James Cleary road tests and reviews the new Audi SQ7 performance SUV with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
In 2009 it was a 6.0-litre twin-turbo-diesel V12 monster related to the ground-breaking unit powering the brand's triple Le Mans winning R10 race car.
This is a sub-five second family truckster from another world.
That seven seat mothership weighed in at a paltry 2.6 tonnes, pumped out a slightly more than adequate 368kW/1000Nm, and sprinted from 0-100km/h in a reasonably rapid 5.5 seconds. Oh, and it cost a quarter of a million dollars.
True to form, Germany's 'other' Bavarian car brand has grabbed the current, second-generation Q7 by the scruff of the neck, added an S to the front of its badge, and stuffed a 4.0-litre 320kW/900Nm twin-turbo-diesel V8 under its bonnet.
It's a relative featherweight at just 2.3 tonnes, and thanks largely to that slimming program and a couple of extra gear ratios, storms from rest to 100 kays in 4.9 seconds. That's right, this is a sub-five second family truckster from another world.
To sweeten such a ludicrously high-performance, seven-seat deal, Audi has (relative to its V12 ancestor) managed to lop almost exactly $100k off the price tag, and (arguably) least relevant of all, improve fuel efficiency by no less than 36 per cent.
In approaching the SQ7 we temporarily, and very carefully, secured the issue of performance in a box marked 'insanity, and assessed the car's day-to-day functionality, before ripping off the lock and setting all its beastly kilowatts and newton metres free.
The first generation Q7 was large. Fondly referred to as the QE7, it required a small flotilla of A1s to guide it safely into port. And the big surprise is the current car isn't all that much smaller... it just looks it.
That's because its proportions are closer to that of a traditional wagon rather than an SUV. There are literally only a few millimetres difference on key measurements including length, height and wheelbase; the only significant reduction being a 32mm trim in overall width.
A slightly squarer, more conventional frontal treatment makes the SQ7 appear less bulbous than its predecessor, while angular LED headlights sit either side of the massive six-sided 'Singleframe' grille to create an intense, borderline menacing expression.
Suitably massive rims (optional 21s on our car, with 20-inch standard) fill the wheel arches, while an 'aluminium look' finish on the exterior mirror shells and a quattro-badged highlight panel along the lower part of the doors offer an easy get for Audi variant train-spotters.
The interior is clean and sophisticated, with confident, sweeping lines highlighted by strategically placed brushed alloy highlights.
Four other clues to this car's monumental performance potential, in the shape of chunky rectangular exhaust tips, poke out from under the rear bumper. And if you're still not getting the message, small but significant SQ7 TDI and V8T badges should do the trick.
The interior is clean and sophisticated, with confident, sweeping lines highlighted by strategically placed brushed alloy highlights. Even with our test example's optional 'Audi exclusive' pack, comprising extra aluminium pieces and carbon-style inserts in the dash, doors and console, it remains understated and decidedly cool. A standard ambient interior lighting package, offering a choice of no less than 32 colours, adds an extra flash of glowing (in our case) blue style at night.
The brilliant 'Virtual Cockpit' display is class-leading and ergonomic efficiency in general is spot-on.
Seating is a vegan's nightmare, with ultra-smooth 'Valcona' leather covering all seven seats, complete with 'S' embossing on the front pair. And there's just a squirrel's worth of high-quality hide wrapped around the gear selector and flat-bottom, multi-function steering wheel.
In short, this car exudes quality across its conception, design, and execution.
A natural advantage of steering such a big ship is the cargo capacity it offers, and even with all seats raised, when you open the (standard) power tailgate the SQ7 coughs up 235 litres, enough for a couple of solid suitcases or a reasonable amount of groceries.
Hit the buttons to electronically fold the 50/50 split fold third row (flat) and with five seats still available that figure triples to a not inconsiderable 705 litres, supported by a variety of hooks and anchor points to enhance security and flexibility.
But if it's raining and you need somewhere to kick the footy around, fold the 35/30/35 split centre row as well, and you're looking at a vast 1890 litre field of dreams.
The SQ7 offers a world of luxurious entertainment.
Accommodation for the front five passengers is generous. I'm 183cm tall, and sitting in the middle row behind my own driving position there's plenty of head and legroom, and enough shoulder room for three adults side-by-side.
There's a pair of cupholders in the centre armrest, as well as bottle holders and storage bins in the doors, plus sunblinds for the rear window and rear side windows. Add in individual control for lighting and climate control ventilation, not to mention our car's optional smart tablets, and the SQ7 offers a world of luxurious entertainment.
Access to the third row positions is straightforward thanks to a neat fold and roll type design for the outer middle row seats, but once you're back there its cosy (okay, tight) for anyone beyond year 10. And while there are cupholders and oddments trays for the way back-seaters, there aren't any specific air vents, although you could certainly argue the centre row outlets cover that territory.
Price and features
Cost of entry to the SQ7 club is $153,616, and for that undoubtedly thick wad of cash you pick up a suitably long list of standard features.
We could detail them all, but the word count on this review would skyrocket straight into the War and Peace zone, so here are our Top 10 highlights.
1: Leather upholstery, 2: Electrically adjustable and heated sport front seats (with electric lumbar support and memory function for the driver), 3: Head up display (colour with speed, nav and assistance info), 4: Parking System Plus (acoustic and optical parking system) with Park Assist (parallel and perpendicular), 5: Audi Drive Select (five modes), 6: Audi Virtual Cockpit, 7: Four-zone climate control air, 8: Audi Connect (including Wi-Fi hotspot, Google services and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto), 9: A 558 watt, 19-speaker BOSE 3D Surround Sound System (including DAB + Digital radio), 10: MMI navigation plus5 (with MMI touch, 8.3 inch colour display and voice control).
It takes a 48-volt electrical subsystem to drive all that fruit, (as well as the electric compressor for the turbos and active roll stabilisation system). But beware the Audi options list. With just eight boxes ticked our car's price soared by close to $33,000.
How about metallic paint (ours was 'Sepang Blue pearl effect') for $2250, 21-inch Audi Sport alloys at $4k, and $13,500 for the 'Dynamic' package, including a 'quattro sport' diff, all-wheel steering and active roll stabilisation? An upgrade to even trickier Matrix LED headlights adds $2200, privacy glass is another $1100, and if you'd like red brake calipers, prepare to shell out $950.
Then, if you fancy extra brushed aluminium and black inlays in the interior you're looking at $3800, and the two Audi smart tablets fixed to the back of the front seats are a tick under $5000. Just quietly, we'd grab a couple of iPad Pros for a grand a pop.
Engine and transmission
The 4.0-litre, double overhead cam, 90-degree TDI V8 diesel features twin, sequential charging turbos and an electric compressor that acts like a supercharger to keep the turbos spooled up when they're off-boost.
The eight speed torque converter auto transmission (two ratios up on the first gen Q7) features a tiptronic function for manual changes via the main selector or wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The SQ7 accelerates like a supercar and has the dynamics of a sports sedan two thirds its size and weight.
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.
Audi claims combined cycle fuel economy of 7.2 litres per 100 km, which is impressive considering the SQ7's size and performance potential. On test we recorded 11.6L/100km on the dash, which is still pretty handy for a 2.3-tonne mothership (helped by the standard stop-start system).
The SQ7 accelerates like a supercar and has the dynamics of a sports sedan two thirds its size and weight. But traversing the urban jungle there's no obvious clue the jump to light-speed is only a press of your right foot away.
This cast iron fist in a velvet glove is smooth and progressive in everything it does - step off acceleration, braking, steering - it's all effortless and you feel directly connected behind the wheel.
Acceleration supplied by the big V8 is simply monstrous, yet the delivery of its fire and brimstone is serene and civilised.
The result is 0-100km/h in just 4.9secs, which according to Audi, makes this the fastest seven seat SUV in the world.
A massive stream of torque is delivered in a linear flow, with the peak of 900Nm arriving at just 1000rpm, and staying on tap all the way to 3250rpm. From there maximum power takes over at 3750rpm and continues the rocket ride until 5000rpm.
The result is 0-100km/h in just 4.9secs, which according to Audi, makes this the fastest seven seat SUV in the world. Wow.
One surprise is the throbbing engine note doesn't sound like a diesel, and that's because a sound actuator in the exhaust system is tricking your ears. You can even vary the amount of sound it generates depending on what drive mode you're in. It sounds sporty, but it's kinda disappointing when you realise it's fake.
Our car's tech and chassis options combine with the standard air suspension system (working in concert with the five-link independent mechanical set-up) to deliver a beautiful blend of ride compliance and handling response.
The front sports seats are grippy and comfortable, steering feel is great, body control - and this is a big body - is well buttoned down, the fat 285/40 ContiSport rubber grips hard, and manual changes from the eight speed auto are satisfyingly sharp.
Arresting this amount of weight is (literally) a big job, and the huge discs front and rear perform flawlessly.
Worth noting our car's optional four-wheel steering means this 5.07m long SUV has a smaller turning circle than a Q3.
It must be said that one unnerving moment came when the 'Traffic Alert' system's low speed auto emergency braking (AEB) kicked in aggressively and unexpectedly, picking up what I think was a parked car on the outside of a tight suburban corner. Let's just say it scared the Audi pre-sense out of me.
And if you're keen on hitching what would presumably be an obscenely fast ski boat to the back of this beastie, towing capacity is 3.5 tonnes braked, and 750kg for an unbraked trailer.
Standard active and passive safety tech is extensive, including adaptive cruise control with 'Stop & Go' function (including pre-sense front and traffic jam assist), side assist (including pre-sense rear), exit warning and rear cross traffic alert, active lane assist, ABS (with EBD), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), ASR, and ESC.
It's also an ISOFIX extravaganza in the back, with locating and top-tether anchorage points for every seating position across the second and third rows, for five in total. Now that's catering for young families!
The Q7 range scored a maximum five stars when rated by ANCAP in December 2015.
The SQ7 comes with Audi's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, as well as roadside assist for the same period.
A three year/45,000km fixed-price service plan is available for $1900.
Icing on the cake is the glossy AudiMagazine on your doorstep twice a year for the duration of the warranty (and available by subscription after that).