The improved version of Audi huge, powerful SQ7 TDI continues to re-write the rulebook for large, family-sized performance-minded SUVs. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Audi's SQ7 TDI was the world's first series production car combining turbocharging with an electrically powered compressor, there to deliver impressively immediate response. Consigning 'turbo lag' to history, this boundary-stretching technology underscores this SQ7's eligibility for an 'S' badge that denotes extra performance across the Ingolstadt maker's range. Plus this car now gets the updates that have recently improved lesser Q7s too.
If you're going to have a really large seven-seat SUV and want a very, very fast one, there aren't many options. The choices you will have almost all feature very thirsty V8 petrol engines that'll have the local green lobby up in arms every time you nip to the shops. So what if you could have a car of this kind that was a little more planet-friendly - maybe this model, Audi's SQ7 TDI.
The figures here may cause you to do a bit of a double-take: 435PS and 900Nm of torque from a V8 bi-turbo TDI diesel fitted with an innovative electric-powered compressor. At the same time, the car is capable of nearly 35mpg in regular use, with a CO2 return of around 200g/km. Sound more reasonable? Then read on...
At the heart of the SQ7 TDI is a V8 BiTDI engine that develops 435PS and 900Nm of torque, firmly staking this performance flagship SUV's claim amongst the most potent diesel models of this kind on the market. The electrically powered compressor is fed by a 48-volt electrical subsystem and dispenses with any sign of turbo lag from step-off acceleration, helping to set an impressive 0-62 mph sprint time of just 4.8 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.
The 4.0 TDI unit in the SQ7 works with strong partners, including a quick-shifting eight-speed tiptronic auto that changes gears extremely quickly and efficiently. A self-locking centre differential is the heart of the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system. It's compact, lightweight and interacts very precisely with the suspension control system. An optional sport differential provides stable and precise steering, particularly during fast acceleration out of bends. Variable torque between the wheels on the rear axle offers supreme control in curves and the car is pressed precisely into the bend as a result.
The maxim of lightweight construction also applies to the suspension - its links are made primarily of aluminium. Electromechanical power steering, the Audi drive select driving dynamics system and adaptive air suspension with S-specific tuning are standard. Buyers will be offered an optional driving dynamics package comprising three technology modules: sport differential, electromechanical active roll stabilisation and all-wheel steering.
Design and Build
The SQ7 TDI shares most of the visual changes made to other revised second generation Q7 models but gets a model-specific radiator grille with an S design at the bumpers. Other distinguishing features are the side air inlets, the mirror housings and door inlays in standard aluminium. The exhaust system terminates in four rectangular tailpipes. Matrix LED headlights are fitted as standard and have a pronounced three-dimensional appearance with a double-arrow signature.
Inside, Super sports seats upholstered in dark Valcona leather with integrated head restraints are standard, as are soft Alcantara door inserts and brushed aluminium inlays. The fully-digitalised 'Audi Virtual Cockpit' screen you view through the wheel is standard and gets an S-specific display. You also get the brand's 'MMI navigation plus' package, which includes touch-screen operation and top-of-the-line connectivity.
As with other Q7 models, this car is a seven-seater. Passengers experience the largest interior in the segment. The second row has a sliding base and a three-section backrest with segments that can be folded down separately, while the final third row folds up and down electrically. Depending on the position of the rear seat backs, the luggage compartment offers between 865 and 2,050-litres of capacity across a flat load area. An electric tailgate is standard.
Market and Model
If you think in terms of SQ7 TDI ownership requiring a budget of around £70,000, you won't be far out. More will be required if you want the plusher 'Vorsprung' version. Even the standard variant's well equipped though, with features like Matrix LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights and dynamic front and rear indicators, plus 21-inch cast aluminium wheels in 5-double V-spoke design in contrast grey with a gloss-turned finish.
The top 'Vorsprung' variant includes just about everything you could possibly want, with 22-inch wheels and powered soft-close doors that set the tone for the exceptional comfort and luxury within. Occupants are treated to climate controlled massaging seats and upholstery heating in the second row. Plus the roof gains a soft-touch Alcantara headlining. The brand's 3D BOSE surround sound system is also installed to fill the interior with virtually cinematic sound quality.
The car offers a wide range of 24 driver assistance systems to help drivers travel safely, fuel-efficiently and comfortably. Take the standard 'Audi pre sense city' system for example - an anticipatory warning and emergency breaking function for avoiding accidents and protecting pedestrians. 'Adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist' relieves the driver in slow-moving traffic on well-paved roads by taking over the steering in many situations. This predictive ACC set-up enables the anticipatory adjustment of driving speed to the route and speed limits, such as when entering towns.
Cost of Ownership
The SQ7 manages a pretty impressive sets of NEDC efficiency stats for such a large high performance SUV. Audi talks of a combined cycle reading of around 35mpg and CO2 hovering around the 200g/km mark. So how has Ingolstadt done it? Much of the answer lies with the cleverness of two exhaust-gas turbochargers which are activated selectively according to the concept of sequential charging, since exhaust gas only flows through one turbocharger at low and intermediate load. The second turbine is only activated at higher loads. The car's unique electrically powered compressor augments the work of the two turbochargers, particularly in the lower engine speed range, providing for extremely responsive off-the-line performance.
Obviously, the weight savings, sleeker aerodynamics and extra technology of the second generation Q7 range also play their part here. Take the 'predictive efficiency assistant' system for example, which provides extra information in the instrument cluster to help the driver save fuel. Plus the redesigned eight-speed tiptronic gearbox is impressively efficient. It changes gears extremely quickly and efficiently, and at high speeds allows coasting at idle.
Did we ever think we'd see a huge seven-seat performance SUV quite like this one? Possibly not. Audi could have simply stuck a big, thirsty turbo petrol V8 in this car in the way that rivals Mercedes do in their comparable GLS AMG model. Instead, the Ingolstadt brand has done something much cleverer, developing electric-powered compressor technology that, allied to TDI diesel efficiency, makes ownership of this car economically credible.
Of course, there are still many more frugal options when it comes to owning a model of this kind. But will you look forward to driving them in the way you would with an SQ7? We think not....