Audi SQ7 vs. SQ8 twin test: what sets the flagship SUVs apart?
The Week Portfolio reviews the German carmaker’s latest sporty crossovers
The term “SUV”, or sport utility vehicle, no longer applies to just one type of car. Wonder into a showroom today asking for a brand’s SUV and you’ll be shown everything from high-riding city cars to gigantic off-roaders.
One of the fastest growing areas in the market, in terms of the number of models on offer, is the performance SUV space. Here you’ll find the V8-engined Range Rover SVR, BMW’s track-honed X5M and the supercar-inspired Lamborghini Urus.
Now Audi is joining the party. Its flagship Q8 model, which launched last year, is now available in sporty SQ8 form (pictured top), bringing with it a more powerful diesel engine and edgier looks. It’s based on the same platform as the Urus and the Porsche Cayenne, meaning it should be as fun to drive as its looks suggest.
The German carmaker has also recently released a refreshed version of its Q7-based SQ7 (above), which is essentially a more practical version of the SQ8. It may look drastically different to the aggressive-looking SQ8, but both models share the same underpinnings, engine and interior layout.
To see how the two compare in the real world, we put the SQ7 and SQ8 to the test on Britain’s notoriously rough roads.
Interior and practicality
You’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between the SQ7 and the SQ8’s cabin.
Both models get the latest version of Audi’s superb MMI infotainment system, which is among the very best in the business. The system is spread over three panels: a digital instrument cluster ahead of the driver, plus a 10.1in infotainment display that sits above an 8.6in panel that contains the climate control system.
As Audi buyers have come to expect, the fit and finish of the cabin in both cars is exceptional. The steering wheel is a particular highlight, as its performance-focused design gives the SUVs a sporty feel from the driver’s seat.
The most significant difference between the two can be found in the back. As the SQ8’s roofline slopes downwards towards the rear, headroom for passengers in the back seats and the boot space are compromised.
Headroom in the back of the SQ8 is adequate for most occupants and there’s plenty of legroom. But its sloping roofline means that its 770-litre boot is 95 litres shy of the SQ7’s luggage space, nor can you utilise a third row of seats to mirror the SQ7’s seven-seat layout.
If practicality is high on your priority list, the SQ7 is the one to go for.
On the road
We were left a little disappointed by the standard Q8 when we drove it on Britain’s bumpy roads last year. While the car’s design and cabin gave the car a sporty edge over the Q7, it wasn’t quite as athletic behind the wheel as its looks suggested.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case with the SQ8. Unlike the Q8, which is available with a range of twin-turbo V6 motors, the SQ8 is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel engine producing 429bhp and an impressive 664lb-ft of torque.
It’s enough to give the SQ8 the sporty driving characteristics that the standard Q8 lacks, while the sheer amount of torque does a good job of hiding the car’s weight. It’s no sports car, and there is a noticeable delay between putting your foot on the accelerator and power delivery, but SQ8 is a welcome step up over the standard car.
The SQ7 is somewhat similar, given that it’s equipped with the same V8 engine and matches the power specs of its sleeker sibling. It feels just as nippy and nimble on B-roads as the SQ8, too, thanks to the torquey motor and light yet responsive steering.
However, the regular Q7 feels just as capable, if a little down on power, as the sporty SQ7 version. While the SQ8 feels as though it was designed with performance in mind, the SQ7 is first and foremost a practical family SUV. It’s a bit more fun behind the wheel, but the Q7 is cheaper, more frugal on fuel and rapid enough to comfortably occupy the right-hand lane on a motorway.
There isn’t a bad model in Audi’s flagship SUV range, so it really comes down to what you want from your crossover.
If sportiness and style are at the top of your list, then the SQ8 is the car to go for. Its V8 engine packs plenty of power and delivers a satisfying burble when you put your foot down. It’s also a comfortable motorway cruiser, so you get the performance of a sports car without the harsh ride.
Naturally, the SQ7 is the more practical option. But the base Q7 isn’t positioned as a sporty model, which the Q8 is, so the SQ7 model seems somewhat unnecessary. The regular Q7 is by no means a slouch and – in top-spec Vorsprung trim – is almost identical to the SQ7 on the inside.
So it’s the SQ8 – not the Q8 – that does a better job at delivering a sporty drive for fans of fast cars. The Q7, meanwhile, is arguably better value for money – in terms of speed and practicality – over its more aggressive SQ7 sibling.
Prices for the SQ7 start at £76,360, while regular Q7 models kick off at £56,360. Our test cars were both the Vorsprung editions, raising the price to £95,060 for the SQ7 and £80,660 on the base Q7.
The SQ8 and Q8, meanwhile, start at £81,740 and £67,010 respectively. Range-topping Vorsprung models start at £104,990 on the SQ8, while the Q8 version costs £87,655.