Hot electric SUV is four years old now. Post-update, is it still worthy of flagship status?

Why we’re running it: To see whether a recent update has kept Audi’s flagship EV at the leading edge

Month 1 - Specs

Life with an Audi SQ8 E-tron: Month 1

Welcoming the SQ8 E-tron to the fleet - 21 February 2024

Audi makes no bones about calling the S08 E-tron its EV flagship, and when you approach it for the first time, everything about its appearance backs that up.

It is big, imposing and very well made, has a magnificent paint job and greets the world with the sort of large and aggressive fizzog (high-tech lights, blacker expanses of grille), that upmarket German cars generally use to advertise their pre-eminence.

Subtle it isn't, which is what 1 remember thinking as I stood and contemplated it as the vehicle for my next few months' motoring. But I had to admit that the raked rear roofline of the Sportback version definitely improves and lightens its lines and reduces its bulk without damaging the rear cabin room.

The accommodation is decent but not outstanding for a 4.9-metre-long, 1.9-metre-wide car. Unlike its younger rivals, the SQ8 E-tron shares its platform with various ICE models, so it has a centre tunnel and provides room for a fuel tank that isn't actually there.

At 2650kg, it's heavy, but that was pretty much inevitable given that it has one of the world's biggest EV batteries (106kWh) strapped to its underside. In that context, a claimed range of 276 miles (which isn't borne out in practice. More on that later) sounds unimpressive.

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If the SQ8 E-tron isn't especially roomy or good at cruising long distances, what is it for? This in essence is what I started wondering on the first day of my acquaintance with the big beast.

Sure, it's quite fast (0-62mph in 4.5sec; governed top speed 130mph), but in the EV world, performance has been democratised. Practically any old Tesla is even faster than this. But then you slip behind the wheel and you start to get the picture...

The SQ8 E-tron is about dynamics, and it starts to alert you to the fact from the first opportunity you have to give it its head. Unlike regular 8 E-trons and the other Audi Quattro EVs, it has a third motor positioned on its rear axle, which provides a level of torque vectoring that they can't provide.

So from the first, at virtually any speed, you notice an alertness and an energy in the way it turns that entirely belies its weight, if not its size. Clever configuration feeds torque instantly to the outside rear wheel in tight or fast corners to enhance the positivity of any energetic manoeuvre.

There's no question of dragging this big car through bends; it's right there with you, doing what you want. The first time I felt this happen, within a half-mile of my collection point, I knew the SQ8 E-tron and I were going to get on, despite my usual preference for lighter and smaller cars.

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Much of the time, this car feels lighter and smaller than it is. The beneficial effects on handling of the torque vectoring, I soon discovered, are supported by wider tracks and fatter tyres fitted only to SQ8s. It all leaves you with an interesting feeling: they want me to give this car the beans...

This positive, accurate quality in the steering advertises many hours of engineering development, and the same goes for the powerful brakes, which integrate their friction and regeneration phases seamlessly.

It all leads you to press on - and pressing on has no penalty in noise: the SQ8 E-tron is very quiet mechanically (although a faint gear whine is sometimes evident around 40-50mph) and the road noise that can sometimes annoy in fat-tyred big Germans really isn't a problem.

There are drawbacks. The ride quality (which I've seen praised to the skies in some quarters) is only about average. Makers of big EVs are still getting to terms with an endemic pitching motion that often occurs in cars that carry very large masses low down between their wheels. The SQ8 E-tron copes better than most, but it's there.

And you will rapidly spot the difference if (as I did) you spend a few days in a V8 petrol SQ8, with all its stabilising nose weight. The EV's primary ride is the issue; the secondary ride is fine. It dismisses ruts and rumbles with an ease that advertises its body rigidity and fine build quality.

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Efficiency is definitely an issue in the SQ8 E-tron, but let's start with the good stuff. Find the right rapid charger and the battery can certainly charge quickly. If you've just stopped for a tickle of power and leave most of your charging for home or office outlets, where it's cheaper, you'll have acquired what you need almost before your regulation coffee is consumed.

The trouble is, on long trips, you will need to charge quite often. So far this winter, I've never seen more than 240 miles on the (accurate) ange predictor, and mostly its 220. That's just not enough for comfort in a luxurious open-road cruiser.

The consumption readout struggles to reach 2mpkWh - my best in 1000 miles so far (yes, more than usual for an opening long-term report) is a gently driven 2.2mpkWh. Rivals do a lot better. You can put it down to exuberant use of a driver's car if you want, but that's not the real reason.

The virtue of high-mileage testing is that you get a chance to experience a car in all modes, and I'm hoping advancing temperatures will take the SQ8 E-tron closer to its official range. It will be with me until the spring, so I'll let you know.

Second Opinion

A few hundred miles at the helm was enough to confirm that this is a car that has been usefully improved in most of the right areas. But come on: an average of 2.1mpkWh is simply not good enough in 2024. My VW ID Buzz is managing 2.7! I’d trade the Goliath drive battery for cleverer efficiency gains in a heartbeat. 

Felix Page

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Audi SQ8 E-tron Sportback Black Edition specification

Specs: Price New £101,380 Price as tested £103,475 Options Ultra Blue metallic paint £795, extended leather £750, acoustic side windows £550 

Test Data: Engine Three electric motors plus 106kWh battery, all-wheel drive Power 509bhp Torque 717lb ft Kerb weight 2,650kg Top speed  0-62mph 4.5sec Claimed Range 276 miles Claimed Efficiency 2.2mpkWh CO2 0g/km Faults None Expenses None

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