From £70,8358
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.


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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.

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%

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3 May 2016
Electrochargers seems reasonable but it may have been registered already. How about electrocompressors? Anything but electric turbos. It isn't technical pedantry, by the way; it's a desire for accuracy, clarity and for a lack of ambiguity.

3 May 2016
If only they'd have given it a sub standard 4 pot diesel, a few cheap plastics inside, a Jag badge on the front, and let you drive it in Montenegro, then perhaps it would have got 4.5 stars, or maybe 5. Instead of mucking about with all this ground breaking 48 volt turbo rubbish that gives you smooth, refined, sub 5 secs to 60, brilliant sounding, responsive performance. Along with it's smooth ride, spacious high quality interior, undoubted reliability, accurate steering and fine body control.
I give in with them, I really do.

3 May 2016
I think more an electric supercharger.

4 May 2016
Or if it had a Blue Oval badge, this would be just the ticket.

3 May 2016
SUV with only slightly more power than a 4 cylinder 2 litre petrol hybrid XC90, but less economical and dirtier, it obviously makes sense to someone, but I cant understand why, who wants a massive diesel these days, they are going to be banned in most major cities in the very near future.

4 May 2016
Banning diesels ? What a stupid idea, much better to fit them with the emissions equipment to clean them up thats existed for over 10 years and then go after the stupid people that didnt bother to insist said emissions equipment wasnt mandated 10 years ago.

4 May 2016
Whatever it is, it obviously has no turbine, so cannot be a "turbo" of any kind.

4 May 2016
If Land Rover was coming out with this tech in their battleships, be it the RR or RRS, the English auto-scribes would have to wash out their underwear multiple times in overwhelming joy. NO, it is not a sports car, it is heavy metal with more than adequate horsepower. Do we need it in our day to day traffic jams.... no, but we are all the better for it. I envy those well enough off to be able to indulge... If I wanted a sports car then its off to the GT4.

4 May 2016
It is £17,000 less than the Range Rover Sport. So much for "silly price" for this performance.

4 May 2016
Who says the Germans don't have a sense of humour? What a gloriously mad and unnecessary machine, I'm glad they made it.


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