Remember the Steppenwolf quattro concept shows in Paris in 2002? Or the Pikes Peak quattro concept show at Detroit in 2003? Blame/thank them for the successful birth of the Q-badged SUV dynasty Audi has created. Audi launched its luxury Q8 flagship SUV in 2018, to take the battle to the Range Rover’s door step and exploit the world’s never-ending hunger for niches within niches as far as the planet of SUVs goes. A four-door five-seater with coupe styling, the standard Q8 looks like a powerful beast, and offers 340 horsepower in its most potent form. But now there’s this, the SQ8, which packs a larger punch, if such was needed, and looks like an extra from Star Wars when decked out exclusively in black. If it’s kerbside attitude you’re after, look no further. And if it’s that plus more space, the SQ7 is also now on sale, with space for seven combined with the same powertrain.
The SQ8 comes in standard trim or Vorsprung specification, which is the highest Audi trim level. It has snazzy LED matrix headlights, adaptive air suspension, parking sensors, digital dials behind the steering wheel and two large touchscreens with Audi’s latest infotainment operating system. Note however that almost everything is controlled via graphics on the screen, rather than traditional buttons, which many drivers still prefer. You can specify a 360-degree parking camera.
The Vorsprung trim level gets carbon-fibre and alcantara surfaces, all-wheel steering, a sports differential and active roll stabilsation.
This is the reason you’d spend the extra money on the SQ8 instead of the Q8: hello twin-turbo V8 engine. It’s a diesel, with 435PS (429bhp) and 900Nm (667lb ft) of torque resulting in 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds. The car has VW Group’s 48v circuitry, shared with Bentley’s Bentayga and Flying Spur. As a result, this tall SUV has almost zero lateral roll, or rather, an opposing system that counters it. Some are wowed by the feeling of cornering flat at speed in an SUV; others find the sensation off-putting. The system also supports an electric compressor that eliminates most of the turbo lag, giving this heavy car almost instant acceleration.
The driving experience is exactly as you’d expect: quiet, refined, comfortable and smooth. It feels fast on the overtake initially, and puts down the power more quickly than you’d expect thanks to that compressor, but then you remember it’s an SUV and if you want to drive it like a sports car you’ll simply burn through fuel frighteningly quickly.
There’s an immense feeling of satisfaction, however, sitting high up, surrounded by mod cons, acres of space and glass touchscreens.
The SQ8 is as Audi as Audi gets: accomplished performance and handling, neatly delivered in a subtle package. The black paintwork, body shaping and red LED taillights is as lairy as Audi gets, and we love it for that. Passion is not quite the right word, but you’ll see a certain smugness on the faces of Audi SQ8 drivers, who know they’ve paid a lot of money for a rare machine that mixes V8 power with space, comfort and high levels of traction. It’s a car you’ll be pleased you pushed the budget for.