I’d like to consider myself a real car enthusiast, someone with real passion for driving and the appreciation for more than just straight line speed. Sometimes, though, that self-proclamation can actually lead me astray. Sometimes it can lead me to stubbornly dismiss certain cars before giving them a chance. For example, as a proper car enthusiast, I’m not supposed to like big, fast SUVs because they’re taking away the fast wagons that I love and they’re typically cynical money-making machines for car companies. So you’d think I would hate the Audi SQ7. Except that I don’t. In fact, it’s such a fabulous all-around machine that it actually frustrated my curmudgeonly inner enthusiast, as there was no aspect of the SQ7 for me to complain about.
I recently spent a week with the all-new Audi SQ7, the first-ever SQ7 to ever make its way to the United States. Naturally, I was curious to drive it. How could I not be? Despite it being the antithesis of the sorts of cars that I love, the Audi SQ7 is based on one of the best luxury SUVs in the world but also comes with a stonking 4.0 liter twin-turbocharged V8 that makes 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. Even the biggest curmudgeon of all curmudgeons at least wants to try something like that.
And so I did. Audi was delightful enough to drop one off at my doorstep, wearing a handsome, if a bit boring, Daytona Gray Pearl finish. It might not be the flashiest of SUVs but it’s sleek, sophisticated, and premium looking. The new facelifted touches; new headlights, grille, and taillights; work well and give the Audi SQ7 a more modern, aggressive look than before. After initially seeing the Q7 facelift, I thought it was actually a bit of a downgrade from the already great looking pre-facelift car. However, after living with the SQ7 for a week, I can safely say the new looks have sold me.
The Audi SQ7 is a looker, there are no two ways about it. Every angle is just dripping with sleek, understated style. Especially with the air suspension set to its lowest setting, where it looks mean sitting on its massive 21″ wheels.
Inside, it’s pretty standard Q7, to be honest, but that’s not a bad thing. Being a facelifted car, it gets the new touchscreen MMI system and the touchscreen climate controls. The former is great, the latter not so much, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews. The new Virtual Cockpit, with its updated sporty graphics, is as brilliant as ever and one of the very best systems in the bizz.
My test car wore an Arras Red interior and it was absolutely wonderful. Its bright red seats were the perfect accent to its bland-ish gray exterior paint. Great to sit in, too. Audi’s interior team has done an outstanding job of padding seats; they’re the perfect blend of comfort and support. Back seats were nice, too, with more than enough space to easily install a car seat.
But you didn’t click on an SQ7 review to read about its red seats and car seat capabilities. Instead you want to know if the Audi SQ7 — a massive, three-row SUV — is a proper performance machine. Thankfully, I’m happy to report that it absolutely rips.
Under the hood lies the aforementioned 4.0 liter twin-turbo V8 with its aforementioned power figures. It’s paired up with an eight-speed ZF automatic and Quattro all-wheel drive, you know the drill. However, the powertrain is more than the sum of its parts. Audi has done a remarkable job tuning powertrains in its performance SUVs. In fact, I recently drove the BMW X5 M Competition, which is more powerful, faster, and more expensive and the SQ7 was actually more enjoyable to drive. More importantly, it had more character.
I’m sure there’s some speaker trickery happening in the cabin to make the SQ7’s V8 sound so damn good but I don’t care in the slightest. Every prod of my right foot shoved me back into the seat and was accompanied by a muted but absolutely present burble. It’s an interesting sound, too. Its tone is more American muscle car than German performance machine but, in a car like the SQ7 — a giant bruiser — that’s actually kind of a good thing.
One thing to note, if Audi is deploying some sort of speaker trickery to make the engine/exhaust note sound so good inside the cabin, it’s done so cleverly because it sounds like it’s coming from the back of the car. Maybe Audi only uses the rear speakers to pipe in the engine sound but it absolutely sounds like exhaust noise and not just generic ambient engine noise, a la BMW.
That soundtrack is also met with shockingly sharp throttle response. You’d expect a massive SUV to have a bit of a gluey throttle, so as to not upset the several interior passengers it’s likely to be hauling. However, the Audi SQ7 has no such glue in the throttle pedal and its big, burly V8 is as responsive as you could ever want.
Because of that throttle response, excellent noise, and kick-you-in-the-back performance, the Audi SQ7 develops a wonderful sense of character, something not often seen in performance SUVs. It’s not trying to be some Nurburgring record-holder but instead it’s trying to be a comfortable luxury SUV that’s also stonking quick. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to drive because it actually is. Shockingly.
Steering is good, with the perfect weight for a luxury car of its size. Of course, it’s as numb as a Logitech wheel but that’s par for the course for any luxury SUV, performance or otherwise. What helps, though, is its sense of weight buildup as you add steering lock, which not only allows you to judge what the front wheels are doing but also gives you a nice sense of straight-ahead. The X5 M Competition is the only other performance SUV I’ve driven recently enough for me to remember it and I can definitively say that I preferred the SQ7’s steering.
Admittedly, there’s a bit too much body roll to really push it hard, even in its Dynamic setting and lowest air suspension setting, but it’s great at about six or seven tenths. More importantly, it’s comfortable. Despite riding on massive wheels and relatively low-profile tires, the SQ7 rides beautifully, even over New Jersey’s worst pavement. It might not be as athletic as an RS Q8 or an X5 M Competition but its ride/handling balance is better because it’s more comfortable in normal situations, which will be 98-percent of what the car actually sees.
I hate to admit it but the Audi SQ7 actually won me over. I bemoan performance SUVs like an old man in the ’60s, complaining about all the damn kids and their rock and roll devil music. But the SQ7 charmed me far more than I thought it would and I grew to really appreciate it during our week together. My test car wore a sticker price that just crested $100,000, which is more than I’d spend on any SUV. Additionally, performance SUVs just aren’t my cup of tea in general, so I’m absolute not it’s target audience. I’d prefer to spend that money on a standard Q7 and a second-hand Porsche Cayman with a manual. However, as a do-it-all family machine for the proper car enthusiast, I couldn’t blame anyone for buying one.