Audi SQ8 TFSI 2021 review – a teutonic Cayenne Coupe alternative?

Audi has replaced the SQ8’s V8 diesel with the familiar V8 petrol in 500bhp form. It’s arguably a better car for it, but one that now operates without any real USP

Evo rating
  • Impregnable solidity; V8 delightfully evil sounding
  • Feels ham-fisted to drive; brakes need more power

Audi launched its SQ8 in Europe in 2018 with a high-performance twin-turbo V8 diesel engine – an unusual choice. But as of 2021, Audi has decided to ditch the diesel and instead replace it with a petrol V8, for reasons we can only assume will have been driven by the words ‘emissions’ and ‘regulations’.

So while our opinion of diesel has always been on the skeptical side, the reality of trying to thread another petrol-powered variant between the RSQ8 above it and standard petrol TFSI Q8 below is a task that inevitably sees some overlap in specs and, crucially, prices. But has Audi found an ideal compromise in the process?

Engine, transmission and 0-60 time

The SQ8’s 3996cc petrol V8 is the same unit found across the VAG’s premium and luxury brands, featuring in everything from a Bentley Continental GT to the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Panamera. Inherently, the V8 engine has all the usual tech inclusions such as variable timing for both exhaust and intake valves, cylinder deactivation, two twin-scroll turbochargers placed within the engine’s ‘V’, and active engine mounts.

Due to some shrewd moderation the SQ8’s 500bhp output is 92bhp (or a perfect 100 metric horsepower) less than the RSQ8’s, but produced 500rpm lower down in the rev band. More tellingly, the SQ8’s 568lb ft of torque puts it even closer to its RS sibling, being only 22lb ft down, reaching its peak again slightly lower down in the rev range at 2000rpm, and holding steady until 5000rpm. As such, the SQ8’s 0-62mph time is only 0.3sec down on that of its RS sibling at 4.1sec, and will go on to the same 155mph top speed.

Power is sent to an eight-speed automatic transmission, then split to all four wheels via a centre differential. Top-spec Vorsprung models further augment drive with the use of a torque-vectoring rear differential, which is able to overdrive power to each individual wheel aiding turn-in, or lock to improve traction in slippery conditions.

Technical highlights

All SQ8s ride on the same combination of air springs and adaptive dampers, but Vorsprung models go one step further with the application of an active anti-roll system. This works by keeping the roll bars decoupled in level driving, then twisting them in opposite directions to counteract lateral body movement.

Rear-wheel steering is also standard across the range, while 400mm front and 350mm rear cast iron brake discs are the only brake package available – Audi’s huge 440mm carbon-ceramic options are reserved for the RSQ8. All UK cars also come with 22-inch wheels wrapped in Continental SportContact 6 SUV rubber.

With so much hardware on board it’s not surprising to see a 2245kg kerb weight, which certainly sits it at the heavier end of the class. But, in contrast to the sleek SUV class norm of a sloping roofline, the Q8’s slightly boxier aesthetic does yield good interior space, not to mention a far more resolved design than the BMW X6 or GLE Coupe.

What’s it like to drive?

The SQ8 immediately feels solid, superbly built, with excellent materials inside and a real heft both visually and in its tactility. There’s a finessed consistency to the weight of all the controls – the steering, throttle pedal, even the action of the gear selector, they all feel curated and considered.

Yet the SQ8 doesn’t have the ability to shed its weight to reveal a deftly engineered chassis underneath. Instead its heft only becomes more cumbersome and distracting the faster you drive. While the steering is well weighted there’s not much feel, and accuracy across the steering rack is compromised by the augmenting effects of the rear-wheel steering. It might help low-speed manoeuvring, but at the same time chips away at your confidence at speed – an important factor when driving something with so much mass down a challenging road.

Compounding this on Vorsprung models is the active anti-roll system, which does its job of keeping the body level, but then takes away another layer of feel from the chassis. The effect is not one of subtlety or finesse, rather the SQ8 feels like it’s steamrollering its way down the road, with the wheels and tyres bearing the brunt of any bumps or intrusions.

The brakes also feel slightly underbaked for something with a kerb weight the wrong side of 2.2 tons, as while initial stopping power is strong enough, unless you’re braking in a dead-straight line the mass can get on top of the body control – active anti-roll bars or not. 

Keep to smoother tarmac, lower the pace and the SQ8 finds a much more comfortable flow with British roads, which is also when the excellent V8 engine begins to take precedence in the driving experience, burbling away with a deep resonance that’s subtle, but hugely satisfying. When stretched, the SQ8 doesn’t actually feel particularly fast, but with the ability to stay on the throttle for longer periods of time without seeing triple figures pop up on the virtual cockpit, it does give you more access to the V8’s enticing character.

But with the loss of the previous SQ8’s diesel engine, and the extra touring ability its 10mpg improvement gave it, the new petrol-powered SQ8 loses its distinction from the only marginally more expensive but ultimately more capable RSQ8.

Price and rivals

SQ8 pricing kicks off at £84,560, and includes a big list of standard equipment highlighted by heated and electrically operated sports seats with a high-quality leather trim, Audi’s virtual cockpit and MMI Touch twin-screen set-up, Matrix LED headlights, a rear camera and power tailgate. The £88,455 Black Edition adds only subtle upgrades comprising a different wheel option, blacked-out exterior trim, four-zone climate control and gloss oak inlays in the cabin.

But step up to the Vorsprung model and you’re in for nearly £20k more at £107,060, adding everything from the SQ8’s technical arsenal such as the active anti-roll bars and sports rear differential to a panoramic roof, carbonfibre inlays, ventilated seats, a Bang & Olufsen sound system... the list goes on.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all have their interpretations of the coupe SUV somewhere, with only the Merc having moved downwards to a six-cylinder in its GLE53 Coupe. BMW’s X6 M50i is aligned in price at just over £81k, but comes with more standard kit and a more potent 523bhp twin-turbo V8. Porsche’s Cayenne GTS (£88,340) has less power, but is the most resolved to drive of the four.

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