn’t quite have the stealth bomber impact of the SQ7, but the engine very nearly made the car and wasn’t it nice to have an alternative to all those other 18mpg petrol performance SUVs? Unfortunately it wasn’t allowed out to play for very long, because Audi – waking up from a long sleep with the rest of the car industry – realised that diesel was less socially acceptable than ordering ale in a wine bar in the circles it moved in, and must be banished.
Banished in favour of?
Yet another super-coupe SUV powered by yet another petrol-powered twin-turbo V8. And yes that means 18mpg, no matter what claims Audi makes about cylinder shut-off. Compared to the diesel power is up 70bhp, and the 0-62mph falls a few tenths to 4.1secs. But torque is down almost 100lb ft, fuel economy drops 5mpg and CO2 emissions are up by 40g/km. As far as environmental impact goes, this thing swings an axe at least as large as its predecessor. No hybrid systems here, just pure turbo V8 shoving along 2,270kg riding on 22s.
It comes with the full suite of wow-that’s-a-lot-of-weight-to-keep-under-control technologies. There’s four-wheel steering, active roll stabilisation and air suspension – all stuff that, like the engine, can also be found in the Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga.
Same chassis underneath as those two, right?
Correct. And let’s point out the positives here. Weight is very well managed and it changes direction way more incisively than it has any right to considering its height and weight. The steering is reassuring in your hands, you have every confidence the 285-width front tyres will maintain their grip.
And provided you don’t mind revving it, it doesn’t half blast along. Just watch the turbo lag and a gearbox which really ought to be more on the ball. Revs and paddle pulls are required to get the best from it, in which case 18mpg will be a distant dream. Care? Have a regular Q8 instead – you can still have that as a diesel. But at least the SQ8 gives you wriggle room in social situations, where you can explain that you’re a good person because you didn’t have the RS Q8.
What about other rivals?
The Merc GLE Coupe and BMW X6 are at the forefront and neither is as visually well executed as the SQ8, nor as practical inside. Not that these are SUVs you fill with bodies or baggage. Probably just posh shopping bags. But to give it its due the SQ8 is very well finished inside, has a 605-litre boot and back seats easily able to swallow two.
What's the verdict?
It’s lost some charisma in the switch to petrol and no longer has such a strong USP. It’s also, at £85,585, a big chunk of money (if twenty grand cheaper than an RS Q8, which isn’t a lot faster). But how long will it stay like this? There’s a hybrid TFSI e Q8. Safe money says that the SQ8 will surely benefit from hybrid tech soon.