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2021 Audi SQ7 first drive: powerful engine and sophistication

2021   review

If you want an Audi that can reach 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds, your local dealer will have exactly one model: the company's new R8 supercar, which packs a 4.2-liter V8. And a six-digit price. Today, the same salesman might unexpectedly drive you to the 2021 Audi SQ7, if only to watch your brain turn into a salted piece. Like an Audi mid-engine supercar now

2021 Audi SQ7 first drive review


This all-new SUV has arrived to fill the TFSI V8 and with a price tag that, yes, can go over six figures

This three-row utility vehicle has a lot more power, torque and it gets better fuel economy

2021 Audi SQ7 depends on luxury and technology

Believe it or not, the heavyweight crossover seen on these digital pages would actually give Audi's first-generation sports car a serious run for its money from stoplight to freeway merge. Packing 500 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, the SQ7 even has a vastly more power-dense engine -- the naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 in Ye (Not So) Olde 2008 R8 Coupe only mustered 420 hp and 317 lb-ft and that powerplant, friends, was a landmark moment in metallurgy


2021 Audi SQ7

Today, Audi offers a whole range of models capable of trouncing the original R8's performance figures -- most for much less money. Of course, none are as incongruous as this 5,300-pound SUV, let alone as capacious. The German automaker says this seven-passenger express can hit 60 mph in a scant 4.3 seconds -- a tenth quicker than the original R8 -- and power to a top speed of 155 mph on its 21-inch summer tires. (Optional all-seasons bring a major v-max haircut, all the way down to 130 mph.)


Those performance and consumption figures paint a visceral picture that's underlined -- somewhat -- by a model-specific multi-mode exhaust. Poke the starter button and the Q7's V8 barks briefly before quickly settling to idle. You'll know right away that this isn't a garden-variety four- or six-cylinder Q7, but even with SQ7's more assertive tone, it's still not particularly vocal by default



To change that, you'll have to cycle through the Drive Select menu. Putting the SQ7 into Sport opens up the exhaust valves while amplifying other performance attributes like steering weight and transmission programming. Alternatively, you can call up more sound specifically by tailoring the exhaust setting in the Individual mode. The touchscreen preset for the loudest option is called Present, which reads a bit like a grade-school suck-up during attendance roll call


That 'teacher's pet' imagery seems apt, because despite possessing a more strident soundtrack than its European counterparts (owing to different particulate filters), this SQ7 could arguably stand to be a bit more vocal still. Performance models from AMG or Jaguar's SVR are significantly more declarative inside and out and even BMW's non-M specials can be, too. Yes, I know this isn't an RS Q7, but in the absence of such a model, it'd be nice to have an even more socially reprehensible setting, if only to blow out mental cobwebs on lonely winding roads. As it is, the V8 makes a fine sound, it's just a bit too muffled by the time it makes its way inside


More complete performance

Of course, Audi's engineers haven't just fitted the SQ7 with 165 more horses and nearly 200 lb-ft more torque than their next-most-powerful Q7. There's a standard adaptive air suspension system that hunkers 15 millimeters lower by default and, despite firmer tuning, the SQ7's setup still ably negotiates Michigan's pockmarked roads (no mean feat considering the 285/40-series low-profile Continental ContisportContact 5 rubber and 21-inch wheels). There's also more aggressive tuning for the eight-speed Tiptronic automatic and model-specific throttle mapping and electronic safety-nanny settings


Perhaps most importantly, all SQ7s come with all-wheel steering, a feature optional on lesser Q7s that provides up to 5 degrees of rear-axle steering. Combined with the SQ7's rear-biased 40:60 Quattro torque split, this SUV is surprisingly nimble, be it hustling down a B-road or jousting to grab that last early morning parking spot at Orangetheory. While it still feels like a big vehicle, when pushed hard, the SQ7 does shrink around you enough to feel more like a midsize performance wagon than a high-power SUV. (Fair enough, as that's more or less what most of these pavement-bound utility vehicles actually are