by Karl Furlong
As accomplished as Audi's largest SUV has always been, it's lacked a performance variant to go up against pumped-up versions of the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class. That's all changed this year because the Audi SQ7 has arrived with a 500-horsepower V8 lump under the hood, ensuring a rapid 4.3-second run to 60 mph. That's massive performance considering that Audi's 'S' models exist in the tier below the even more ferocious 'RS' cars, although such a version of the Q7 doesn't exist. Unlike the diesel-powered SQ7 sold in overseas markets, the US version happily gets a higher-revving turbo V8 gas engine. More aggressive styling cues and a typically stunning Audi cabin that's loaded with equipment are among the SQ7's many highlights.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 is an all-new model this year, taking its place at the top of the Q7 food chain. It's fitted with a 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 engine producing 500 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque, and comes standard with both quattro all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering. 48-volt mild-hybrid technology makes an appearance here too. Outside, the sportiest Q7 gets 21-inch alloy wheels and bespoke S-model bumpers, while the spacious cabin seats seven across three rows and gets Valcona leather upholstery. The latest MMI touch response infotainment system takes the place of the rotary knob used previously, with two crystal clear color displays. Audi's 12.3-inch virtual cockpit is also fitted as standard, along with a 19-speaker 3D surround sound system.
The Q7 range as a whole was facelifted for 2020, so the SQ7 benefits from these updates too, while adding a host of S-specific styling features to set it apart from less powerful models. Audi's signature Singleframe grille is hard to miss, and it's flanked by standard matrix-design LED headlights. Aluminum-optic mirror housings also make an appearance, and those mirrors are both heated and power-folding. 21-inch alloy wheels make it onto both SQ7 trims, as do those menacing S-specific quad tailpipes. A power tailgate is a must-have for a family SUV and comes as standard.
At 199.6 inches in length, the Audi SQ7 fits in somewhere between a BMW X5 and X7. This is a large SUV, though, that's for sure. With the mirrors folded, it's 77.6 inches wide, but that increases to 87.1 inches when the mirrors are extended. The Audi's height is 68.5 inches and the wheelbase measures 117.9 inches. The SQ7 is a heavy beast, weighing in at 5,291 pounds.
The SQ7 is available in a choice of eight colors, but only Night Black doesn't cost extra. Every other shade carries an additional cost of $595. These include Daytona Gray Pearl and metallics like Florett Silver, Glacier White, Matador Red, and Orca Black. Barrel Brown and Navarra Blue are the most striking shades in the palette, but black always seems to suit a fast Audi.
It's here that the SQ7 reminds you it isn't any ordinary Q7. The 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine delivers a nice round 500 horsepower, and it's complemented by a stout 568 lb-ft of torque. Channeling that grunt to all four wheels is an eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps the heavy SQ7 sprint to 60 mph in only 4.3 seconds and reach a top speed limited to 155 mph. At a similar price, the BMW X5 M50i completes the same run in 4.1 seconds, while the Porsche Cayenne S does it in 4.9 seconds. In any of these SUVs, drivers will rarely, if ever, feel in need of more power. Additionally, when equipped with the optional towing package, the SQ7 has an excellent maximum towing capacity of 7,700 lbs.
Audi's TFSI motor is a great choice for the SQ7 and feels more attuned to the requirements of a sporty SUV than the diesel offered in overseas SQ7s. Shared with the SQ8, the 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine cranks out 500 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque and features a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, exclusively paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The V8 and the auto 'box are a formidable combination, getting the SQ7 up to speed in a hurry and with a refined V8 burble that is pleasing to the ear. Gear changes are dealt with swiftly and the SQ7 will pass slower traffic with ease whenever asked to do so. Audi's drive select system allows you to tailor throttle response via one of six driving modes, with Dynamic offering sportier reactions when you're in the mood.
Audi hasn't forgotten that while the SQ7 may be capable of keeping up with many sports cars, it's still a seven-seater SUV that needs to remain comfortable and composed for a family. In Comfort mode, this is a refined and well-mannered cruiser. Noise suppression is also top-notch. Using the Audi drive select system, it's possible to choose from multiple driving modes, including Individual, which allows greater control over steering, throttle, and transmission responses. In Dynamic mode, the big Audi can be hustled along at high speeds, but not with the same confidence or precision of a Porsche Cayenne. Feedback from the helm is typically muted. The standard all-wheel steering is welcome at lower speeds, though, reducing the turning circle and improving maneuverability around town. But this is really a vehicle that needs space to do its best work when the V8 engine can be used as intended. An optional Sport package adds active roll stabilization and a quattro sport rear differential for even more control.
The SQ7 is predictably heavy at the pumps, with EPA-rated economy figures of 15/21/17 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. This is heavier than the BMW X5 M50i (16/22/18 mpg) but identical to the three-row X7 M50i (15/21/17 mpg). The cheaper Mercedes-Benz GLE 580 also has a turbocharged V8 engine and is more efficient with figures of 17/21/19 mpg. Fitted with a 22.5-gallon gas tank, the SQ7 should manage a mixed cruising range of about 383 miles.
For 2020, the SQ7 gets the latest iteration of the Q7 interior layout. That means that while the exceptional quality and attention to detail remain, most physical knobs and switches have been replaced by a thoroughly high-tech dual-screen infotainment system. The color screens look gorgeous, as does Audi's 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, but it does take time to familiarize oneself with the layout. Elsewhere in the cabin, occupants are kept comfortable with standard four-zone automatic climate control and smart, Valcona leather seats. Both front seats are also heated and power-adjustable. Both trims also have safety gear like Audi pre sense front and pre sense basic.
The SQ7 may offer seating for seven in three rows, but occupants relegated to that third row won't be impressed by the limited room back there. Children will be fine, but adults will be much happier with the leg- and headroom on offer in one of the first two rows. There are no issues with the seats, which are upholstered in high-quality Valcona leather and which offer eight-way power-adjustment in front. The driver also has access to memory functions and a power tilt and telescoping steering column. Access to the first two rows is good, but more effort will be required to squeeze into the rearmost seats. On the positive side, the SQ7's fairly blocky proportions are beneficial to driver visibility.
The SQ7 ships with S sport front seats in Valcona leather, with contrast diamond stitching and S embossing that add a classy look and feel. The seats can be had in Arras Red with Rock Gray stitching, Black with Rock Gray stitching, or Rotor Gray with Rock Gray stitching. High-gloss Gray Oak Wood inlays are standard, while Carbon Vector inlays are available optionally for an extra $750. On the Prestige trim, an extended leather package is available (as part of the Luxury Package which adds an Alcantara headliner) which covers the door armrests, center console, and instrument panel cover in leather. This trim also has aluminum-optic touch-sensitive buttons in the cabin.
While the SQ7 doesn't offer the best cargo capacity in this segment, it's still got plenty of space for all the paraphernalia that tends to accompany a family on a weekend trip away. Behind the third row of seats is 14.2 cubic feet, increasing to a much better 35.7 cubes when the third row is folded flat. With both the second and third rows folded, total cargo capacity measures 69.6 cubes. Behind the second row, you can fit a set of golf clubs, a medium suitcase, two smaller suitcases, and two boxes - provided the parcel shelf is removed. Both trims have a power tailgate and a power-folding, 50/50-split third row. The second row folds in a 35/30/35 split.
In-cabin storage is average rather than exemplary, with the usual cupholders and a glovebox that is moderately sized. There are smallish center console trays, too, while all four doors have their own bins.
At over $80,000, the SQ7 doesn't come cheaply, but Audi has equipped both trims to a high level to soften the blow to an extent. In the cabin, the driver and passengers are treated to amenities like four-zone automatic climate control, a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating, and a power-adjustable steering column. The power-folding third row of seats takes the strain out of folding this row flat to free up more cargo space. On the safety front, there is Audi pre sense basic, Audi pre sense front, and the mandatory rearview camera. Both models also have a garage door opener and wireless charging, but only the Prestige has a head-up display, Audi pre sense 360, active lane assist, power soft-closing doors, a heated steering wheel, and ventilated front seats.
Audi has completely revised the Q7 range's infotainment offering. There are now more screens in the SUV's cabin than ever before, starting with a 12.3-inch LCD display for Audi's virtual cockpit ahead of the driver. It's offered with two visual modes and works as well as it ever has. Moving to the center console, the MMI touch response system comprises a 10.1-inch upper screen and an 8.6-inch lower screen. They offer haptic feedback for improved usability, but the absence of physical knobs will require an adjustment for customers coming from an older model. Both trims have MMI Navigation with natural voice controls, along with HD Radio, SiriusXM with a 90-day all-access trial subscription, Bluetooth connectivity, and front/rear USB ports. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are included by default. Audi's base sound system isn't basic at all, with 19 speakers and a 15-channel amplifier. If that's not enough, the Prestige trim has access to a 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D advanced sound system.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 hasn't yet been rated by J.D. Power, but last year's Q7 received a score of 79 out of a maximum 100, which isn't quite as stellar as other luxury SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class. According to the NHTSA, no recalls have yet been issued for the 2020 Audi Q7 or the more powerful SQ7.
If anything does go awry, the SQ7 is covered by Audi's four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, which includes the drivetrain. Unlimited roadside assistance is offered for the initial four years of ownership.
The NHTSA hasn't fully tested the 2020 SQ7, with only a four-star rating given for the rollover test. However, the agency did rate the regular Q7 a full five stars for side crash tests, but it wasn't evaluated for frontal collisions. Over at the IIHS, the 2020 Audi Q7 attained a full spread of Good ratings in every crashworthiness evaluation, along with a Superior rating for crash avoidance and mitigation.
There is a fairly big gap in standard safety equipment between the Premium Plus and Prestige trims, although both get necessities like at least six airbags, including side curtain airbags, along with electronic stability control, traction control, and tire-pressure monitoring. Driver aids encompass a top-view camera system that offers a 360-degree virtual view, rear cross-traffic assist, and vehicle exit warning as part of Audi side assist and Audi pre sense rear. Front/rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, and Audi pre sense front are also included. Opting for the Prestige trim introduces Audi pre sense 360, active lane assist with emergency assist, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, intersection assist, traffic sign recognition, and a head-up display. Rear passenger thorax side airbags are optional.
Audi's mid-tier 'S' performance models have often been accused of being too sterile, and while that may be more of an issue for something like the S5 Coupe, it's this exact blend of pace and refinement that works particularly well in the new SQ7. It effortlessly plays the role of a family- and cargo-hauler the one moment, but has a wicked turn of speed available at the next with just a flex of your right foot. The extra power and character of the V8 feel like a big step up from the Q7 V6, but then again, the price has also jumped by over $20,000. At this level, some rivals like the X5 M50i are quicker, the Porsche Cayenne is more exciting to drive, and the Mercedes GLE has more total cargo capacity. But the SQ7 doesn't fall short in any major area and the S-specific upgrades are a visual and tactile treat. We do feel that the updated infotainment system has lost a level of friendly usability, but other than that, Audi should be proud of this effort.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 has a starting MSRP of $84,800 for the Premium Plus, climbing to a hefty $90,400 for the Prestige, exclusive of taxes, licensing, and a destination charge of $995. The BMW X5 M50i is even more powerful, but starts at a cheaper $82,150, whereas the less powerful Mercedes-Benz GLE 580 starts at $77,600.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 is available in two trims: the Premium Plus and the more lavishly equipped Prestige. Both trims are powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine with 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque, along with 48-volt mild-hybrid technology with recuperation. Quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are standard, along with all-wheel steering.
The Premium Plus is equipped with amenities like four-zone automatic climate control, leather seats, power-adjustable and heated front seats, a power-adjustable steering column, a 19-speaker audio system, and Audi's 12.3-inch live cockpit LCD display. A new dual-screen MMI infotainment system features touch-response controls. Lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic assist are fitted as well.
Moving up to the Prestige adds ventilated front seats, Audi pre sense 360, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, and power soft-closing doors. This version also has a heated steering wheel and the contour/ambient LED interior lighting package.
Although both SQ7 trims are generously equipped, they can each be further upgraded via several optional packages. On the Premium Plus, the Black Optic Package at $750 adds 21-inch black wheels and Black Optic external trim. The $2,000 Executive Package packs in ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, contour/ambient LED cabin lighting, and a heated steering wheel. At $1,750, the Driver Assistance Package adds intersection assist, adaptive cruise assist, traffic sign recognition, and more. Finally, the Towing Package adds $750 to the base price.
The Prestige differs by offering the $5,900 Sport Package with a quattro sport rear differential, red brake calipers, and active roll stabilization. The Luxury Package goes for $3,650 and adds seat massaging in front, extended leather, and more. The Laser Headlights Package adds $1,650 and includes a washer system, while the Bang & Olufsen sound system carries a price tag of $5,000.
A $5,600 price difference in trims is usually significant, but it's not as great in the context of the SQ7, which begins at well over $80,000 in base form. For this reason, we'd spend the extra and go for the SQ7 Prestige, which offers many desirable extras over and above the Premium Plus. It also opens up access to more options, but select too many of these, and the Audi's price begins to get dangerously close to six figures. We'd add the Luxury Package but stop there, keeping the price below $95,000.
BMW stepped things up in a big way with its latest X5, endowing it with potent powertrains, a bold look, and one of the most well-made cabins in the business. The X5 M and X5 M Competition are even more powerful than the Audi, with both delivering at least 100 hp more than the SQ7 from a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8. The result is explosive acceleration, with both X5 Ms dipping below four seconds in a sprint from zero to sixty. Generally set up to be more aggressive, the X5 M is the more involving SUV, but its ride isn't quite as plush as the Audi SQ7s. And, while the X5 provides plenty of space for five, you'll need to choose the SQ7 if you want seven seats. Both SUVs are ultra-modern inside, but we prefer Audi's virtual cockpit to the BMW's version, but the X5 pleasingly retains some physical knobs for other controls. At over $100,000, the X5 M is the more hardcore performance SUV, while the SQ7 is a bit more placid in the way it goes about its business. In this particular case, M beats S.
For access to the same 500-hp V8 engine but with a dash of extra visual flair, there is the SQ8, essentially a sportier, coupe-like version of the SQ7. With its sloping roofline, the SQ8 isn't as commodious as the SQ7 and only seats five, but this may not matter if you don't require the SQ7's third row. At over $4,000 more expensive than the equivalent SQ7, the premium for an SQ8 is noticeable considering that it offers fewer seats and similar equipment levels. Both the SQ7 and SQ8 are equipped with Audi's latest dual-screen infotainment system and the virtual cockpit, although the SQ8 does get a Bang & Olufsen sound system fitted as standard. Style-conscious shoppers without a big family will find more joy in the stylish SQ8, but the SQ7 is a better buy.