School run scorcher: Audi SQ7 road test and review
THE world's fastest seven-seat diesel SUV. Sounds good, doesn't it?
And it's to be celebrated. Audi's new SQ7 - with all its 320kW/900Nm 4.0-litre bi-turbo goodness - is a glorious exercise in excess.
It's over 5-metres long, has a 2270kg kerb weight and enough leather-filled cabin space to seat seven. Yet it cracks the 100kmh sprint in a sportscar-beating sub-five-seconds, travels on to a limited 250kmh, and through engineering and electronic mastery somehow corners like it's on rails.
Perhaps one day we'll look back on such giant performance SUVs as irresponsible vanity projects; do we really need our seven-seat premium 4x4s to lap the Nurburgring quicker than single-seat race cars?
But if harsher emissions controls or market forces kill them off, no doubt we'll look back on them in the same happy rose-tinted manner we do the gas-guzzling muscle cars of the late Sixties to early Seventies.
Right now though, Australia's tidal wave of enthusiasm for premium and rapid behemoths like the SQ7, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SDV8 is impossible to ignore.
Evidence? Audi Australia has pre-sold over 300 $153,000 SQ7s before they hit showrooms this month, and the vast majority of these owners have got tick-happy with the (oft expensive) options boxes.
Lucky them, I say, through gritted jealous teeth. You 300 are about to receive something rather special.
Even Audi's cheaper vehicles boast desirable cabins, so the SQ7's interior is, as expected, rather glorious.
Huge and luxury filled but with a sporting flavour, you perch on to quite firm Valcona leather electric and heated sports seats, grip the flat-bottomed steering wheel with Audi's futuristic all-digital Virtual Cockpit behind, which houses all your driving info on a stunning high-res 12.3-inch screen.
Class abounds with a giant, flat centre console housing a touchpad and rotary dial above a chunky gear shifter, air vents run the length of the dashboard and an 8.3-inch monitor emerges from the dash top on start-up.
The sheer number of driver assistance systems and controls mean you have plenty of stalks, buttons and switches to master, so non tech-heads may find it all a bit too fussy.
As for the family, the middle row of reclining seats give superb leg and head room (three adults can be accommodated), while the two smaller seats in the third row are electrically raised and lowered at the touch of a button.
On the road
At idle there's a mean little V8 burble highlighting the SQ7's performance intent.
The 4.0-litre diesel features a pair of turbos to offer 320kW and 900Nm, backed up by an electric-powered compressor (with power supplied by a 48v electrical subsystem) for boost at low engine speeds. In a nutshell, Audi claims turbo lag is eliminated, and really, from first prod of the throttle, power is genuinely spontaneous.
The pull is ferocious for such a big car, and the 8-speed tiptronic auto gearbox effortlessly keeps play in the ideal rev range.
Optional is a Dynamic Package bringing quattro sport differential, all-wheel steering and the wizardry of electromechanical active roll stabilisation. It costs $13,500 but Audi says initial orders have seen an 85% take-up rate.
The result is a 2270kg car that corners as flat as most sportscars, the balance and grip quite breathtaking. Sitting this high up it still feels a big car, plus it can't change direction as rapidly as a smaller lower centre of gravity offering, so combined with not the most rewarding feedback through the over-weighted steering wheel, the SQ7 isn't a "fun" back road flyer. That grunting V8 does sound delicious in Dynamic drive select mode though.
As a long distance highway cruiser or city dwelling show-piece it still shines. Perhaps it loses a smidge of the normal Q7's overall ride comfort, but I'd live with that for the SQ7's superior stance and cornering skills.
On the practical front Audi quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 7.2L/100km: an exceptional return for a car so rapid and heavy. My road test saw the engine drink in the low 10s, but this was more than acceptable considering my (highly enjoyable) exploration of the 4.0-litre V8's abilities.
What do you get?
Too long a list to do it justice here. Key inclusions are LED headlights, 20-inch alloys, head-up display, BOSE 3D sound system, four-zone air con, ambient lighting and MMI navigation.
And despite all that power, the SQ7 will be a very difficult thing to crash. A segment-leading 24 driver assistance systems feature, including attention, turn, active lane, collision avoidance, side, cross traffic and park assist systems, plus adaptive cruise, exit warning and 360 degree camera.
There's also a semi-autonomous Traffic Jam assist. Push a couple of buttons and the cameras and radars monitor surroundings and the SQ7 accelerates, brakes and steers itself up to 65kmh in traffic. It works incredibly well, but of course the law dictates you keep your concentration (put that book down).
Making an SUV over five-metres long look sporty is no mean task, but Audi has cracked it even with the entry-level Q7 with its sloping roofline, wide arches and sharp visage.
The SQ7 dials up the sportiness with "Singleframe" grille, aluminium look trim, wide roof spoiler and four rectangular tail-pipes emerging from the rear diffuser.
The SQ7 isn't too "shouty" though, and could even be seen as a bit of a sleeper considering its talents. Disappointingly, you'll need an extra $2250 for metallic paint though as white and black are the only standard colours, even on this range-topper.
Expensive, yes, but those 300 SQ7 pre-orders show there's both desire and value in this giant family express.
The only car you'd ever need if you can afford one? Stunning turn of speed, physics-defying handling, safety systems almost guaranteeing you can't crash, plus luxurious business class travel for up to seven.
The 3.0-litre TDI Audi Q7s are wonderful all-round tools for around the more sensible $100,000 mark, making the SQ7 look very expensive - not least with options that can quickly send its price closer to $200k. But to hell with it; what a wonderful way to blow your money.
Model: Audi SQ7 TDI.
Details: All-wheel-drive seven-seat performance premium large SUV.
Engine: 4.0-litre bi-turbo diesel with electrically driven compressor generating maximum power of 320kW @ 3750rpm and peak torque of 900Nm @ 1000rpm.
Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic with paddle shifters.
Consumption: 7.2L/100km (combined).
Performance 0-100kmh: 4.9-seconds.
Towing capacity: 3500kg (braked).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $153,616.
What matters most
What we liked: Epic V8 performance and grunt, subtle V8 burble, physics-defying ride control in corners for such a heavy car, near faultless cabin design and layout.
What we'd like to see: So many driver aid features can get intrusive, artificial electric steering feel when pushing it, less costly options as purchase price is already high; it can quickly become a $200k SUV.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is every 15,000km or 12 months.
Driving experience 19/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 18/20
Value for money 15/20
Style and design 17/20