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Audi SQ8 e-tron 2024 review – 2.7 tons of hot electric SUV

The triple-motor SQ8 e-tron represents the pinnacle of Audi's electric SUVs, but it's the one that makes the least sense

Evo rating
Price
from £99,010
  • Smooth, progressive powertrain mapping; chassis responds keenly for its size
  • Extra performance isn't worth huge efficiency hit

The Audi Q8 e-tron doesn’t really look like a Q8 at all. That's because it has very little to do with the combustion-engined Range Rover Sport rival; rather, what you’re looking at is an updated version of Audi’s first electric SUV from 2019, which used to be known as the e-tron but has now taken the Q8 badge. It doesn’t make much sense to us either…

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Tested here in flagship SQ8 form, the new car does at least get a comprehensive set of upgrades to warrant the new, slightly confusing name. Most significant of these is a bigger (read: enormous) 106kWh battery pack, improved powertrain efficiency and a slipperier design to eke out more range. The SQ8 can supposedly achieve 269 miles, and driving gently in Efficiency mode with the climate control off, our energy consumption wouldn’t go beyond a disappointing 2.4 miles/kWh. That equates to 254 miles from a charge – not pretty next to the BMW iX xDrive50’s official 383-mile figure. 

Of course, Audi will point you towards the standard Q8 e-tron (up to 343 miles) if that range worries you. The SQ8 is, they say, designed to deliver on performance and dynamics rather than efficiency. To that end it uses three electric motors – one at the front and one at each rear wheel – to generate 496bhp and 717lb ft of torque, good for a 0-62mph time of 4.5sec and a 130mph top speed. 

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Those aren’t headline-grabbing numbers in a world of Teslas and 939bhp Porsche Taycans, but we don’t mind that. A progressive throttle map – not dissimilar to the response from a torque converter gearbox – means that the SQ8 delivers its performance in a measured stream rather than a sudden hit, and it feels much better for it. The e-tron feels about as quick as the V8-engined SQ8 and since the acceleration builds more naturally than in most fast EVs, it’s easier to settle into a rhythm with it. 

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Switching the dampers to the Comfort mode helps the SQ8 work with bumpier roads, sacrificing some control without heaving around excessively on its air springs. The BMW iX remains the benchmark in this class for ride comfort, but the SQ8 still isolates poor surfaces well and its tauter, keener feel is useful when the road demands it. 

No 2725kg electric SUV (yes, you read that correctly) is likely to be genuinely engaging and balletic to drive, but the SQ8 feels competent, secure and even mildly athletic for its size and weight. The steering rack is relatively quick but it doesn’t feel out of step with the car’s responses, and the SQ8 pivots into corners with a decent sense of agility. Get greedy with your entry speed and the mass does pull the front tyres wide, but be patient, spot your exit and the SQ8 sits down and pulls hard out of corners. The two rear motors allow for precise torque distribution at each wheel which does provide more positive rotation out of corners, but the calibration is geared towards neutrality and efficiency rather than outright fun.

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In fact, the whole car is. The SQ8 never feels anything other than straight-laced and sensible, and while it does do a good job of managing the immense forces being put through the tyres, there isn’t much sensory pleasure in exploring what it can do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it’s generally relaxing and easy to drive in normal circumstances. The e-tron feels slightly more composed over rough surfaces than the petrol SQ8 and the light (in Comfort mode), direct steering makes it easy to position on the road. The only snag is the brake feel – initial response is positive underfoot, but it occasionally feels like the strong regen effect continues even after you’ve come fully off the pedal. 

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The cabin is the usual crisp, slightly clinical Audi affair, but the build quality is up there with the best – the shutlines are tight, the switchgear is wonderfully tactile and the pressure-based haptic touchscreen controls are easy to use. The eccentric detailing and flair you’ll find in an iX is missing, but some won’t mind that. What will bother you are the digital door mirrors, which require constant refocusing of your eyes and don’t allow you to see more of your surroundings by moving your head. Thankfully, they’re optional.

Price and rivals

To drive, the SQ8 e-tron is a perfectly competent – perhaps slightly overachieving – electric SUV, but there’s no getting around the fact that the efficiency trade-off in pursuit of performance doesn't quite add up, particularly for what is a £99,010 SUV intended for family use. Our money would go towards the BMW iX xDrive50 at this price point, which errs more on the side of luxury while offering similar performance and around 40 per cent more range than the Audi. 

After a recent mid-life update, Jaguar’s I-Pace continues to be a compelling option in this segment, and feels closer to a lower, leaner saloon car in its driving dynamics. Despite launching way back in 2018 its electric powertrain is still on the money too, offering 395bhp, a 4.8sec 0-62 time and up to 285 miles of range for £69,995. Even the top-spec R-Dynamic HSE Black version costs nearly £20k less than the Audi…

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