11/6/20 UPDATE: This review has been updated with test results.
If you know where to look, you can find some great unadvertised deals on luxury and performance vehicles hidden within Volkswagen Group’s vast empire. Want nearly $5000 knocked off the price of an Audi A3? Buy a Volkswagen Golf GTI. The $154,350 Porsche Panamera Turbo does a passable imitation of the $207,825 Bentley Continental GT. And the new $89,995 Audi SQ8 SUV is a sort-of bargain Lamborghini Urus. Equal parts offensive firepower and rolling bunker, Audi’s new war wagon provides 90 percent of the experience of the wild Lambo at a discount of more than $100,000.
Both posh performance SUVs are powered by twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8s, built on Volkswagen’s MLB Evo architecture, and armed with enough high-tech chassis hardware to make a school bus turn a credible Nürburgring lap. Pedants will point out that the upcoming 591-hp Audi RS Q8 gets you even closer to running with Lambo’s 641-hp bull, albeit for another $24,000. We say check your ego and pocket the change. The SQ8’s 500 horsepower and 3.6-second assault on 60 mph will outrun almost anything you’ll line up against leaving the CrossFit parking lot—unless you happen upon a Urus. The Lambo has the Audi by 0.5 second to 60 mph and 0.9 second through the quarter-mile run, which the SQ8 covers in 12.2 seconds at 112 mph.
The SQ8’s chassis is fortified with standard air springs, adaptive dampers, and rear-wheel steering. If you splurge on the $5900 Sport package that’s only available on the uplevel $95,495 Prestige trim (and you probably should), Audi also includes active anti-roll bars and a torque-vectoring rear differential. All that electric, hydraulic, pneumatic, and mechanical wizardry is handling black magic. The electric motors in the middles of the anti-roll bars hold the body flat in corners. By splitting the torque distribution between the right and left rear wheels unevenly, the trick diff can make this 5469-pound ute turn in like a lithe and balanced sports car.
The SQ8 looped the skidpad with an admirable 0.92 g of lateral grip on the standard 21-inch wheels with Hankook Dynapro HP2 Plus all-season tires. Summer tires are available as a no-cost option once you spring for the $1000 22-inch wheels, but we never wanted for more grip. The SQ8 never pushes like the nose-heavy SUV that it is, nor does it ever hesitate to turn in. With front- and rear-end grip neatly in sync, the SQ8 feels neither obstinate nor unstable. It simply always feels quick—in corners, on straights, and even when parked. What’s not to like? The 173-foot stop from 70 mph stretches a bit longer than we’d like, and in Dynamic mode, it feels like the steering wheel resists your efforts to wind or unwind lock as if the rack is filled with Krazy Glue.
The electronically controlled chassis aids allow you to switch off the intensity at any time, at which point the SQ8 becomes a pleasantly mild-mannered cruiser, taking bumps and potholes in stride. Comfort mode also makes the steering feel more natural. Inside, the SQ8 is modern and techy with flat, glossy surfaces everywhere you look. However, between the digital instrument cluster and the two touchscreens, the cabin can feel a bit overwhelming if you already spend too much time staring at screens. The no-cost Arras Red leather upholstery and the immaculate diamond stitching on the seats of our test car went a long way in making the cabin feel less sterile.
Audi makes a point of not calling the Q8 (and this S version) a “crossover coupe.” The Q8 wears a faster roofline than the Q7 it’s based on, but Audi designers exercised restraint so rear-seat headroom remains mostly intact. You can’t say the same about the BMW X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE coupe. The SQ8’s frameless windows seal against the door jams well, with highway wind noise successfully kept in check. If you have more people or a pile of stuff to move, Audi will happily steer you into the $85,795 SQ7, where you can choose between using the third-row of seats or the additional six cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row. No matter which one you choose, though, you’re getting more cargo room than you would in the Urus.
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