What is it like to drive?
Compared to a Cayenne it’s a little less fluent, but there’s not a lot in it really. The Audi majors in grip rather than finesse. The 48-volt anti-roll system ensures it stays almost completely level through corners, so works the tyres on both sides more evenly. The steering has little feel, yet is precise and accurate, and stability is good.
But honestly, not much of this matters. Start charging about in the SQ8 and it’s fine up to a point. But when you pass that point – which is quite hard to detect as the electronic systems do a damn good job of cloaking the physics – you suddenly realise how fast you are travelling and the momentum you have. It’s deceptively rapid, this thing. And also takes up a lot of road space – it’s over 2.1 metres wide across the wing mirrors – and that makes it tricky to thread down an A-road, let alone smaller territory.
But surely it’s designed for more open places. Like autobahns.
All SUVs are, because they grew out of needing to provide space as a necessity, not be big for the sake of it. What’s changed is trying to make these cars dynamic, something that only works if they then have space to play in.
On multi lane roads it works well. It moves easily and with little effort. It’s refined and comfortable and although the suspension is firm on the 22s, it’s not without compromise. Just bear in mind you would be travelling with less noise and more squidge in a standard Q8.
But you also have to fit this thing into towns. Look, they’re all about this size, so they’re all equally bulky. The SQ8 does not have good rear visibility, which leaves you relying on rear cameras for parking. And pure wincing when you venture into a multi-storey.
Can you get good economy from it?
You’ll get maybe 23-24mpg by going gently on it. Which is about what you’d get from an RS6 super-estate. But honestly, without any electrical assistance to assuage your guilt around town (albeit with none of the associated weight penalties beyond it), this is a thirsty machine. We regularly got high 20s from the SQ8 diesel. But that’s gone now, and it’s hard to see that as anything other than a setback.
Obviously it’s had to happen because no-one thinks diesel has a future, but to drive an old SQ7 or SQ8 was to know the truth: diesel is a better fuel for big family cars than petrol. Well, provided you didn’t look at the NOx and particulate emissions too closely.
Is the engine charismatic?
Not particularly. It makes a good background noise, and is smoother than the diesel, but that tri-turbo unit had character and charm and guts. Gone is the effortless lustiness, amazing (partially synthesised) noise and big-hearted growling character. You need to step on this V8 quite hard to rouse it. Pussy foot around and you can tell it’s been engineered to get through emissions tests.