Audi SQ7 VS Infiniti QX80
- Exhaust sound actuator
- Couldn’t match claimed economy
- Warranty off the pace
- Improved looks
- High level of comfort
- Off-road ability
- No Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Understeer, bodyroll
Australians can’t get enough of big, burly, luxurious SUVs. Since the Audi SQ7 arrived here in late 2016, a laundry list of high-end, high-performance family trucksters have been refreshed, renewed, or revealed, pushing competition at the top end of the market towards boiling point.
So, after just 18 months in market, how does this brutally quick, seven-seat mothership stand up to a swag of compelling key competitors chasing upper-luxury performance SUV supremacy?
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
The world of upper large luxury SUVs, like Infiniti’s latest-generation QX80, occupies that rarefied air, way up high in the car market, that I’ll never breathe – and that’s okay with me.
You see, as much as I admire these plush vehicles, even if I did have the cash and the inclination to buy one, I’d be so worried about incidental damage to the exterior (shopping trolleys or other drivers’ touch-parking) or children-induced damage to the interior (car sickness, spilled food or drink, blood from sibling punch-ups in the second row) that I’d never be able to fully relax while driving the thing. (Newsflash: I’ve heard from Infiniti that the QX80’s upholstery has a soil-resistant coating.)
These pricey wagons certainly do have their fans though and now, with extensive exterior changes and some interior ones, does the QX80, based on the Y62 Nissan Patrol, actually offer anything to set it apart from other large premium SUVs? Read on.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Audi SQ7 is fast, beautifully built, and dynamically outstanding. It’s also practical, flexible, and loaded with useful driver assistance, media and safety tech. Can an SUV costing north of $150k be considered good value for money? Yep.
Is the Audi SQ7 your performance SUV of choice? Let us know in the comments.
The petrol-only QX80, really a Y62 Patrol with shedloads of bling, is a curious beast; a big, bold status-boosting premium SUV, which is much better suited to the US and Middle East markets than ours. However, it has a real premium feel, is very smooth to drive and the exterior and interior changes have improved what has so far been a divisive model for a brand with a small but growing fanbase here. Infiniti sold 83 of the previous QX80 in 2017 and is hoping to move 100 of these new ones in 2018; they have their work cut out for them, but if brand confidence is worth a few sales, who knows, they might even top the ton.
Is the QX80 worth its hefty price-tag, or is it simply too much cash for something that doesn’t even have mainstream connectivity functions?
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, the SQ7 is large. At a little under 5.1m long, just shy of 2.0m wide and over 1.7m high, it’s a beefy bus.
But Audi has applied its cool, calm and collected design language to this expansive canvas, resulting in a neat, relatively conservative look that masks the car’s oversize proportions.
A huge version of Audi’s signature ‘single frame’ grille dominates the nose, with confident, straight character lines defining the bonnet shape and the top of the car’s flanks.
Another clue to the SQ7’s size is the fact the optional 21-inch rims fitted to our test example, sitting under gently flared arches, look (proportionally) smaller than the 16s fitted to a Mazda CX-3 Neo.
The rear broadens slightly, while the turret and glasshouse taper distinctly towards the back, and the simple rear end treatment echoes the other 'numbers' in Audi’s SUV line-up (Q3, Q5, and the soon-to-arrive Q8) - although the recently released compact Q2 breaks the mould with a chunkier, more geometric approach.
The interior is all class, with a beautifully finished, swooping dashtop rising over a compact instrument binnacle that houses Audi’s all-digital ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display. The only other interruption is the standard 8.3-inch high-res colour media screen rising proudly from the centre of the dash.
Air vents live inside a long section of horizontal lines across the face of the dash, and ‘our’ car had optional brushed metal and chrome-finish highlights underneath and across the broad centre console.
Standard ambient lighting adds subtle illumination to the centre console and door sill trims, with no less than 30 colours available.
Attention to detail in the look, feel and finish of the ‘Velcona’ leather-trimmed seats is hard to fault, and overall, it’s clear quality was a key driver here.
The bulk of the facelifted QX80’s design changes have been to the exterior and include, most noticeably, new LED headlights with a redesigned, sleeker but more aggressive front end than its predecessor’s softer, more rounded curves.
The new QX80’s bonnet is 20mm higher than before and has been extended 90mm; the side steps have been stretched 20mm wider, and the power tailgate has been re-designed to include sharper, thinner, rear LED taillights and the bumper is visually wider.
The whole body has a higher visual centre of gravity, with this latest raft of design shifts giving the SUV a taller, broader, wider and more angular overall appearance.
The interior includes a bigger, chunkier redesigned centre and rear console and those aforementioned premium touches, such as leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, updated upholstery-stitching, semi-aniline quilted leather patterning on door panels and seats, as well as its stainless-steel sill plates, all add to the premium feel.
The QX80 looks better than it did but, as the previous one was pretty hard on the eyes, the 2018 version may still polarise opinion.
No surprises here. There’s plenty of room inside, with heaps of breathing space for the driver and passenger, not to mention two big cupholders in the centre console, with a slot for the weighty key in-between them.
There’s also a decent glove box, a lidded storage box between the front seats, a couple of oddments trays (one covered) in the console and generous door bins with bottle holders in the doors. Connectivity is taken care of with USB and aux-in ports, as well as a 12-volt power socket.
Second-row passengers are also sorted, with ample leg and headroom. In fact, Audi claims more than a metre of space between the rear seat base and the headliner.
The centre seat is split 35/30/35, with each segment able to slide fore and aft to increase passenger and load space flexibility. Again, there are door bins with space for bottles, with other storage running to a flip-down centre armrest with twin cupholders (although they’re appreciably smaller than those in the front), and map pockets on the front seatbacks.
Standard four-zone climate control not only means there are air vents for centre row passengers (in the back of the centre console and the rear of the B-pillars), but individual temperature controls for each side of the car. Nice. Plus, there are two 12-volt power outlets back there, as well.
A simple fold-and-roll mechanism for the two outer centre-row seats minimises the acrobatic prowess required to gain access to the 50/50-split third row. As with most seven seaters, the way-back seat is tight for grown-ups but perfectly acceptable occasional accommodation for kids up to about year-nine size, with cupholders and oddments trays thrown in.
When it comes to load space, the SQ7 scores a big tick for its auto tailgate and the sheer volume of its cargo space. Even with the third-row seats upright there’s 235 litres of space available. Enough to hold the CarsGuide pram, with some room for soft bags left over.
Press the buttons on the wall of the load area and the back seats fold (electronically) to expand that number to 705 litres. More than enough to hold our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), and the pram.
With the second and third row lowered you will have a mega 1890 litres to play with; enough to open a small shop from which you might sell luggage and prams.
The addition of tie-down anchors, a small netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (complete with first-aid kit), yet another 12-volt socket, strategically placed shopping bag hooks and useful lighting push the practicality factor through the roof. The only snag is the lack of a spare wheel (of any description), a repair/inflator kit your only option in the event of a puncture.
The QX80 is a big unit – 5340mm long (with a 3075mm wheelbase), 2265mm wide and 1945mm high – and, when you’re seated inside it, it feels like Infiniti designers and engineers must have worked hard to maximise the space afforded them for driver and passengers without seeming to have sacrificed any style or comfort.
And that big open space inside the cabin is easy to get comfortable in. There are soft-touch surfaces everywhere – door panels, arm rests, centre-console edging – and the seats are unsurprisingly soft and supportive but tend towards slippery when there are quick changes in speed or direction, or when tackling steep downhills off-road. (It was fun to watch front-seat passengers slip-slide around inside during the 4WD loop)
If you’re up-front you’re well catered for; big glovebox; overhead sunglasses storage; the centre console now has a roomy smartphone storage area; the twin cupholders have been upsized to cop two 1.3-litre cups with handles (up from one 1.3-litre cup and a 950ml container); the USB port has been moved to the other side of the centre console so it’s easier to get to; the storage area under the front passenger arm-rest is now a 5.4-litre compartment, able to hold up to three upright 1.0-litre bottles or tablet devices.
There are nine cupholders and two bottle-holders in total in the QX80.
There’s a sunroof if you get the urge for natural light from above.
Second-row passengers now get 8.0-inch entertainment screens (up from 7.0-inch) and two additional USB ports.
The tip-up second row seats are easy enough to operate and the third row is power 60/40 split-fold-to-flat and reclining.
There is a 12V outlet in the cargo area.
Price and features
With cost-of-entry sitting at $155,511 (before on-road costs), the SQ7 lines up against five well established, performance-luxury SUV competitors at the ‘around $150k’ price point; namely the BMW X5 M50d ($144,990), a relative newcomer in the shape of the Maserati Levante Gransport ($159,990), the Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 Coupe ($146,200), the recently renewed Porsche Cayenne S ($155,100), and the Range Rover Sport SD V8 HSE ($150,200).
So, it’s fair to expect a big basket of standard fruit, and the SQ7 doesn’t come up short.
Highlights include ‘Valcona’ leather upholstery (with S embossing on the front seat backrest), sport front seats (heated and electrically adjustable with electric lumbar support and memory for the driver), four-zone climate control air, ambient lighting, the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument display, rain-sensing wipers, a leather-covered sports steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and adaptive air suspension.
You’ll also pick up 20-inch alloy rims, Audi’s ‘Parking system plus’ (sensors front and rear with reversing camera), as well as a 360-degree camera (four wide-angle cameras covering the area immediately around the vehicle), a head-up display (in colour with speed, nav and assistance info), auto LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED tail-lights with dynamic indicators.
And before you start scoffing at those ‘show-off’ scrolling indicators, it’s worth remembering their safety value. As you’ve possibly discovered, too, in misty or foggy conditions, knowing a car up ahead on the freeway is not only changing lanes, but which direction it’s heading in is a huge plus.
But we’re not done yet, the standard features column also includes ‘Audi connect’, including an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a Bose 3D Surround Sound System (19 speakers and a 15-channel 558 watt amp), DAB+ digital radio, and ‘MMI touch’ including nav through the 8.3-inch high-res touchscreen (3D maps, voice control and free text search including handwriting recognition).
Worth noting, though, our test example was loaded with an A3 Sportback’s worth of extras, namely ‘Matrix LED’ headlights - $2200, 21-inch Audi Sport alloys - $4000, the ‘Dynamic Package’ (quattro sport differential, all-wheel steering, electromechanical active-roll stabilisation) - $13,500, a Bang & Olufsen 3D Advanced Sound System - $11,340, Inlays (alternate materials) - $3800, phone box light (wireless charging) - $500, red brake calipers - $950, and premium paint (‘Sepang Blue’) - $7950 (yee-ouch!).
All of that adds up to $44,200, bringing this example within a whisker of $200k.
Pricing has not changed: there is one model and it still costs $110,900 before on-roads and that price does not include paint other than the standard Black Obsidian; metallic paint is $1500 extra. Changes over and above the previous model’s standard features list include 22-inch 18-spoke forged alloy wheels (up from 20-inch), Infiniti’s InTouch 8.0-inch colour touchscreen (up from 7.0-inch), new Espresso Burl coloured trim, new chrome finishes all-round, updated upholstery-stitching everywhere, quilted leather patterning on seats, new headlights, LED foglights and more. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Engine & trans
The SQ7 is powered by a 4.0-litre, double overhead cam, 90-degree, twin-turbo diesel V8 producing a maximum of 320kW (429hp) from 3750–5000rpm, and 900Nm across a broad plateau of just 1000rpm up to 3250rpm (perfectly placed for peak power to take over at 3750rpm).
Featuring common-rail, direct-injection and variable valve lift (on the exhaust side), the engine gets its added oomph from twin, sequential-charging turbos and an electric compressor (EPC) that acts like a supercharger to keep the turbos spooled up when they’re on low pressure, or completely off-boost.
It’s an amazing set-up that virtually eradicates turbo-lag, with Audi claiming the EPC can accelerate the turbos up to 70,000rpm in less than 250 milliseconds! The arrangement is powered by a 48-volt electrical sub-system delivering a peak output of up to 13kW.
The eight-speed torque converter auto transmission features a Tiptronic function for manual changes via the main selector or wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Drive goes to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive with asymmetric torque split and self-locking centre diff. Default drive distribution is 40 front/60 rear, with up to 85 per cent able to go to the rear, and 70 per cent to the front axle as required.
The previous generation’s 5.6-litre V8 petrol engine (298kW@5800rpm and 560Nm@4000rpm) remains, as does the seven-speed automatic transmission with adaptive shift control. It also has Infiniti’s all-mode 4WD system, which offers Auto, 4WD High and 4WD Low settings and it has terrain appropriate modes (sand, snow, rocks) able to be dialled in.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.2 litres per 100 km, emitting 190g/km of CO2 in the process. They would be outstanding figures for a hefty, high-performance, seven-seat SUV.
Even with the help of the SQ7’s standard stop-start system, over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway driving we couldn’t match the claimed number, recording 11.3L/100km (at the bowser). And speaking of filling up, you’ll need 85 litres of diesel to brim the tank.
The QX80 is claimed to use 14.8L/100km. We reckon that fuel-consumption figure is very optimistic and if QX80 owners are partial to towing boats – as Infiniti reckons they are – or if they tackle some 4WDing, then that figure is going to climb much higher quite swiftly.
With every one of its 900Nm available from just 1000rpm, the SQ7 feels like an erupting volcano from step-off. Audi claims 0-100km/h in 4.9sec, and there’s no doubt it’s properly quick. No 2.4-tonne SUV has a right to accelerate this fast, and the mid-range thrust is formidable, too.
And when it comes to transferring that forward thrust into lateral grip, the SQ7 pulls off a better than passing impression of a much smaller, lighter, lower vehicle.
The electrically-assisted steering delivers satisfying road feel, and the standard air suspension (working in parallel with a five-link independent set-up front and rear) manages to combine excellent ride comfort with impressive body control (thanks in no small part to electromechanical active roll stabilisation) and cornering accuracy.
In ‘enthusiastic’ cornering, grip from the (optional) 21-inch 285/40 Continental ContiSportContact rubber is tenacious, without any discernible penalty in terms of noise or harshness at lower speeds.
The eight-speed torque converter auto transmission features a Tiptronic function for manual changes via the main selector or wheel-mounted shift paddles. It’s quick and smooth in auto mode, and shifts rapidly in the manual setting.
The front sports seats are as comfortable as they are grippy (how good are heated seats on cold mornings, by the way?), and the big ventilated brakes slow this big car calmly and progressively.
While it may not bother you, one thing I’m not a fan of is the sound actuator in the exhaust system. The SQ7 sounds gruff and grunty, more like a petrol V8, but that’s because the system is modifying the noises. It’s like (spoilers) learning Santa Clause isn’t real. Once you know, things are never the same.
In the world of luxury SUVs big is king and this thing is definitely on the chunky side of big, but it doesn’t often feel too cumbersome for its own good, or too bulky to steer in and out of Melbourne’s bustling morning traffic with precision.
During this event, we did a fair chunk of driving – highway, country roads, gravel roads and a decent bit of 4WDing – and, surprise, surprise, it did pretty well, especially when things of this ilk usually exhibit the ride and handling of an old poorly-sprung couch on wheels.
It did, however, feel top-heavy at times and revealed substantial body-roll when pushed around corners at speed or even during some sections of slow, bouncy off-roading, so I’d be reluctant to experience what it would be like without hydraulic body motion control. However, we were willing to forgive it any rocking-and-rolling when that healthy V8 growl kicked in as we gave it the boot.
The 22-inch tyre-and-wheel combination is not the way I’d go if I was going to use the QX80 for any off-road forays but, having said that, we did fine on them, at road tyre pressures, over a decent off-road loop.
It has 246mm of ground clearance and 24.2 (approach), 24.5 (departure) and 23.6 (ramp-over) angles.
The QX80 has coil springs all-round and it was only ever caught out when it thumped through a couple of surprise potholes along a dirt road.
This Infiniti model has a claimed tare mass of 2783kg, but you wouldn’t have known it was that many kegs because it powered up steep and slippery bush tracks, through deep muddy ruts, over greasy rocks and through a few knee-deep mud holes with ease. It was as easy as pulling up, switching your terrain modes and dialling in your setting: 4WD High, 4WD Low or Auto. It has a locking rear diff and very capable hill descent control, which we tested on a few rather steep sections of track.
It’s nice to see vehicle manufacturers unafraid to put their off-roaders, even their pricey luxury ones, through a decent off-road loop at launch because it shows they have confidence in its capabilities.
As you’d expect, the SQ7 pulls out all stops on active safety tech, featuring ABS, EBD, ESC, ASR, as well as ‘Audi pre-sense city’ with Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) and pedestrian detection (detects impending collisions at up to 85 km/h), and ‘Attention assist’ (alert tone and visual signal if the system senses the driver’s attention may be lapsing).
There’s also an Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop & Go’ function, side assist (including pre-sense rear), rear cross-traffic alert, active lane assist, and ‘Exit warning’ (detects cars and cyclists when opening doors and provides a visual warning to occupants).
Plus, you can expect the Parking system plus system, 'Park assist' (self-parking for parallel or perpendicular spaces), the 360-degree camera, and a head-up display.
But if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact, passive safety features include airbags for the driver and front passenger, side airbags (seat-mounted for front and rear passengers), head level curtain airbags (for front and rear passengers) and an active bonnet to minimise injuries in the event of a pedestrian collision.
The current (second-gen) Q7 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in late 2015. And amazingly, top tether and ISOFIX child restraint anchor points are provided for all five seating positions in the centre and rear rows.
The QX80 does not have an ANCAP safety rating. Safety tech as standard includes blind spot warning, intelligent parking system, forward emergency braking, lane departure prevention (incorporating lane departure warning), distance control assist and predictive forward collision warning, Infiniti/Patrol intelligent rear view mirror (which can display video from a camera mounted in the upper rear windshield) and more. It has two ISOFIX points in the second-row seats.
Audi offers a three-year/unlimited-km warranty (as well as roadside assist for the same period), which is starting to lag the market when even Ford and Holden are at five years/unlimited km now, without even thinking about Kia’s seven years and Tesla’s eight.
On the up-side, Audi also offers a three-year paint warranty, along with a 12-year rust perforation guarantee.
Maintenance is scheduled by the on-board service indicator (up to 12 months/15,000km), and a three-year/45,000km ‘Audi Service Plan’ fixed-price service plan is available for $1900.