Audi's SQ7 is silly fast, and makes a silly noise, at a silly price – but contains tech that will prove incredibly influential

What is it?

Influential. This is the Audi SQ7, but don’t worry too much about that. It's a near irrelevant £71k (before options) 4x4 that is ludicrously fast and, actually, rather more entertaining than it has any right to be. But it’s what’s attached to the SQ7 TDI quattro that will have rather more relevance to the cars we drive during the next decade or two.

For as long as we’ve known, cars have had 12V electrical systems. And the SQ7 still does have a 12V electrical system, but it’s augmented by a 48V subsystem that drives two things of importance now and will drive several other things of importance in the near future.

In increasing order of importance, those things are active anti-roll bars – just like those on the Bentley Bentayga, which is based on the same architecture as the Q7 – and, more important, an electrically driven compressor, and it's here we must get a little in-depth. What that does is precisely the same thing as the two turbochargers the SQ7’s engine also has, only it’s driven by electricity rather than being spooled up by exhaust gases. That’s meant to give it a distinct advantage over any car turbocharger up to and including those on a Ferrari 488 GTB, in that they can go from rest to 70,000rpm in a quarter of a second and so start charge-boosting air into the engine (where denser air makes a bigger bang, which is what gives turbos their efficiency) much more quickly than a regular turbo.

In effect, the electrically driven compressor – we might get used to calling it an EPC, or we might start, perhaps incorrectly but rather more conveniently, come to know it as an electric turbo – is said to reduce lag to negligible levels. It and the roll bars need to be 48V because they require enough oomph to act quickly and powerfully, and the only ways to get more power are to increase current or volts – and more current requires bigger hardware and thicker leads, so volts it is (there’s a 48V lithium ion battery in the boot). Thus driven, then, the motor fills a gap in the torque curve left by the other turbos as they spool up at lower engine revs, although later on in the rev range they take over in sequence and do the hard blowing. First a small one blows, then a bigger one takes over. At some point a valve in the exhaust lets out more noise, too.

All of which results in one of the most impressive set of engine stats in motordom: from 1000rpm you can have 664lb ft (the same as a 6.0-litre W12 petrol-engined Bentley Bentayga makes from 1350rpm), and not long after peak torque subsides -3250rpm - peak power arrives. That’s 429bhp at 3750rpm, which remains in situ right to the 5000rpm red line. There was a time when the more relatively powerful the turbodiesel, the boostier and narrower the delivery. Not any more. This has a broader spread of shove than the engine they’ll put in Boaty McBoatface.

That’s quite enough about the motor for now, though. As standard, the SQ7 gets sportier air suspension than regular Q7s in order to make it worthy of the ‘S’ tag. The active anti-roll bars are, however, an option, as is four-wheel steer, a limited-slip rear differential, ceramic brake discs and alloy wheels up to 22in in diameter. Perhaps Audi forgot that this is a 2405kg SUV, not a sports coupé. Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed, the car we were loaned contained all of the above. Elsewhere the SQ7 is a Q7 – a big, imposing, seven-seat SUV.

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What's it like?

Well, if it’s not the best-sounding diesel engine in production, I don’t know what is. There are hints of muscle car, powerboat and freight train, and that has to count for something. It’s also obscenely fast and, in doses, more entertaining than you’d credit.

More helpfully, though, the SQ7 is refined. It’s an extremely quiet car and one that never feels that tall. Catch it in profile and it’s more crossover than SUV. The design helps, with those high window lines making even a tall driving position feel lower than it is. 

Fit, finish and ergonomics are good, as is interior space, and there’s plenty of entertainment and information kit even as standard. Add to all that the easy way it cruises and a compliant ride, even on those 22in wheels, and you can imagine covering lots of miles with precious little effort in an SQ7.

There are different driving modes – of course there are. Some stiffen the suspension, firm up the steering, give more exhaust noise and sharpen the drivetrain response. Or you can pick and choose, and I would. Audi had set the test cars up to ride comfortably, with easy controls, but maximum noise and response. The combination suits it.

Even in Comfort mode the SQ7 retains fine body control when wound right up. Those active anti-roll bars do good work, slackening in a straight line and firming in corners. No 2.4-tonne, 1741mm-tall car is as dynamic as an ‘S’ badge would have you believe, regardless of its diff or 22in wheels, but it hides its weight admirably well (until you smell the brakes) and holds a line more tightly than I think a Bentayga does. The steering, which is accurate enough but curiously uncertain of weight, is less pleasant than the Bentley’s though. Or a Range Rover’s. Or a Volvo XC90’s. Or a BMW X5’s. 

But never mind, because there’s always the engine, although even this, in truth, isn’t without some calibration issue. As it upshifts on a medium throttle, for example, there’s a tiny pause in delivery, as if a turbo is spooling like an on/off switch rather than in analogue fashion. Perhaps that's exactly what's happening. 

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But that little blip aside, which you barely feel most of the time, the engine is a great piece of work. An automatic gearbox often masks turbo lag anyway, but I’m convinced there is barely a drop. Step-off is brisk but easily controlled, and whatever gear you find yourself in, power is available at the flex of an ankle. The noise remains smoothly woofly, too, and urge seems to fade not at all as it reaches the red line and an automatic upshift. Some manufacturers say they’re too posh and exclusive to consider a diesel engine. They should try one of these.

Should I buy one?

A £71,000 Audi that sounds like a powerboat and thinks (wrongly) it’s a sports car? Strictly speaking, no, of course not. But if you’re a sucker for an appealing engine in what might turn out to be a cult car, then sure, why not?

But even if you choose not to, don’t overlook the significance of what has arrived. Beefier electrical systems will be increasingly needed to drive not just electric turbos (ah, I called it one of those, sorry technical pedants), but mild-hybrid systems, more chassis set-ups, ever-advanced infotainment systems and semi-autonomous speed and steering controls. It’s the start of a new thing and, on this evidence, it has an awful lot to offer.

Audi SQ7

Location: Mulhouse, France; On sale Now; Price: £70,970 Engine V8, 3956cc, diesel with electric compressor and twin turbos; Power 429bhp at 3750-5000rpm; Torque 664lb ft at 1000-3250rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 2405kg; Top speed 155mph (limited); 0-62mph 4.9sec; Economy 37.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 199g/km, 37%

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Ski Kid 11 July 2016

Probably a heap of VW/Audi scrap 18mpg

just looked at Car mag they have the 3 litrre 260 oddbhp on test supposed to get 47.9mpg actual 24.5 mpg really great guys,exoect this would get about 18mpg on that basis ,they certainly know how to fiddle the mpg like ho other company my wife has a golf and a frien has an RS3 and they get 40% less than official figures 42 to 45 for the golf .and bit keep breaking on it not good gor 24ooo miles and three years old now.would never buy Audi or VW again, just JLR,Merc and BMW.
Cobnapint 4 May 2016

If you think this is good...

Wait until Porsche cast their wand and stick it in the new Cayenne next year.
xxxx 4 May 2016

all about the money

Cobnapint wrote:

Wait until Porsche cast their wand and stick it in the new Cayenne next year.

then stick £50,000 onto the price ticket

jamesf1 4 May 2016

I should hate this

1. Its diesel
2. Its an SUV
3. Its an Audi

But I want one. Just found the the family wagon in my lottery win garage.