Audi SQ7 VS BMW X4
- Improved value
- Punchy diesel engine
- Cutting-edge interior
- Hefty weight
- Touchscreens are finger-print magnets
- Short warranty
- Fabulous engine
- M-spec interior/seats
- 4WD Sport setting
- Confusing combination of style and substance
- Not pretty
With car brands turning away from diesel engines in favour of more efficient petrol and hybrid powertrains, Audi has bucked the trend and stuck with an oil-burner for its latest SQ7 large SUV.
Outside, the SQ7 looks a little different thanks to a new front grille, but it's the changes on the inside that headline this update.
A dual-screen set-up is now found on the centre console, replacing the old version's button-heavy design, but is this enough to keep the Audi SQ7 competitive against its rivals?
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
Launching new cars must be an endlessly repetitive job, and trying to keep over-fed, overly feted and ostentatious motoring journalists entertained would strain the will to live of any human being, or even a house elf. So it’s easy to see why the people at BMW tried something different when it came time to launch its new X4 M Competition.
They were also dealing with a very strange car; not just an M version, but a Competition variant of a mid-size SUV (or SAV, as they prefer) with a kind of quirky coupe roofline that makes it look like it would prefer not be an SUV (or SAV) at all.
While the idea that someone might use this car for any kind of motorsport “Competition” seems as likely as Clive Palmer running for the bus, what it means is that this X4 gets an absolute rocket of an engine and all kinds of go-faster bits.
So, BMW decided to create a place called M Town - “a place where too much is just right”, as they put it - where we could experience this car in what you would have to call its unnatural environment.
M Town, in this case, was a giant clay pan hidden in the middle of the South Australian outback, with a rally circuit laid out on it, where we would be invited to drive the X4 M Competition as no one intended.
Cue much hilarity, and a highly unconventional non-road test.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Audi has thrown many ingredients into a blender to make the smoothie that is the SQ7, but while some of those elements might seem like they clash on paper, the brand has pulled off an absolute taste sensation.
The SQ7 is perfectly at home at slow speeds around town being a comfortable family hauler, and is also a credible performer in the bends.
The diesel engine also gives the SQ7 a unique point of difference, and serves up a nearly unmatched torque punch.
Add to that, the fact that Audi has thrown in more equipment for a slightly reduced asking price, and the SQ7 deserves its spot at the top of the large luxury SUV consideration list.
Clearly it is hard to give a verdict on what car generally bought to be driven on public roads 99.9 per cent of the time is like to drive when you've only smashed it around a clay pan like a (very) amateur rally drive.
What we can tell you is that the X4 M Competition is a far more serious, exciting version of the (small) family friendly/cool and trendy young couple mid-size SUV, the basic X4. It also has a very exciting engine, and lots of polished gloss black bits on it and, for some reason, seems slightly more fun than the X3 it is closely twinned with.
It is not a car that will attract, or makes sense to, everyone, and its high price will scare a lot of sensible people away. But clearly BMW believes there is a niche market of people who will want one, and will pay top dollar for one. There's no doubt Aussie buyers do love an M badge, and they may well warm to this one.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
In fact, compare an SQ7 side-by-side with a Q7 and only the most keen-eyed punters will be able to spot the difference.
Look closely though, and you will see 22-inch wheels, S Line bodykit, different bumpers and red brake callipers, as well as quad-exhaust tips.
It's subtle – especially in our test car's Navarra Blue paintwork – and we dig that the SQ7 is statelier in appearance than shouty, despite its Audi Sport designation.
Differentiating the 2020 SQ7 from its predecessor is a new front grille, which now sports vertical slats instead of horizontal ones, and updated headlights.
However, it's the inside of the SQ7 that gets the biggest design updates to bring it into the new decade.
The centre console now houses two large touchscreen displays, one for the multi-media system and the other for the climate controls, replacing the old SQ7's numerous buttons.
While the screens look fantastic, they attract fingerprints like a magnet after a little use.
Audi has seen fit to include a screen-wiping cloth in the glovebox of the new SQ7, but grubby and greasy fingers will infuriate the neat freaks out there.
The dashboard has also been reworked to suit the new screens, with integrated ‘hidden' air vents, and gloss-black and matt-brushed aluminium detailing.
Sports seats also feature, finished in Valcona leather with diamond stitching, but tall front passengers should take note as the headrests are not adjustable.
The preceding SQ7 cabin might have cut the mustard at the time, but the interior of luxury cars has moved on in leaps and bounds since 2016, so it's great to see the new version scoring a significant upgrade.
It only seems reasonable to give the X4 M one more point out of 10 for deign than its X3 non-identical twin sister, because at least the designers have had a bit of a go at the rear.
The idea of a coupe SUV has always seemed like something a hunchback came up with so that people wouldn’t only stare at him, but it obviously appeals to some people.
And yes, parked next to an X3, this version looks better, with sleeker tail lights and a more stylish rear altogether. The more pronounced swoop of the roofline is also an improvement.
But my argument remains that BMW calls this X4 M Competition “bold and functional”, which tells you all you need to know. When a marketing department can’t come up with a better term than “functional” when talking about design, for a BMW, it’s just not hat exciting to look at.
In fact, it looks like a shopping trolley with bigger wheels and go-faster stripes.
The non-M X4 is not exciting to look at it, either, it’s even more… functional, and this version is delineated as being M special by covering as many things as possible with “black high-gloss bits”, so black mirrors, black side gills, black chrome tail pipes, you get the picture.
BMW might have also used the word “tough” to describe this X4, and they did keep talking about how people might track it, which seems as likely as me entering a rocking horse in the Melbourne Cup, but I think they’re having a lend of themselves.
The interior feels like a proper M car, though, with the big red, programmable M buttons on the chunky steering wheel particularly eye catching, and a very cool looking gear stick. The M Sport seats also both look and feel fantastic, and the Merino Leather is lovely.
Measuring 5067mm long, 2212mm wide, 1743mm tall and with a 2996mm wheelbase, the SQ7 is a sizeable large SUV.
Its large dimensions translate well to interior space, with enough room to seat four adults and three children comfortably.
The front seats are the best in the house for room, but storage options are surprisingly limited.
Large door bins can house big bottles, and then some, but the central storage bin tucked under the armrest is disappointingly shallow.
The dual-screen set-up in the centre console also means the SQ7 loses the small storage tray found ahead of the shifter, but at least the generously-sized cupholders remain.
In the second-row, my six-foot frame fits comfortably in the outboard seats with plenty of head-, shoulder- and legroom, even with the front seats set in my preferred position.
The middle seat in the second row is harder to get comfortable on, partly due to its smaller size, but children should have no problem, even during long journeys.
Each seat is also individually adjustable, able to slide and fold independently.
The second-row doors have generous door pockets for bottle storage, while the fold-down armrest sports two cupholders.
As for the third row, however, it's a little trickier to get comfortable with the limited room, but the space isn't too bad for occasional use or small kids. It even has its own set of cupholders!
The SQ7's boot only accommodates 235 litres when all seats are in place, however, stow the third row and that figure swells to 705L.
With the 40:20:40 second row also folded, volume increases to 1890L.
Even with all seats in place though, the SQ7 offers enough for some groceries or a stroller, while the cut-outs in the side should even help with a golf bag.
In practicality terms, the X4 loses the gains it made on looks against the X3, because you’re obviously getting less headroom in the rear, and slightly less boot space as well.
For a vehicle of its mid-size, the X4 isn’t too badly sorted for interior space, however. The rear seats, in particular, are impressive, in terms of knee room at least, although headroom is not fabulous.
I’m 176cm tall, and I could comfortably sit behind my own seating position without my knees even touching the seat in front, and headroom is also excellent, front and rear.
Those sporty front seats do make things feel slightly squeezed in the front, and the width of the headrests effects forward visibility for those in the rear, but they’re so great to sit in that you’d put up with that.
The rear seat splits 40:20:40, giving you access to the boot, which is 525 litres in the X4 M with the seats up, because you’ve chosen the more practical option (the X3 gets 25 litres more).
Drop the rear seats and you’ve got a useful 1430 litres of loadspace when you’re driving two-up, although you’d have 1600 litres if you’d chosen the cheaper X3 M.
There’s plenty of space for your phone, on its wireless charging pad, and you also get two cupholders for the front chairs, with another two in the rear armrest.
Price and features
Priced at $161,500 before on-road costs, the new SQ7 is $400 cheaper than its predecessor.
While a $160,000-plus pricetag is certainly nothing to scoff at, this is about lineball with other large performance SUVs.
According to Audi, the SQ7 now has more than $15,000 worth of added equipment compared to before, including red-painted brake callipers, a panoramic sunroof, 22-inch wheels and rear-axle steering that were options before.
Standard equipment in the SQ7 includes adaptive air suspension, Matrix LED laser headlights, four-zone climate control, push-button start, wireless smartphone charger, heated front seats, powered tailgate with kick operation, soft-close doors, power-folding third-row seats and heated side mirrors.
Audi's excellent 12.3-inch virtual cockpit unit also carries over as before, and is as intuitive and great to use as it has been since debuting on the third-generation TT.
The headline change to the new SQ7, however, is the new multimedia and climate control system, which now matches the A6, A7 and A8 passenger cars with a screen that measures 10.1 inches up top and an 8.6-inch display down below.
Both screens feature haptic feedback, making it feel as if you are clicking a button, but thankfully volume controls are handled by a physical knob.
Despite the extra standard equipment, options are still available and include carbon-fibre interior highlights ($1950), black exterior detailing ($1450), and a Sensory Pack ($13,300) that bundles an up-rated sound system, Alcantara headliner, cooled front seats and more in-cabin leather.
It’s a tricky thing to evaluate such a weird beard of a car as this in terms of value, because normally when you’re being asked to spend $164,900 for a BMW you’re getting something that’s all sports car, wrapped in sexiness.
To be fair, the X4 M has a more coupe-shaped roofline than the X3 version it shares its M Competition badging with, but this is a case of being less unattractive rather than better looking.
And, on the downside, you’re paying $7000 more than you would for the ever-so-slightly more practical X3 version, which would be hard to justify even if the X3 M wasn’t already very expensive.
What you are getting for the money is an engine that will blow you away, so that’s worth a bit.
The car only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia (it’s the top option elsewhere), due to the popularity of that kind of thing in our market, apparently.
That gets you the amazing engine plus a standard M Sport Exhaust, connected to four, black-tipped tailpipes, an eight-speed sports automatic, xDrive with 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, and an Active M Differential.
You’ll also score “Professional” satellite navigation, Comfort Access, a Panorama sunroof, M Head Up Display, Driving Assistant Plus with semi-autonomous functionality including Active Cruise Control and Parking Assistant Plus, plus Hill Descent Control.
And don’t forget 21-inch light alloy wheels, Adaptive LED headlights, ambient interior lighting with six colour options, and alarm system, very sexy M Sport seats (the M logo on the headrests even glows at night when you open the door) with Extended Leather Merino trim, a 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo system, tyre-pressure monitoring, lane-keeping assistant, wireless charging, individual roof rails, rear roller sunblinds and BMW Connected Drive.
Are there any options you could even want on top of all that? Have you ever seen a BMW offered without them?
Strangely and uniquely, BMW asks you to pay for Apple CarPlay, which everyone will, at $623, and you can have your seats ($700), or steering wheel ($500) heated for winter mornings. Active seat ventilation is $1600 more, and metallic paint will sock you $2000, or $2350 for Individual Metallic (you can have Alpine White, non-metallic, for free).
Engine & trans
The result is a zero to 100km/h sprint time of just 4.8 seconds – making the SQ7 the world's quickest seven-seat diesel-powered SUV, according to Audi.
Audi has also fitted a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to the SQ7's powertrain, which feeds an electric-powered compressor to spool up a turbo quicker for better off-the-line acceleration.
Power and torque figures remain unchanged from the preceding SQ7, but the large Audi SUV has the distinction of being one of the only performance diesels in the segment.
Though power is a little lacking compared to its petrol-powered competitions, the SQ7 has the highest torque output of any large SUV available in Australia, matched only by the electrified Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid.
The SQ7 has a 3500kg braked towing capacity.
No matter what you think of the X4 M Competition - its looks, its very existence - there’s no denying that its engine is something to be very excited about.
The 3.0-litre in-line six with M TwinPower Turbo technology is 90 per cent new, according to BMW, and will soon see action in the new BMW M3 and M4, and it is a rip snorter. The folks at M have thrown everything at it, using 3D printing to make the cylinder head, a forged crankshaft, and two new mono-scroll turbochargers, which are obviously different from the twin-scroll versions in the M5, and lift direct fuel-injection pressure from 200 bar to 350 bar. Apparently they’re even better. It also gets an electrically controlled wastegate for maximum efficiency.
The goal was an impressive 500 horsepower, or 375kW in our lingo, and they’ve achieved it. They’ve also made magic by combining both traditional BMW free-revvingness and savage turbo torque. With all of its maximum 600Nm available from 2600rpm to 5950rpm, it has the highest torque bandwidth of any BMW engine.
The screaming six can rev all the way to 7200rpm, at which point it sounds truly Wagnerian in its magnificence, and that 375kW peak point arrives at a dizzying 6250rpm.
This really is an engine that wants you to belt the hell out of it, and when you choose its most aggressive modes, and turn the adjustable M exhaust to its noisiest setting, it’s a joyful experience.
It’s also a weird one, because there’s just something so out of place about an engine like this in a car like this - it’s like finding out that your mum has secretly been cage fighting - but still, in pure engine terms, it’s a cracker.
The ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is also silky smooth and seamless, as you’d expect.
Official fuel consumption figures are pegged at 7.8 litres per 100km in the SQ7, but we managed 11.5L/100km in our brief time with the car.
Tipping the scales at 2460kg, the SQ7 is surprising frugal for a large performance seven-seat SUV, likely due to a combination of its diesel engine and mild-hybrid set-up.
Between speeds of 55 and 160km/h, the 48-volt system can coast the SQ7 for up to 40 seconds, switching off the engine and conserving fuel.
Audi claims the system can save up to 0.5L/100km on fuel.
There’s no official Australian figure as yet, and we certainly didn’t do any testing that would be helpful, so all we can tell you is that the claimed figure is 10.6 litres per 100km. Which would be good, if you could actually achieve it. Good luck with all this temptation on board.
Performance large luxury seven-seat SUV might seem a bit contradictory, but Audi has managed to pull this feat off with astounding success.
The SQ7 drives fantastically well, both around town in its most comfortable settings and out in the twisties with the settings dialled all the way up.
This dual personality is largely thanks to its adaptive air suspension, which does a wonderful job at absorbing road imperfections in comfort, and giving the driver just the right amount of feedback in dynamic.
New to the 2020 SQ7 is also the standard inclusion of rear-wheel steering, which can turn the rear wheels up to five degrees at low speeds for improved manoeuvrability, and up to two degrees at high speed for better stability.
We've tested cars with rear-wheel steering before and weren't fans of its implementation due to the unnatural feel, but the SQ7 offers plenty of feedback from the steering wheel and chassis in the corners – or as much as a large SUV can communicate.
At low speeds the system comes in most handy, as the turning circle is cut to just 12.4 metres, making the SQ7 more agile in a parking lot than the much smaller Q3 crossover.
However, there is no getting around the SQ7's hefty 2460kg weight and higher ride height, which means it can be a little slow to change directions in quick corners, and will tend towards understeer when pushed.
Grip is plentiful thanks to the quattro all-wheel-drive system and thick 285/35 tyres all round, though buyers can also opt for a $10,900 Dynamic Package that throws in active roll stabilisation and a sports differential.
We sampled the Dynamic Package in the platform-sharing SQ8, and while the active roll stabilisation is fantastic at keeping occupants from being jerked around in the corners, we reckon it's not needed in the more family-friendly SQ7.
Bringing such a sizeable SUV to a stop are equally sizeable 400/350mm front/rear brake discs, with six-piston callipers up front.
The brakes work very well at scrubbing speed from this large 2.5-tonne SUV, but buyers can opt for ceramic brakes that add a substantial $19,000 to the pricetag.
In theory, the X4 M Competition shouldn’t be very different to drive at all from the X3 M Competition with which it shares an engine, and just about everything else. At the same time, it would be nice if was more fun to drive, because that would help to justify the fact that it costs $7000 more than the (slightly more practical) X3 version.
The differences are mainly about looks, of course, but those aesthetic changes also make the X4 ever so lightly longer, wider and lower than the X3.
That really shouldn’t make a difference you can feel, yet somehow, every time I switched into the X4 and began another wild, hooting, dusty circuit of the rally course set out for us be foolish on at M Town, I found myself having slightly more fun than I’d been in the X3.
An actual rally driver who was in attendance, mainly to laugh at our ineptitude and because their diet consists largely of dust particles, told me he’d also found the X4 ever so slightly more chuckable, and stable, also.
So perhaps there are two reasons for choosing to spend $7K more on an X4 - the rear end, and the fun, but then again, this is probably only a factor if you attend to take your new BMW on some kind of mad motorsport adventure.
Certainly, in the unreal environment in which we tested these cars, they were hugely fun - overly powerful, playful, sporty in terms of steering feel and cabin ambience - but we will have to wait and see what they’re like in the real world.
Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality, even in Comfort mode, and other foibles for the new X3 M Competition - like the fact that it doesn't actually feel all that fast, thanks to the 1970kg it's carrying.
What we do know is that the engine is a crackerjack, the (adjustable) steering gives fabulous feedback, and, if you happen to be on a clay pan, it’s just the vehicle you need to plaster a huge smile across your face.
I recommend the video footage highly.
One touch of genius that was beautifully highlighted, though, was the combination of the properly sports-car spec M Differential with an M version of xDrive, which allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport, which “pretty much does become rear-wheel drive”, as BMW admitted to us.
This is such an M move it’s hilarious. Force us to make an all-wheel-drive car will you? Ha, we’ll put a button on it that turns it back into a proper BMW M car.
On a clay pan, where you can drive almost entirely sideways, sawing at the wheel and using that gorgeous engine to carve beautiful arcs in the Earth via the throttle,4WD Sport is a work of genius.
In the real world, in this car, it’s… still a bit weird.
The chassis feels super stiff as well, and the big strut braces under the bonnet show you how seriously they’ve taken that.
There’s no denying the how, or the know-how on display here, it’s just the why that’s hard to get your head around.
Audi's latest SQ7 has not been tested by ANCAP, but it was awarded a maximum five-star rating by Euro NCAP after a Q7 50 TDI was examined in 2019.
It scored 92 and 86 per cent respectively in the adult occupant and child occupant protection tests, while for the vulnerable road users and safety assist categories, it notched 71 and 72 per cent.
Standard safety equipment includes autonomous emergency braking, eight airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, surround-view monitor and exit-warning system to stop dooring cyclists.
According to Euro NCAP testing, the SQ7's AEB system works from 10km/h.
Of note though, the SQ7 lacks traffic-sign recognition, but does display speed-limit information based on GPS data.
The X4 M Competition has not been crash tested yet but the standard X4 previously received a five-star ANCAP rating. It comes with six airbags - driver, front passenger, head airbags for both rows, side airbags with seat occupancy detection for driver and passenger and side-impact protection for the front seats.
You also get DSC, ABS and DTC and driver-assistance systems including Driving Assistant Plus, Parking Assistant Plus, tyre-pressure monitoring and a speed limiter.
As with all new Audi's the SQ7 comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with three years of roadside assist.
Service intervals for the SQ7 are set at 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Audi also offers a three- or five-year service plan with the purchase of an SQ7, priced at $2870 and $3910 respectively.
As is typical for BMW, the maintenance requirements for the X3 M Competition are controlled by a Condition Based Servicing system, which constantly monitors the car, and the way it’s being driven, to determine when annual inspections or oil changes are required.
BMW is offering two service-inclusive packages, a five-year/80,000km Basic level for $3685, or the Plus, for $8173, which you should choose “if you drive spiritedly and you go through brakes a fair bit”, because it includes brake pads and discs over five years.
BMW seriously seems to think people are going to track this thing. Go figure.