Audi’s suave SQ8 swaps in a slightly detuned version of the RSQ8’s petrol V8 for 2023, making it an even more desirable velvet dagger
While there was a certain have-your-cake, eat-it-too opulence to the old diesel-powered Audi SQ8 and SQ7, the necessary decision to swap to a petrol V8 engine after the diesel bent-eight was discontinued ultimately makes this sports SUV a better car.
Last year’s SQ8, with its 4.0-litre diesel engine, was an oddity of the car industry: there are simply very few V8 diesels left. That’s a shame. But the Volkswagen Group’s alternative executive-grade motor – the 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 now under the SQ8’s bonnet – is an absolute pearler.
For starters, it sounds lush. Fire the SQ8’s ignition via starter button and the genuine quad exhausts reward you with a naughty little crackle – and on the run, their smooth and bassy note is addictive – but it’s a mature, cultivated note, rather than a childish, loutish one.
The petrol V8 somehow even manages to address the elephant in the room: critics expecting sky-high fuel consumption will be disappointed to learn that in our testing, the petrol SQ8 used just 10L/100km on the highway. We couldn’t get it higher than 15L/100km even in very spirited testing – not bad for 373kW.
In Audi’s range, the Q8 is positioned as the brand’s flagship large SUV and a more suave, five-seat alternative to the three-row Q7. Alongside the updated SQ8, there’s also a new SQ7 which shares the petrol V8, but its seven seat packaging ultimately makes it a fast family car. The SQ8 is still large – but it feels more intimate.
Audi sells a plethora of practical performance cars in Australia – it’s kind of Audi Sport’s whole jam, in fact. But is the $183K-driveaway SQ8 the pick? Or should you park your money in one of the brand’s other impressive offers, from the diesel-six SQ5 TDI ($121K) to the ultimate dad-car – the $247K RS6 wagon?
The SQ8 reminds you of its new gasoline-fed nature every time you start the car, thanks to a distinct overrun-driven crackle each time the ignition is fired. It’s not so loud as to be antisocial – just enough to make you recall the muscularity on tap.
And it is a muscular thing: the 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 makes 373kW of power at 5500rpm, and 770Nm of torque in a wave between 2000-4000rpm. The old diesel was torquier (by 16 percent, or 130Nm), but the petrol engine is 16 percent more powerful…
It’s quicker, too: at our test track, the SQ8 put down a 4.14 second 0-100km/h acceleration time. When jumping on the red-callipered brakes, the SQ8 TFSI – which is some 130kg lighter than the pre-facelift diesel – was capable of stopping from 100km/h in an impressively short 34.7 metres, second only to the BMW X5 among large SUVs we’ve tested for braking.
Ultimately, it’s the slickness of the petrol engine’s linear, girthy torque delivery that makes it trump the previous diesel – plus the surprisingly decent fuel economy.
The absence of lag, its accompaniment by a terrific soundtrack and the perfection of the partnership with the SQ8’s eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission make this a delightful pairing: the kind of powertrain we’ll miss in the electric era.
The SQ8’s also one of those fast cars that is happy enough to be driven slow. Its height does mask speed, so you need to watch your instruments in town, but pottering around urban areas is fine in the Audi – it is far from highly strung. But given the space to wind the engine out, it’s highly rewarding.
And it’s usable, too – maneouvrable enough in the ‘burbs but then uncannily capable in the bends … if eqiupped with the $10,900 dynamic package that I consider a mandatory take with the big Audi. My colleague Tom Place felt the same way when he road-tested the new SQ7 recently.
This package unlocks a new plane of handling ability in both the SQ7 and SQ8 by adding highly effective anti-roll bars actuated by the Audi’s 48-volt electrical architecture. Sensor inputs from the steering, chassis and adaptive air suspension inform the anti-roll bars and, simply put, they immediately stabilise the car in the bends.
What this means in reality is flat, controlled, laugh-out-loud handling ability from this 2480kg large SUV, which feels more like a sporty midsize station wagon than the wide-set crossover it is when you’re pushing on.
Sure, tyres are likely to be worn more quickly if you plan to push on like this regularly – but if you can’t afford to replace the boots semi-regularly, a $168K, 373kW sports SUV may not be the right vehicle for you.
Go find a little mountain pass or hilly road and the SQ8 – or its SQ7 sibling – plasters a smile on your face. There are few SUVs that can do this – and fewer still that can also relax and fade into the background when you just want to cruise, or run errands.
But that’s a trick that Audi Sport models pull so regularly. The SQ7’s proper Jekyll/Hyde persona is its best feature: it’s happy to frugally cruise on the highway, supple and quiet in comfort suspension, or tear up and down your favourite road, quad-pipes singing away as you go. We like that.
That said, making a two-tonner do all this isn’t done imperceptibly, and you do feel the inertia – and the width. The wide body and very wide track give the car impeccable stability – but keen drivers that are happy to drive a low-riding car (i.e., not an SUV) will get more out of a six-cylinder Audi S4 ($119K) or RS4 Avant ($171K).
Like many of Audi’s SUVs, the SQ8 rides on standard adaptively-damped air suspension. The system works impeccably well much of the time, providing a level ride and impressive bump absorption. However, we’d probably skip our test car’s $1000 22-inch wheel upgrade in favour of the still big, still cool, but slightly more absorbent standard 21s.
Safety tech is plentiful on the SQ8. It was the first Audi to introduce electric door actuators that momentarily delay opening if a passing car, cyclist or pedestrian is detected—this works smoothly. AEB is standard, as is well-tuned adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, though we noticed the lane centring wasn’t as strong as on some rivals.
When it was released in Australia in 2018, the Audi Q8 became the brand’s first model to debut Ingolstadt’s new interior design language that has since propagated to most lines in the range.
This theme persists for the SQ8’s mid-life facelift, based around twin-stacked touchscreens powered by Audi’s proprietary, and very powerful, graphical hardware that delivers a slick, quick user experience. Nothing in the back-end is shared with the Volkswagen Touareg that also sits on this platform.
We still slightly prefer the old days when Audis had intuitive rotary dials to control the infotainment – making them easier to use on bumpy back roads – but the modern MMI software is easy to use and navigation is based around big tappable buttons.
Many buyers will simply prefer to use their own smartphone, and a wireless Apple CarPlay connection is rapidly achieved and was reliable and consistent in our time with the car.
The SQ8 comes with a crisp Bang and Olufsen premium stereo as standard. It does take some tinkering with the EQ and surround-sound settings to get the most out of it, but once we hit the spot, we loved the quality of our music and podcasts.
As expected at this price, high-grade nappa leather is also included, and we liked the tasteful specification of our tester SQ8 that combined a teal-esque galaxy blue paint outside over rotor grey hide inside: even the gloss carbon fibre cabin trim, normally a bugbear of ours, looked great here – though we’d like to see fewer piano-black surfaces inside.
Some luxury features are amiss, though: while the seats are perforated with great heating and cooling functions, they should have massaging at this price – and while the pews are electrically adjusted, the steering wheel oddly is not – meaning two drivers will need to keep adjusting the round tiller each time they swap into the hot seat.
That said, seat comfort is top-notch and we cruised for hours at a time in the SQ8 without fatigue setting in – the seat ventilation keeping us cool and calm as we went with all key controls within ergonomic reach, and our left arm supported by the variable-height centre armrest that contains two USB-C ports, plus a wireless smartphone charger.
Moving to the back seat reveals a generous second row with good legroom, toe room and headroom for adults – even with the SQ8’s large panoramic sunroof. Air vents, map pockets, plush trim and an armrest are all fitted back here – plus individual ashtrays in the doors! The SQ7 offers a three-row solution for families wanting practicality with their pace.
A power tailgate reveals 605 litres of space. While the boot floor is quite high, the total amount of space on offer is better than some coupe-SUVs because the Audi avoids being too sloped in the rear.
As a result, it’s more practical, but also less egg-shaped than the Mercedes-AMG GLE53 coupe—a visual trait that is an acquired taste.
Amazingly, despite having 22-inch wheels and large brakes, the SQ8 packs a collapsible spare wheel beneath its boot floor, giving some additional confidence in country touring.
While the old diesel V8 had better fuel economy than the new petrol engine – and commensurately longer driving range – we’re impressed with the relative frugality of the SQ8’s engine compared to other big petrols from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Delivering 10L/100km in highway cruising, 13L/100km in sportier backroad driving and 16L/100km in urban areas, this twin-turbo V8 is actually very frugal for an engine of its kind, delivering what we’d normally expect from a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder motor.
Extracting that decent economy from a twin-turbocharged V8 shows you just how efficient the German carmaker has made its combustion engines – just in time to go all-electric.
That’s why we’ve rated the SQ8’s fuel consumption as “good”. It’s all relative.
In Australia, Audi sells all of its vehicles with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
The cheapest way to service a new SQ8 is to purchase an upfront service plan with the vehicle. Scheduled maintenance intervals are 12 months/15,000km, and a five year/75,000km package costs $4180. That’s not cheap, but this is a complicated vehicle with many mechanical components requiring inspection in that time.
The SQ8 is an enticing swan-song for V8-powered sports SUVs from Audi. Butting up against the push to take its range all-electric this decade, the SQ8 delivers turbo-V8 thrills and noise and surprisingly decent fuel economy.
Still, with the price of petrol on a slow but steady rise over time, and with Audi’s portfolio of electric SUVs now taking in the similarly strong, 370kW SQ8 E-tron model, it feels like the V8 SQ8 won’t be with us for many more years.
All the more reason to buy one if this is the kind of car that matches your tastes. The SQ8 TFSI is a big, brawny, planted, practical coupe-SUV that is, to our eyes, considerably more cosmetically attractive than rivals like the AMG GLE53 coupe and BMW X6 M50i.
That said, while the SQ8 seemingly can and will defy physics (at least on brand-new tyres), some discerning buyers will prefer Audi’s low-set and sporty station wagons, which offer similar cargo room and more effortless handling, thanks to their considerably lower centre of gravity.
Variant tested 4.0 TFSI QUATTRO
Key specs (as tested)
About Chasing cars
Chasing Cars reviews are 100% independent.
Because we are powered by Budget Direct Insurance, we don’t receive advertising or sales revenue from car manufacturers.
We’re truly independent – giving you Australia’s best car reviews.
Audi Q8 E-tron 2023: battery upgrade brings 19 percent more range but only 3 percent increase in weight
The estimate provided does not take into account your personal circumstances but is intended to give a general indication of the cost of insurance, in order to obtain a complete quote, please visit www.budgetdirect.com.au. Estimate includes 15%^ online discount.
Budget Direct Insurance arranged by Auto & General Services Pty Ltd ACN 003 617 909(AGS) AFSL 241 411, for and on behalf of the insurer, Auto & General Insurance Company Limited(ABN 42 111 586 353, AFSL 285 571).Because we don’t know your financial needs, we can’t advise you if this insurance will suit you. You should consider your needs and the Product Disclosure Statement before making a decision to buy insurance. Terms and conditions apply.
Indicative quote based on assumptions including postcode , 40 year old male with no offences, licence suspensions or claims in the last 5 years, a NCD Rating 1 and no younger drivers listed. White car, driven up to 10,000kms a year, unfinanced, with no modifications, factory options and/or non-standard accessories, private use only and garaged at night.
^Online Discounts Terms & Conditions
1. Discounts apply to the premium paid for a new Budget Direct Gold Comprehensive Car Insurance, Third Party Property Only or Third Party Property, Fire & Theft Insurance policy initiated online on or after 29 March 2017. Discounts do not apply to optional Roadside Assistance.
2. Discounts do not apply to any renewal offer of insurance.
3. Discounts only apply to the insurance portion of the premium. Discounts are applied before government charges, taxes, levies and fees, including instalment processing fees (as applicable). The full extent of discounts may therefore be impacted.
4. We reserve the right to change the offer without notice.