In what must be seen as a sign of the times, the stump-pulling V8 diesel engine is gone, in favour of a V8 petrol with the same 4.0-litre displacement.
Claimed to be more in line with buyer tastes – diesel in Europe is on the nose – and not all that far off the RSQ8 flagship’s powertrain, it cuts weight and the zero to 100km/h time while adding a more engaging quad-tipped exhaust note.
The rest of the package remains much the same as before, but that’s not something I’d consider a problem because this is the sort of vehicle Audi does particularly well.
Think of the SQ8 as the sportier five-seat sibling to the SQ7, which gets the same engine transplant. Buyers might also note the similarities beneath the skin to the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga…
In person it’s quietly menacing with spot-on proportions and a great stance, full-width rear light bar, and even the availability of a few flashy colours that you may not associate with the Ingolstadt marque – such as our Dragon Orange test car.
The Audi SQ8 TFSI is priced from $168,800 before on-road costs.
This makes it more than $50,000 cheaper than the RSQ8 flagship ($220,600).
For reference, a Porsche Cayenne Coupe GTS – which gets a 338kW/620Nm version of the SQ8 TFSI’s V8 – kicks off at $210,400 before on-roads.
Audi has defined itself through its beautiful interiors for decades and in most facets, the SQ8 lives up to the brand’s promise, down to its fancy soft-closing doors.
The steering wheel design is about perfect for my tastes, with a thin rim, a round shape, perforated hand grips, and solid damped buttons and rollers rather than ham-fisted Volkswagen haptic touchpads.
Ditto the automatic shifter, which is all leather and metal and lovely to use. Column shifters or today’s in vogue circular dials just don’t cut the mustard to the same degree, in my opinion.
The one-piece, perforated, heated and cooled leather seats offer great thigh and side support, and are trimmed in what feels like high-quality leather.
The large digital cluster can be configured to show you driving data, navigation, driver-assist functions and a sports mode-specific display, assisted by the head-up display which is handy unless you favour polarised sunnies.
The surfaces, stitching and overall build quality are all first rate, though those of us who miss Audi’s old cabins with knurled metallic dials and switches everywhere may find the heavily screen-laden layout a little less characterful.
To Audi’s defence, the touchscreen to handle the climate controls is separate to the multimedia screen and therefore always accessible, and offers haptic feedback to touch inputs. It’s the best application of a screen-based AC setup I know of.
Likewise Audi’s main touchscreen, while not particularly large by modern standards, is super intuitive with a vertical shortcut toolbar, simple homepage tiles, and ample processing power. It also has haptic (vibrating) feedback, which I find intuitive when on the move.
There’s also live connected navigation, and an emergency e-call function.
The main gripe I have with the cabin is Audi’s (and the wider car industry’s) obsession with glossy black trims everywhere, which show up scratches and smudges and dust like nobody’s business, not to mention sun glare.
There are some carbon inlays and silver metallic trims which offset this nicely, at least.
Unlike the seven-seat SQ7, the Q8 seats five. The back seats fold 40:20:40, and the bases slide on rails to increase boot space behind them.
There’s plenty of space for two big adults: at 194cm, I just had enough headroom, and plenty of legroom.
Back-seat occupants also get vents and their own temperature controls on each side of the car, just to keep the peace.
Boot capacity is a capacious 605L, expanding to 1755L with the back seats folded. You can lower the car’s air springs to help load items by pushing a button in the boot, and there’s a temporary spare tyre below the cargo floor.
This is where the big (well, only) change has been made. Gone is the brutish 4.0-litre diesel V8, which has been phased out globally, to be replaced by a 4.0-litre petrol V8.
The twin-turbocharged TFSI unit makes 373kW of power and 770Nm of torque, mated to an eight-speed ‘tiptronic’ automatic and quattro permanent all-wheel drive with self-locking centre diff.
Its default torque split biases the rear wheels 60:40, but when its sensors detect slip it can send 70 per cent of torque to the front axle. It can also push 85 per cent of torque to the back wheels for a more rear-biased character.
On the positive side it offers 53kW more power than the old diesel, and cuts the zero to 100km/h time by seven-tenths to just 4.1 seconds – quite a dash for a 2270kg vehicle (sans driver).
That’s also only three-tenths off the hardest-core 441kW and 800Nm RSQ8 range-topper, by the way.
It also retains the diesel’s 3500kg braked-trailer towing capacity.
On the negative front its torque output is down 130Nm, with the diesel’s stump-pulling 900Nm pared back, and it’s less fuel efficient at 12.2 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, against a claimed 7.8L/100km for the diesel.
It can deactivate one cylinder bank while at cruising speeds, helping cut its highway efficiency to a more palatable 9.0L/100km. However it’s also the only Q8 variant without a 48V mild-hybrid system.
While buyers aren’t likely all that fussed about fuel prices, they might notice the reduced range given the fuel tank remains 85 litres.
|4.0-litre petrol V8
|4.0-litre diesel V8
|373kW @ 5500rpm
|320kW @ 4750rpm
|770Nm @ 2000-4000rpm
|900Nm @ 1250-3250rpm
|Fuel use claim
The engine is more charismatic than the old oiler, though Audi’s engineers have kept the soundtrack a little tamer than what you’d expect from its full-fat RS models. As they should.
While it doesn’t have the diesel’s huge torque just off idle, you’d really only notice this when towing your big boat, float or van. It’s particularly keen and responsive when you use the flappy paddles or the transmission’s sportiest setting.
The eight-speed auto is used because it can handle the torque, and while it’s not quite as snappy at slamming through the gears as some S tronic DCTs, it’s generally well paired and nearly always smooth.
One big side benefit of the new engine is a 95kg weight saving, largely over the nose, which has obvious benefits with steering response and turn-in. Something this big is hardly agile, but it sure isn’t cumbersome…
Much of that is due to rear-wheel steering that cuts the low-speed turning circle by more than a metre, turning the opposite direction to the front wheels by five degrees. At higher speeds they move the same direction, and there’s also speed-dependent, variable-ratio steering.
At low speeds, the SQ8’s turning radius actually matches the much smaller Audi Q3, which is good news considering these things will be seen at many a high-end shopping centre carpark.
All Q8s have five-link front and rear axles with air suspension, but the SQ8’s system sits 15mm lower and is linked to your driving mode selector, be it comfort-biased or sports-biased. The range of height adjustments spans some 90mm dependent on your selected driving mode.
Any car that glides over flooded, pothole-infested regional Victorian roads while using 22-inch rims is an impressive bit of engineering…
The AWD system, when left to its own devices, shuffles torque where it’s needed and generally has a slight rear bias, and in tandem with those 285mm-wide Continental tyres I never felt short of grip.
You really don’t need to drop $20k on carbon-ceramic brakes, because we don’t have Autobahns and don’t seriously suggest you’ll be taking your SQ8 on track… Those 400mm front rotors with six-piston calipers, and 350mm rears, are absolutely capable.
If you want the absolute best in terms of body control, you want the $10,900 Dynamic package which, let’s be honest, should be standard.
It adds 48V battery-powered active electro-mechanical roll stabilisation to offset body roll, keeping the car flat against lateral forces, and a quattro sport rear differential.
What does this do? It simply distributes torque between the wheels more effectively, particularly to mitigate push-understeer.
In short, it’s hard to think of many cars you’d rather pelt across the Nullarbor (or preferably belt down an Autobahn) in: It’s a true executive express, which offers excellent dynamic engagement for such a porky beast.
The SQ8 ain’t missing much, though it sits one rung below the range-topper. That said, the powered steering column and electric luggage compartment cover are missing due to chip shortages.
There are a few expensive options – which many buyers who tick the box see as a bragging point – with the Dynamic package the one that stands out to me.
- 22-inch five-spoke wheels
- 285/40 tyres with space-saver spare
- Loose wheel detection
- Red brake callipers
- Rear-wheel steering
- Adaptive air suspension
- Metallic or pearlescent paint
- HD Matrix LED headlights, camera-based
- Dynamic front, rear indicators
- Powered tailgate with gesture control
- Power-folding, kerbside-dipping mirrors
- Proximity key access
- Privacy glass rear-side, rear
- Panoramic sunroof
- Power-assisted soft-closing doors
- ‘Valcona’ leather seats with diamond-pattern stitching
- Heated, ventilated, powered front seats
- 4-zone climate control via lower haptic touchscreen
- 30 selectable LED interior lighting colours
- Head-up display
- 12.3-inch ‘virtual cockpit’ instrument cluster
- 10.1-inch centre touchscreen
- Natural speech recognition
- Online, connected navigation
- 4 x USB ports
- Digital radio
- Wired, wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
- Wireless phone charging pad
- Bang and Olufsen 3D audio, 17 speakers, 730W output
Sensory Package – $13,900
- B&O audio with 23 speakers, 1920W output
- Dinamica (suede) headlining
- Massaging front seats
- Heated rear seats
- Full leather interior package
- Powered rear sunshades
- Interior air ioniser and perfume system
Dynamic Package – $10,900
- Active roll stabilisation, electromechanical
- Quattro sport differential
- Ceramic brakes with grey calipers – $19,500
- Trailer tow hitch, no ball and mount – $1500
- Roof rails in aluminium finish or black – $900
- Massaging front seats – $1050
The regular Audi Q8 also wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing conducted in 2019, but this rating excludes the SQ8 – not because it scored worse, but because it wasn’t tested.
Standard safety equipment includes:
- Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
- City, Interurban speeds
- Pedestrian, Cyclist detection
- Junction assist
- AEB in reverse
- Lane departure warning
- Lane keep assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic assist
- Adaptive drive assist
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Distance indicator
- Traffic jam assist
- Lane guidance assist
- Collision avoidance assist (evasive steer)
- High-beam assist
- 360-degree camera system
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Exit warning system
- 8 airbags incl. rear-side for 2nd row
Audi provides a five-year warranty with roadside assist, as well as a 12-year warranty for bodywork against corrosion perforation.
A five-year servicing plan package costs $4100, and from there you can buy a further four years of servicing and roadside assist in a package if you’re hanging onto the car beyond the five-year mark.
When the old SQ8 TDI diesel arrived Audi was still offering a three-year warranty, so this is an improvement.
The fuel economy claim seems reasonable given we averaged 12.3L/100km on a launch event drive, which aren’t typically what you’d call sedate.
If you want something just a little more understated than the RSQ8, the new petrol SQ8 fills the gap perfectly.
It’s a seriously quick and capable, yet comfortable, luxury crossover with tons of road presence and a mostly excellent interior.
There are those who will miss the torquey diesel, not least those who want a properly premium tow vehicle, but Audi’s shift to petrol power will probably open this car up to more buyers based on Australian performance vehicle tastes.
Click the images for the full gallery
MORE: Everything Audi SQ8