Audi SQ7 review: the SUV with LaFerrari torque

Audi’s made an S version of the Q7?

Yep. The Audi SQ7 represents the first time one of the carmaker’s performance brands have had a crack at its biggest SUV. It was clearly an inevitability, given the swarms of these things out there – Range Rover SVR, Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes GLS63 AMG among them – though Audi’s is different, because it’s a diesel.

The power on offer is quite staggering. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 offers up 435bhp and 664lb ft, enough to drag the SQ7’s 2.3 tonnes to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds. Unbelievably, that doesn’t even make it the fastest or most powerful seven-seater on sale, but it gets damn close. Arguably, closer than is relevant for a car so large.

Prices start at just over £70,000, though sneeze while filling out the order form, and you’ll pass £90,000.

That’s a lot of money.

Yes, but it’s a lot of car. And it feels incredibly opulent inside. All Audis, A1 upwards, tend to feel a cut above their rivals, and the SQ7 is just magnificent inside. Enough to brush aside any SUV prejudices you may have, as you coo over the Virtual Cockpit dials and feel all the wonderful materials.

There’s also ample space for three adults in the second row of seats, and more room behind the two seats in the third row than a number of rivals. It’s a practical bus, this.

Does it drive like one?

It really doesn’t. And there’s an awful lot of technology to thank for that. We’ll start with the engine, which you’ll also find in the diesel version of the Bentley Bentayga. It has two turbos, and the first spins up electronically in an attempt to avoid turbo lag. The SQ7’s maximum torque – which matches a LaFerrari’s, by the way – is available from a paltry 1,000rpm.

Once it arrives, you and your 2.3-tonne car career down the road at a mildly dizzying pace. But unless you’ve got the engine in Dynamic mode (found via Audi’s usual Drive Select buttons), it’s all very hushed and refined, too. With the engine in its sportiest setting, though, the noise murmering through the cabin is entirely that of a V8 petrol. How to make diesel luxurious…

There is a small sensation of lag if you try to deploy full attack mode in the car’s lower gears, such as projecting yourself out of a roundabout. But that’s as much to do with the (otherwise brilliant) eight-speed automatic gearbox, as it works out which gear is best, than anything else. The SQ7 is at its most impressive – and spectacularly swift – when your throttle inputs are subtler, keeping the engine in its mid-range.

It must handle like a big, heavy car, though…

Not really. Again, technology is the answer. On the options list is something called the ‘Driving Dynamics Sports Pack’, which comprises a differential for the rear axle, four-wheel steering, and some clever active anti-roll bars that adjust themselves to keep the car taut in corners, and relaxed on straights.

Okay, at £5,700, it’s a pricey box to tick. But it helps this ride better than any fast Audi we can recall on bumpy British roads, while also turning the SQ7 into something resembling a high-rise hot hatch.

It never fully shrugs off its weight, and the initial turn of steering certainly gives a hint of how much physics needs to be conquered. But conquer it the SQ7 does. Understeer doesn’t arrive when you expect it, the car clinging on gamely and even giving you a hint of its rear axle driving you through a corner.

It’s a bit like driving an overweight VW Golf R: a car with uncommonly quick point-to-point pace in manky conditions, but with surprising agility burbling away beneath its all-weather prowess. Ultimately, a Range Rover Sport SVR or fast Porsche Macan or Cayenne is the more entertaining fast SUV, but the Audi doesn’t lag behind as far as we expected.  

Will anyone drive a Q7 like a hot hatch?

Well, that’s rather a pertinent point. Probably not. But with the SQ7’s limits so high, it’s an effortless thing to drive at more relevant speeds. Pare its components back to Comfort via Drive Select, and it’s as cocooning as anything the sensible side of a Rolls-Royce.

The Q7 remains a large car, though. And while it might not feel it, it’s a whisker short of two metres wide, so urban driving or particularly tight country lanes might shatter the aura of calm inside as you attempt to thread it through a couple of parked cars or past an oncoming tractor.

But that is true of most uber-SUVs, not least that Bentayga. Which, at £135,800, is considerably more than the SQ7 with which it shares its Top Trumps stats (save for the Brit’s unlimited 168mph top speed, to the German’s governed 155mph). Put like that, the Audi’s price tag doesn’t look quite as stocky.