Audi SQ7 TDI (2016-2020) review – ride and handling
Audi’s biggest S model digs deep into its technical arsenal to create a talented, if somewhat joyless SUV, but then aren’t they all?
The engine isn’t the only part of the SQ7 that’s stuffed with new technology, as the chassis is similarly high-tech. The SQ7 can be equipped with Audi’s sport rear differential, rear-wheel steering and an electromechanically supplemented anti-roll bar.
The sport differential works in the same way as the ones we’re familiar with in some other performance Audis, but it’s the first time it’s appeared in a Q7. Audi’s sport diff is similar to a conventional limited-slip diff. But, rather than torque input dictating the amount of lock the clutches generate, a computer decides. This means that it can distribute torque across the rear axle to increase agility. To add to this nimbleness, the rear wheels can turn by as much as five degrees, too.
Body roll is kept in check by an electric motor and gear set embedded in the centre of each of the anti-roll bars. The motor can deploy up to 885lb ft of torque to stiffen up the ARB further and reduce body roll. With the motor relaxed, it creates a more comfortable ride. Both the front and rear ARB are equipped with this electromechanical device, and so the SQ7’s balance can be altered instantly depending on which driving mode the car is in and how it’s being driven.
All of this technology to aid the chassis and enhance the engine means that Audi has had to fit an extra 48V electrical subsystem to the SQ7. The anti-roll bars and electric engine compressor require so much power that to supply them an ordinary 12V system would require thick, heavy cables. Instead, an entirely different 48V circuit has been added, including another lithium-ion battery in the boot. This is in addition to an ordinary 12V battery that feeds the headlights, infotainment and other minor accessories.
Just as the innovative engine technology creates a competent and enjoyable powertrain, the sophisticated chassis does the same for the way the SQ7 drives. It feels amazingly agile for its size and set in Dynamic driving mode it responds immediately and faithfully to steering inputs, allowing precise placement on the road. There’s an incredible amount of grip too, so the SQ7 will maintain your desired line and respond well to over-zealous steering inputs.
Once you realise that the SQ7 can be cajoled briskly down a road without any nasty dramas, your confidence grows and a different driving style actually changes how the Audi reacts. Start to trail-brake slightly, treat it more like a grown-up hot hatch, and its dexterity seems to increase even more. What it’s capable of, what it will cope with without becoming flustered and the speeds at which it will corner are truly remarkable for a 2.3-ton car, let alone a high-riding SUV.
With the chassis in Dynamic mode, the ride is good, although Comfort or Auto offer the most comfortable options. In Eco mode there’s slightly less engine vibration transmitted into the cabin, but the big Audi always feels refined.
The top-of-the-range SQ7, the Vorsrpung Edition, comes on huge 22-inch wheels. And, although there are no other mechanical changes, the big rims badly affect the way the SQ7 drives. The ride, which is pleasant with the standard 21-inch wheels, becomes harsh, and over rough tarmac it thinks it’s struggling to find traction. With traction control left on, the ESP light flashes when you put your foot down on craggy roads (like many found in the UK) and the acceleration is muted. Turn off the driver assistance systems as much as possible (they can’t be fully switched off) and the car finds grip and it pulls with the same serious determination as it does on smooth roads or with smaller wheels.
As good and as competent as the SQ7 is when equipped with all that technology and the smaller wheels, you never feel genuinely involved when driving it. You can marvel in its abilities, but you, the driver, never feel as though you have contributed to its agility.
The SQ7 is undoubtedly impressive. It goes well, it’s remarkably nimble, it has exceptional grip and its engine is incredibly effective for the role it’s designed to do. But, at its very best, it isn’t exciting.