2020 Audi SQ8 review

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The Audi SQ8 is the latest premium brand entrant in what has grown into quite a sizeable market of sporting SUVs conceived to place head turning good looks ahead of sheer everyday practicality.

It shares its mechanical package and a lot more besides with the highly convincing SQ7 already on sale in Australia.

In terms of claimed performance and standard features, the new Audi SUV lines up against the latest BMW X6 M50d and upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLE400d Coupe at a price Audi officials suggest will be close to $180,000 when sales of the diesel powered SQ8 get under way here next year.

This is the first time we’ve had a chance to get behind the wheel of what is now Audi’s most expensive SUV model to date following its reveal in a series of official photographs last week. To do so we’ve travelled to some spectacular roads in the south of France – the very roads many of the world’s elite cyclists are set to face during the more arduous stages of this month’s 106th running of the Tour de France.

They’re not exactly perfect for testing a car this size but they’re smooth and ultimately prove free of traffic, which is not always a given during the European summer.

Parked up on the tarmac at the lonely airport of Lourdes, the SQ8 certainly stands out. It’s a bold looking car, especially from front on, where a large – some might say overly exaggerated – single frame grille boasting uniquely styled vertical louvres and a shiny red SQ8 badge instantly sets it apart from lesser Q8 models.

There’s also a reprofiled front bumper with larger and more prominent air ducts, LED headlamps as standard and new aluminium effect exterior mirror caps – all of which adds plenty of added presence to what is already a highly striking exterior design. A newly designed bumper at the rear also stamps it out as more than just your standard Q8. It houses a matt black coloured diffuser element and four chromed oval tailpipes.

The SQ8 rolls on standard 21-inch wheels, which are plenty big enough by most standards. But for added visual effect all the cars at its launch were fitted with optional 22-inch rims running less than forgiving 285/40 profile Continental ContiSport Contact 6 tyres at each corner.Also fitted to our test car were ceramic brake discs – just one of a long list of high price options Audi is set to make available on its latest SUV model in Australia.

While its model designation might suggest otherwise, the SQ8 is actually shorter and lower than its sister car, the SQ7. It is also wider, but only marginally, giving it quite an aggressive hunkered down stance for an SUV. This is further enhanced by its suspension, which uses the same ride height as the sports package offered on the standard Q8.

There are not many SUVs that entice you to drive them simply by the promise inherent in their styling, but the SQ8 is definitely one of them.

As strong as the draw of its styling is, though, it is what lies under the sheet metal that matters most here. Mounted up front beneath the new Audi’s long bonnet is perhaps the most entertaining series production diesel engine in existence right now.

That it is also one of the most potent only helps to add to the driving experience, providing the SQ8 with memorable straight line performance and the sought of boundless flexibility that would clearly make it a great choice for towing big loads.

With mild hybrid properties, including an energy regeneration function that harvests up to 8kW of kinetic electricity under hard braking an a coasting mode that allows the engine to be switched off for up to 40 seconds on a trailing throttle at speeds between 55km/h and 160km/h, made possible through the adoption of a 48-volt electric system, it’s also incredibly frugal given its heady performance potential.

The twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre engine develops 320kW, which is impressive enough in its own right by modern diesel standards.

However, it is the inclusion of an electrically powered compressor, or EPC as Audi’s engineers prefer to label it, that makes the difference. It is used to boost induction until the engine’s two exhaust gas operated turbochargers begin to spool up themselves in a process aimed at maximising throttle response at the lower end of the rev counter.