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Audi SQ8 2020 review

The SQ8 has on-road presence like few others.
EXPERT RATING
7.8
For those buyers that like their fast SUVs to 'look' like coupes, there's a new kid on the block: the Audi SQ8. Indeed, the critically acclaimed SQ7 wagon now has a sibling, but is it anywhere near as good?

Here we go again… another coupe-style SUV, except this one is considered by many to be the exception to the rule that a sloping roof doesn’t always make for a better-looking crossover.

Now, we have seen and tested the Audi Q8 before, but this is the first time we’ve been able to get out hands on the hotted-up SQ8 version, which is mechanically related to the brilliant – and much more practical – SQ7 wagon.

So, with ‘style’ and performance on its side, is the SQ8 another case of having your cake and eating it too, or does it fail justify the premium it attracts? We put it to test to find out.

Audi SQ8 2020: TDI QUATTRO
Safety rating
Engine Type4.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.8L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$165,500

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

All you need to do is take one look at the SQ8 and you’ll realise Audi is intent on creating another automotive design icon.

Audi may have built a reputation for its conservative exterior styling, but the SQ8 strays far from the usual formula and, in most cases, excels because of it.

The SQ8 is at its most polarising up front, where its gargantuan version of Audi’s signature Singleframe grille is ready to start arguments, finished in not-so-subtle aluminium trim alongside several other exterior design elements. Yep, we’re still unsure about this look…

Either way, the SQ8 has on-road presence like few others, partly thanks to its S body kit, which features massive side air intakes.

It's clear that Audi is intent on creating another automotive design icon. It's clear that Audi is intent on creating another automotive design icon.

Directly above them are HD Matrix LED headlights, which not only look angry but also integrate segmented LED daytime running lights (DRLs), which look plain cool.

Around the side, the SQ8 makes its ‘coupe’ point with a sloping roof that actually isn’t that steeply raked around the C-pillars. Either way, it’s certainly not a two-box design.

Our eyes are instead drawn to the rear wheelarches, which are blistered to say the least. Their front counterparts get similar treatment, but it’s nowhere near as dramatic

Then there are the chunky skirts and 22-inch alloy wheels (with a space-saver spare), which have an interesting double five-spoke design.

At the rear, the SQ8 looks its absolute best thanks to its LED tail-lights, which not only share their segmented signature with the aforementioned DRLs, but are also linked by a light bar, which helps to accentuate its width.

The 22-inch alloy wheels have an interesting double five-spoke design. The 22-inch alloy wheels have an interesting double five-spoke design.

The aggression of the bumper is increased by its diffuser insert, which contains the quad exhaust tailpipes. An elongated tailgate spoiler rounds out the exterior.

Inside, the SQ8 is not holding back when it comes to technology, as 10.1- and 8.6-inch touchscreens rule over the centre stack. The former serves up most of Audi’s latest multimedia system’s functions, while the latter is used for the climate controls.

This set-up works gets the job done, but a few too many taps are needed for particular functions, and then there’s the problem of the glass display coverings, which are annoying fingerprint magnets alongside the gloss-black accents found elsewhere.

At the rear, the SQ8 looks its absolute best thanks to its LED tail-lights. At the rear, the SQ8 looks its absolute best thanks to its LED tail-lights.

That said, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and windshield-projected head-up display to the right are amazing. In fact, they set the industry standard due to their unrivalled design and functionality.

The SQ8 does, of course, standout from the Q8 crowd with several unique inclusions, including its front sports seats, which are not only upholstered in luscious Valcona leather alongside the armrests, but also have diamond-stitched inserts.

Surprise, surprise, there’s also a flat-bottom steering wheel (with paddle-shifters), which is trimmed in Nappa leather alongside the gear selector and front knee rests.

This sporty feel is further enhanced by the black headliner and Alcantara door inserts, while premium quality is exhibited by the soft-touch plastics used for the upper dashboard and door shoulders. Can’t find the hard plastics? Look down low, because there aren’t many.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

Measuring 5006mm long, 1995mm wide and 1708mm tall, the SQ8 is truly a large SUV, and that means good things in terms of practicality.

Despite its sloping roof, the SQ8’s cargo capacity is still pretty good, at 605L, but it can be increased to a massive 1755L by stowing the 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench.

Speaking of the boot, there are four tie-down points to help secure a loose load, while a bag hook and two side storage nets are also present. Loading bulkier items is made relatively easy thanks to low load lip.

Measuring 5006mm long, 1995mm wide and 1708mm tall, the SQ8 is truly a large SUV. Measuring 5006mm long, 1995mm wide and 1708mm tall, the SQ8 is truly a large SUV.

There are also various in-cabin storage options, including the wide but short glovebox, decent driver-side cubby and the shallow central bin, which is more or less taken up the wireless smartphone charger, two USB-A ports and the SD and SIM card readers.

A pair of cupholders is located in the centre console, with a 12V power outlet residing between them, while the front door bins accommodate one regular bottle each.

In the three-seat second row, there’s a fold-down armrest with two more cupholders, while the rear door bins take two regular bottles apiece. Occupants even get a couple of ash trays… very old school! And there are, of course, storage nets on the front seat backrests.

Considering the SQ8 is a sloped-back ‘coupe’, even headroom is pretty good. Considering the SQ8 is a sloped-back ‘coupe’, even headroom is pretty good.

The rear bench is a very comfortable place to be, with more than four inches of legroom available behind this tester's 184cm driving position alongside oodles of toe-room. Better yet, it manually slides and reclines so you can find just the right position, or prioritise boot space if needed.

Considering the SQ8 is a sloped-back ‘coupe’, even headroom is pretty good, at nearly two inches. While the transmission tunnel is large, so too are the footwells, meaning adults won’t have to compete for space when embarking on relatively pleasant short journeys.

Rear connectivity is also a strong point, with a pair of USB-A ports available below the central air vents alongside a 12V power outlet.

For reference, child seats can be fitted to the outboard seats via top-tether and ISOFIX anchorage points.

  • Despite its sloping roof, the SQ8’s cargo capacity is still pretty good, at 605L. Despite its sloping roof, the SQ8’s cargo capacity is still pretty good, at 605L.
  • It can be increased to a massive 1755L by stowing the 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench. It can be increased to a massive 1755L by stowing the 40/20/40 split-fold rear bench.
  • The SQ8 comes with a space-saver spare. The SQ8 comes with a space-saver spare.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

Priced from $165,500 plus on-road costs, the SQ8 commands $36,600 and $4000 premiums over its regular Q8 and more practical SQ7 wagon siblings respectively, with buyers paying for the extra performance and looks, although they still get plenty of kit.

Standard equipment not already mentioned includes metallic paintwork (our test vehicle was finished in Navarra Blue), dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing wipers, soft-close doors, auto-folding side mirrors with heating and auto-dimming, rear privacy glass and a hands-free power-operated tailgate.

The SQ8 commands a $4000 premium over its more practical SQ7 wagon sibling. The SQ8 commands a $4000 premium over its more practical SQ7 wagon sibling.

Inside, satellite navigation with live traffic, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay support, digital radio, a 730W Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 17 speakers, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, power-adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, four-zone climate control, a power-adjustable steering column, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and LED ambient lighting feature.

Two option packages are available: $13,900 Sensory (1920W Bang & Olufsen 3D Advanced sound system with 23 speakers, massaging front seats, heated rear seats, rear sunshades, full Nappa leather upholstery and a black Alcantara headliner) and $10,900 Dynamic (active anti-roll bars and a rear limited-slip differential). The latter was fitted to our test vehicle.

Standard equipment includes metallic paintwork and rear privacy glass. Standard equipment includes metallic paintwork and rear privacy glass.

Rivals include the $155,900 BMW X6 M50i and yet-to-be-released Mercedes-AMG GLE53 coupe. While the former is cheaper than the SQ8 on paper, it arguably offers less value for money. For reference, the latter is expected to cost about $175,000.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The SQ8 is motivated by a thumping 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel engine that develops a solid 320kW of power from 3750-4750rpm and a colossal 900Nm of torque from 1250-3250rpm.

This unit is mated to a 48V mild-hybrid system that includes a trick Electric-Powered Compressor (EPC), which helps to reduce its turbo lag.

The SQ8 is motivated by a thumping 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel engine. The SQ8 is motivated by a thumping 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel engine.

A dependable eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is responsible for swapping gears, while drive is sent to all four wheels via Audi’s rear-biased quattro system.

This combination helps the SQ8 sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in a scant 4.8 seconds, while its top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.

Better yet, the SQ8 has a maximum braked towing capacity of 3500kg, so bring on the caravan.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

The SQ8’s fuel consumption on the combined-cycle test (ADR 81/02) is 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres, while claimed carbon dioxide emissions are 205 grams per kilometre. Considering the performance on offer, they're strong figures.

Audi says the aforementioned 48V mild-hybrid system reduces fuel consumption by 0.5L/100km thanks to its coasting ability, which sees the engine turn off for up to 40 seconds between 55km/h and 160km/h. It also engages idle-stop from 22km/h.

In our real-world testing, we averaged 11.1L/100km over 100km of driving skewed towards country roads over city traffic, with limited highway time. It’s worth noting some ‘spirited’ driving inflated this figure, so it’s actually a pretty good result.

For reference, the SQ8’s 85L fuel tank takes diesel only and is complemented by a 24L AdBlue tank.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

ANCAP awarded the Q8 range (excluding SQ8) a maximum five-star safety rating in 2019.

Advanced driver-assist systems extend to autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep and steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, high-beam assist, driver attention alert, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, tyre pressure monitoring, surround-view cameras and front and rear parking sensors. Needless to say, you’re not missing out on much here.

Other standard safety equipment includes eight airbags (dual front, front and rear side, and curtain), electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-skid brakes (ABS), brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, among others.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

The SQ8 comes with Audi Australia’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is well short of the premium market’s recently introduced five-year standard that was set by Genesis and followed by Mercedes-Benz.

Audi also bundles in three years of roadside assistance, although this term can be extended up to nine years if the vehicle is serviced at an authorised dealership, which helps to provide a little more peace of mind.

The SQ8 comes with Audi Australia’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. The SQ8 comes with Audi Australia’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Speaking of which, service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing plans are available, costing $2870 for three years/45,000km or $3910 for five years/75,000km – expensive but not unexpected.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

Previous experience has shown us the SQ7 is not only potent, but also surprisingly agile, and the SQ8 – as a shock to no-one – is no different. But that also means it has the same flaws.

On paper, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 is an absolute monster. In reality, you feel every single one of its 900Nm, and while they come on steam just above idle, it really doesn’t feel like they all arrive until about 1800rpm.

Why? Try as the EPC might, but turbo lag is exaggerated. Bury the accelerator pedal off the line and the SQ8 will creep forward at a snail’s pace for what feels like an eternity before all hell breaks loose as it hurtles towards 320kW, which is sustained for a brief moment.

So, when on song, straight-line performance is truly epic by diesel SUV standards, with occupants shoved into their seats, but the problem is getting up and running in the first place.

Switching the engine to its most aggressive setting doesn’t solve this problem, and while the eight-speed torque-converter automatic on hand is buttery smooth and relatively quick, not even it can overcome the turbo lag in two of its three settings.

Put it in its more aggressive setting and engine speeds are kept around 1800rpm when cruising, positioning the SQ8 at the desired tipping point.

Either way, this experience is punctuated by the sports exhaust system, which certainly has some presence, especially for a diesel SUV. However, it’s hard to differentiate between what’s real and fake due to the in-cabin sound actuator, so we’re a little indifferent.

Conversely, the SQ8’s independent five-link suspension with air springs and adaptive dampers is absolutely lovely, serving up a very comfortable ride that gets even better as vehicle speed increases.

The electric power steering is speed-sensitive and has a variable ratio. The electric power steering is speed-sensitive and has a variable ratio.

That said, its firm tune is noticeable on uneven and unsealed roads, where its massive 22-inch alloy wheels catch sharper edges.

The trade-off, of course, is improved handling, and, boy, does the SQ8 do its best to defy physics…

All-wheel steering is standard, meaning this large SUV more or less feels like a mid-size sedan through the corners as its long wheelbase is effectively shortened. All things considered, it’s a staggering effort.

Naturally, some of the credit has to go to the electric power steering, which is speed-sensitive and has a variable ratio. Always direct and relatively light in hand at low speed, it’s a winner.

Of the three steering settings, the Balanced option is best, with the weight far too great in Dynamic, but that’s not exactly surprising. Either way, feedback through the wheel is okay.

That said, our test vehicle derived most of its handling prowess from its optional active anti-roll bars and a rear limited-slip differential.

Simply put, the way in which the former cancels body roll is astounding. However, you can still feel the 2440kg unladen weight (with 75kg driver and luggage) shifting from side to side, as physics refuses to be denied.

The latter is just as great, working in tandem with the rear-biased quattro all-wheel-drive system and the usual electronics to keep things on track when cornering hard. As a result of all this wizardry, handling is pleasingly neutral.

Of note, braking performance is reassuringly strong thanks to the humongous 400mm front and 350mm rear discs with red calipers. Considering the SQ8’s size and weight, we’re very happy about that. 

Verdict

The SQ8 is an interesting one. For buyers that don’t need the seven-seat SQ7, it certainly makes a surprising amount of sense.

For one, it offers the same level of (mostly) lovable performance in what many consider to be a better-looking package.

And aside from the third row, the SQ8 doesn’t actually sacrifice much in the way of practicality over the SQ7…

So, consider our minds changed. We’d pay the premium, because after all, what’s an extra $4000 when you’re already spending $160,000?

Pricing guides

$165,500
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$165,500
Highest Price
$165,500

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
TDI QUATTRO 4.0L, PULP $165,500 2020 Audi SQ8 2020 TDI QUATTRO Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Design8
Practicality8
Price and features8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption8
Safety9
Ownership7
Driving7
Justin Hilliard
Deputy News Editor

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