Audi SQ7 TDI

Diesel V8 behemoth wrestles physics into submission

by LOUIS CORDONY

ENGINE 3956cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo, electric charger / POWER 320kW @ 5000rpm / TORQUE 900Nm @ 1000rpm / WEIGHT 2330kg / 0-100KM/H 4.9sec / PRICE $153,616

STAR RATING

4.0

Like

Sharp interior; pillowy ride; refinement; decent value

Dislike

Huge weight; questionable complexity

LET’S GET one thing straight: SUVs aren’t particularly MOTOR’s bag. Their high-riding statures and immense kerb weights rarely translate well to the demands of fast, exciting bitumen driving.

But Audi’s trying hard to turn its nose up at one Mssr Newton – really hard – because its SQ7 TDI launches with enough technology to operate a 1970s space program. The new seven-seater SUV’s stuffed with electric supercharging, active sway bars, rear-wheel steer and pistons derived from Audi’s (now sadly defunct) Le Mans Prototype.

These are goodies you’d expect to debut in a low-slung flagship, such as the Audi R8, before trickling down the rest of the range – not a 2.3-tonne kid-hauler that runs on diesel.

But Audi knows the potential of an S-badged oiler SUV. The SQ5 outsold every other variant within a year of L its launch, despite the $14K jump over the next most expensive Q5. And it's this know-how Audi has poured into its new SUV flagship.

Predictably the SQ7 is a reasonable hike over the next Q7 – a gaping $49K in fact, enough to park a decent hot hatch in the garage as well. For that there’s a 4.0-litre diesel V8 with two turbochargers nestled in the 'vee' and an electric supercharger driven by a 7kW motor. Pumping 20.1psi of boost it helps the eight-pot crank out 320kW and a massive 900Nm, though its role is more low-end torque fill than all-'round stonk.

You’ll need a master's degree to understand what's going on under the bonnet – one look and your local mechanic would turn white – as through its rev-range the engine moves from dual-charged, to single turbocharged, before finishing up twin-turbocharged.

As a result those 900Nm are available from idle to 3200rpm, before 320kW says hello at 3750rpm and sticks around until the 5000rpm redline. While the electric 'charger and first turbo supply full boost until 2000rpm, the initial 900 newtons feel more focused on motivating 2.3 tonnes from rest than hurling you all the way to the horizon.

That's where the second turbo comes in – at around 3200rpm, thanks to some valvelift trickery and a split exhaust manifold.

As a result of all this magic, SQ7 piles on speed at a serious rate. It's not going to squeeze swear words out of you, nor is it atmo responsive – stab the throttle while moving and it feels like the turbos need a second to figure who's doing what – but it's seriously potent for a diesel and a car this large.

As for the suspension, it's just as fiendishly complicated as the oily bits. Opt for the $13K Dynamic

Package, as 80 per cent of buyers have thus far, and you'll score active anti-roll bars, rear-steering and an active rear diff.

If you drove it only in Dynamic mode, you wouldn't really know what the fuss is about. But switch to Comfort mode, where it slackens off the active roll bars, and the wizardry becomes much more noticeable.

The active tech keeps the frontend from pushing into understeer, keeping the chassis neutral, so you can pick-up the throttle earlier and let the diff drive you out of corners.

The ride, meanwhile, is excellent.

With the 'bars cancelling out body roll the adaptive air dampers can be optimised to soak up vertical hits so it holds the road like an overweight hothatch with limo-levels of suppleness.

Such weight does offer some nonnegotiables, though. At over five metres long the SQ7 can be tricky to place and it feels like the chassis or steering wouldn't give you much warning, or room for recovery, if you overstepped the mark.

However, we can't think of many seven-seat SUVs that would handle like this. Tesla’s new Model X P100D would be a worthy match, but the Audi would snot it for interior luxury.

And noise, but not just because it makes a noise, but because it makes a nice noise – for a diesel.

The SQ7 rumbles with a decent V8 soundtrack, helped by an amplifier plumbing recorded exhaust noise into the cabin, but it doesn't sound fake.

The cabin’s also drop dead gorgeous and we can't praise the front seats enough for their full adjustability and proper bolstering.

Money-wise, at $153,616, the Audi’s also a bit of a relative bargain. The closest seven-seat competitor would be Mercedes-AMG's GLS63 – $50K more with a V8 rumble paid for in fuel bills. Don't get us start on the Bentley Bentayga, either.

As for options, we say skip Audi's costly extras like red calipers, as the standard six-pots look grouse enough.

But do go for the $5K optional 21s and the Dynamic Package.

At the end of the day if we had to buy a performance SUV you'd probably still find us shopping for BMW X5Ms, Range Rover Sports, AMG GLE63s or even Porsche Cayennes, but if we were creating our own Brady Bunch and only had a one-car garage, the SQ7 would be top of our list. M

You'll need a master's degree to understand the sorcery at work within its engine