Audi's potent SQ7 gets potent V8 petrol power. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Ten Second Review
Audi's huge, powerful SQ7 swaps its V8 TDI engine for a more powerful petrol V8 and continues to re-write the rulebook for large, family-sized performance-minded SUVs. You get a much more emotive soundtrack with this TFSI engine, storming performance and virtually no turbo lag. 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. Until recently, Audi's SQ7 was an exception, using a V8 TDI diesel. But now it too, gets an emotive petrol V8 up-front.
The figures here may cause you to do a bit of a double-take: 507PS (up from 435PS with the V8 diesel) and 770Nm of torque (down from 900Nm with the diesel). All from a V8 featuring cylinder-on-demand technology, so in theory, it shouldn't be crippling to run in regular use. Sounds reasonable? Then read on...
At the heart of the SQ7 TFSI is a V8 4.0-litre petrol engine that firmly stakes this performance flagship SUV's claim amongst the most potent models of this kind on the market. The 0-62 mph sprint time is just 4.1 seconds (improved from 4.8s with the previous V8 diesel). As before, the top speed is limited to 155mph.
The powerplant 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 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 £78,000, 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
Unlike the previous SQ7 TDI, this TFSI V8 petrol model doesn't use the brand's mild hybrid engine technology. But Audi makes much of this powerplant's efficiency-boosting features, such as a 'cylinder on demand' system. This shuts down four of the eight cylinders when possible to improve fuel consumption. There's also optimised gas exchange between the turbochargers and chambers for improved combustion.
But don't get your hopes up with regard to the fuel and CO2 figures. Expect a combined cycle fuel figure of around 20mpg and an emissions reading just north of 300g/km. For comparison, the previous SQ7 TDI V8 diesel managed around 35mpg and CO2 hovering around the 200g/km mark.
The weight savings, sleeker aerodynamics and extra technology of the second generation Q7 range should help to avoid running costs becoming too horrendous. 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.
Audi seems to be confused about which engines to put in some of its sporting cars right at present, swapping petrol to diesel, then diesel back to petrol again. It's rather confusing. We rather liked the old SQ7 TDI's V8 diesel and its combination of frugality and huge torque, but the market clearly didn't. It seems that buyers of really quick large SUVs want a throbbing petrol V8 beneath the bonnet - and this SQ7 provides exactly that.
It has plenty of rivals - hot V8 versions of the Range Rover Sport and the Mercedes-AMG GLE come to mind - but they can't match the space of this SQ7's seven-seater cabin. If that creates a combination you find difficult to resist, then we'd understand.