by Jay Traugott
Audi might have been able to call it a day with its already formidable Q7 SUV, available with up to 329 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. But in the fast-paced world of luxury and performance SUVs, especially from Germany, there are plenty of customers waiting to pay a hefty premium for more power and exclusivity. Introducing the 2020 Audi SQ7, a 500-hp SUV with plenty of interior space for passengers and cargo, lots of luxury and technology, and the German automaker's notorious attention to styling and material details.
It's important to point out this SQ7 is not to be confused with the overseas-only SQ7 TDI, a diesel-powered SUV that looks nearly identical to North America's SQ7 inside and out (Note: most photos are the SQ7 TDI). Audi has no intention to sell the SQ7 TDI in our neck of the woods, but we're still being treated to a proper high-performance SUV of our own. We doubt anyone will complain.
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
8 Speed Automatic
Audi took the already much-improved exterior styling from the Q7's recent facelift and give the SQ7 an even more muscular appearance. Like its SQ8 counterpart, the SQ7 features Alu-optic or Black-optic design elements, specifically on the air intake blades and side sill blades. There are also standard silver mirror caps and quad exhaust outlets. Perhaps the most distinguishable styling trait is the new octagonal Singleframe front grille. If you haven't already noticed, this Singleframe design is being incorporated on every new model, including the all-electric e-tron SUV.
A set of 20-inch wheels come standard and 21-inch wheels are optional. The wheel designs are also different from those found on the Q7. Combined with the unique badging, the aim is to properly differentiate the SQ7 from its less powerful Q7 sibling. All in all, the SQ7's exterior styling looks the part. It has both presence and a somewhat understated look most will find very appealing.
Audi has long been known for setting the benchmark for interior fit and finish and build materials. The SQ7 is no exception. The overall layout and design are nearly identical to that of the Q7, though there are a few upgrades. Audi has added standard front S sport seats with heating and ventilation. These seats also feature sharp-looking cross-stitched leather. The latter is unique to S performance models.
Some interior features include a multimedia interface with LTE connectivity, a Wi-Fi hotspot, natural voice control, Google Earth, Amazon Alex, and smartphone integration.
The SQ7 is also unique for another very important reason: it is the first performance variant of the three-row Q7. Unlike the two-row-only Q8 and SQ8, both of which are based on the Q7's platform, the SQ7, at least for the time being, is the most powerful three-row SUV Audi sells in America.
Under the hood lies something the Q7 does not offer: a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. It's actually connected to a mild hybrid system for a total of 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Audi claims the SQ7 will accelerate from 0-62 mph in only 4.3 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. Because the SQ7 is quite a large vehicle, Audi engineers wanted to improve handling as much as possible. Cornering abilities, for example, are strengthened thanks to an optional quattro sport differential. This improves the SUV's 40:60 front-to-rear torque split. Up to 80 percent of its power goes to the rear axle and the quattro sport differential transfers torque from side-to-side at the rear wheels for improved handling.
Another standard handling feature is all-wheel steering, enabling the rear wheels to turn in the opposite direction of the front wheels. This improves low- and high-speed maneuverability, while the optional electromechanical active roll stabilization stiffens the front and rear stabilizer bars when the driver hits the gas on twisty roads.
Competition in the luxury high-performance three-row SUV segment is growing. The SQ7's most direct competitor will be the BMW X7, which comes with up to 523 hp in the M50i variant. Another rival is the Mercedes-Benz GLS, more specifically the new 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63. It also comes powered by a twin-turbo V8, only this one produces 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. This begs the question of whether an Audi RS Q7 will happen. Given that there's already an Audi RS Q8 pumping out 591 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, we wouldn't be surprised to see Audi pursue this route.
American automakers are also competing in this segment. A completely redesigned Cadillac Escalade is also right around the corner and it too will have V8 power. There's also the Lincoln Navigator and its twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 producing 450 hp and 510 lb-ft.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 is set to arrive in American showrooms in late spring. Final pricing and other important packaging details will be announced closer to that time.