by Jake Lingeman
If you start the 2021 Audi SQ7 SUV on a cold morning, the 500-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 rumbles to life with a gravelly, metallic thumping sound that will wake the neighbors. But before we could get some video of the "feature," it quickly settled into a quiet idle. And that's what you'll get from Audi's biggest grocery-getter, an incognito muscle car masquerading as an SUV.
The SQ7 does battle against the new breed of luxury super SUVs, mainly those of the German persuasion. Sizewise, it sits between the competition's midsize and large offerings but is technically closer to midsize rivals like the Mercedes-AMG GLE-Class and BMW X5. Against these, the SQ7 brings more to the table than just a potent engine. Three rows of seating, performance suspension, and more tech than you could ever truly use make this worthy of being considered one of Audi's flagship passenger vehicles.
The 2021 Audi SQ7 has very few changes to speak of over the SQ7 from 2020, with the only updates being the inclusion of a heated steering wheel as standard on the Premium Plus trim and the Executive Package for the entry-level model now includes the leather package. The 2020 Audi SQ7 was an all-new model, so the fact that there weren't many changes isn't a downfall.
See trim levels and configurations:
Audi breathed new life into the SQ7 with a facelift last year, so the SUV looks as gorgeous as ever. The red parallelogram nestled on the left side of the large grille announces the high rider's performance focus, and LED headlights sit on either side of the nose. The rear is home to a pair of Y-lit headlights joined by a chrome band and quad-exhaust openings poke out suggestively from the silver diffuser. Both models rest on a set of 21-inch wheels clad in summer performance tires.
In terms of dimensions, the Audi SQ7 SUV is slightly larger than its chief rivals. It has a length of 199.6 inches and a 117.9-inch wheelbase, making it longer than both the X5 and the GLE-Class. It measures 87.1 inches with the mirrors included and stands 68.5 inches tall. Both trims have a total curb weight of 5,291 pounds. Who needs a diet, right? It's heavier than most of its competitors as a result of its larger size.
A total of eight hues have been made available for the SQ7 by Audi. The only no-cost option is Night Black, while the other seven metallic shades can be had for an additional cost of $595. Light colors include Florett Silver and Glacier White, but if you tend to lean towards the darker side of the spectrum, Orca Black and Daytona Gray pearl are also available. Lastly, the two bright and bold colors for the adventurous are the gorgeous Matador Red and Navarra Blue.
It's in the performance department that the SQ7 truly shines, and we have the 500-hp V8 to thank for this. Despite boasting the same weight figure as a well-fed elephant, the SQ7 is obliged to get going at a brisk pace when you ask it. This is proven by its fiery 4.3-second run from 0-60 mph. That being said, the BMW X5 M50i cuts the run down to 4.1 seconds, a slight improvement over the four-ringed family hauler. The GLE 580 is slightly slower, it manages to get to 60 mph from a standstill in around 4.9 seconds according to Mercedes-Benz. Speed isn't the only thing the SQ7 has to offer, though. There are some nice benefits to having 568 lb-ft of torque at your disposal and a towing capacity of up to 7,700 pounds is one of them. The Audi SQ7's quattro system is also an expert at keeping the SUV stable in wet weather conditions.
Audi knows when to stick with what works and that's why the SQ7 and the SQ8 share the same twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. The TFSI engine is a boon, producing 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. The power plant is coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission and further aided by a 48-volt mild hybrid system.
The 4.0-liter V8, when combined with the stellar ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The first few days we kept the SQ7 in comfort mode and found smooth acceleration throughout the rev range along with near-seamless changes in gears. Obviously, if you floor it you'll still get all the ponies and all 568 lb-ft of torque, but with normal pedal pressure, it feels as buttery-soft as a luxury sedan with a little extra ground clearance.
When you touch the button (and then the screen) to change to dynamic mode everything gets a little more frenetic. The shifts have some shove to them, especially in S transmission mode, which is a separate selection from the drive modes. Clicking the gear shifter from D to S makes the trans hold on to gears longer, and downshifts occur earlier when you're on the brakes. With both settings in max mode, the SQ7 transforms into a tight, sharp, but still big, German rocket.
The stop/start system was a little finicky. In those more aggressive modes it's hard to stop the SQ7 without it jerking as the engine cuts off. It also takes a split second to kick back in, which isn't a problem most of the time. It only becomes an issue when you're trying to hit a gap in traffic from a complete stop.
As you know, you can't make a 5,300-pound SUV carve corners like a sports coupe. But the SQ7's suspension tightens considerably in those more aggressive modes, which also add heft to the steering. That makes for a surprisingly nimble three-row SUV with rear-wheel steering that angles in with the front wheels at high speeds and in the opposite direction during low-speed maneuvers. In the sportier modes, the Audi barely leans around corners, and the lift and dive are more muted as well.
Even with the heftier steering in dynamic mode, there still isn't a lot of communication from the road to your hands, but at least the steering wasn't numb AND slow. When driven sportily, the SQ7 hits bumps and potholes harder than we'd like, but the bright side of the disconnect is that those bumps don't jerk the steering wheel around. Honestly, even in a super SUV like this, you don't want full Mini Cooper levels of feedback anyway. No one is taking this to a track for more than one exhibition run.
Performance SUVs are almost never light sippers, but as far as fuel economy goes, the SQ7 is the worst of the lot. The Audi returned EPA estimates of 15/21/17 mpg, which doesn't exactly leave the trees behind it for dead, but it's not doing them any favors either. The X5 M50i slightly improves things with figures of 16/22/18 mpg, but the GLE 580 is the king of efficiency. It returned figures of 17/22/19 mpg. When the 22.5-gallon fuel tank is full, the SQ7 will allow for around 382 miles of range.
Over the week, a little less than a tank of gas was burned in mixed driving. We took a highway jaunt up to the new property, a couple of city runs, and some other errands. The SQ7 came back with an indicated reading of 16.8 mpg, which is in the right range, especially when considering our heavy-footed driving.
Simply put, the cabin of the SQ7 is stunning. It's perfectly minimalist without sacrificing any tech and comfort, and the simple design is an undeniable win. There are touch-sensitive surfaces pretty much everywhere you look, but not in an offensive way. It's one of the few vehicles in the segment to boast a two-screen infotainment set-up and Audi's MMI software is a boon once you're comfortable with it. The interior is very close to being flawless, but it goes up against the GLE 580 and Merc has a reputation for putting together immaculate cabins. Still, the inside of the SQ7 is a huge win and you're guaranteed to be coddled from point A to point B.
The SQ7 boasts three rows and seats seven. The third row is power-folding but small, probably only suitable for small children. It offers 35.9 inches of headroom, 49.4 inches of shoulder room, and just over 29 inches of legroom. The addition of the third row also shrinks the legroom in the second row; the SQ7 gets 38.8 inches, compared to the GLE's 40.9 and the X5's 37.4. We sat back there, and it felt perfectly adequate for an average-sized adult, with another average-sized adult in the driver's seat. The second row of the SUV was stacked with two kids for most of the week, and we'll give Audi high marks on the ease of its child seat/LATCH system setup.
The diamond-quilted captain's chair has a ton of adjustment, as well as heat and cooling options, but no massage function. The bolsters were snug, which is important in those sport modes when the suspension stiffens up and the SQ7's reactions get quicker.
Quilted leather and carbon fiber bits bring the interior to life and three standard upholstery options are available for the SQ7. Valcona leather is available in Arras Red with Rock Gray stitching, Black with Rock Gray stitching, and Rotor Gray with Rock Gray stitching. High-gloss oak wood inlays are standard, but you can opt for Carbon Vector inlays for an additional $750.
The carbon fiber trim is nice and makes sense on the S version of the Q7, but we'd probably skip it for woodgrain or piano black.
The SQ7 is an excellent companion for a long holiday thanks to its generous trunk space. There's 14.2 cubic feet of trunk space to work with behind the third row, which isn't a whole lot but the space offering is considerably improved when the third row is folded. This configuration frees up 35.7 cubes of space, more than the GLE 580's 33.3 cubes in the same fold. If you're in need of extra space to help a friend move house, the SQ7 allows for a total of 69.6 cubes with all the seats folded. The ample amount of cargo space makes it an excellent utilitarian in terms of holidays and the school run.
The cabin storage is just okay with places for drinks - though they won't hold a skinny, 16-ounce Pepsi tightly - but it has a decently sized armrest that slides back and forth, and a wide gear selector that acts as a wrist rest.
The SQ7 is appropriately laden with standard-fitted indulgences on both trim levels. The Premium Plus boasts the inclusion of keyless entry, push-button start, a panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control and a heated tilt and telescopic steering wheel. Eight-way power-adjustable front seats join the list along with power-folding third row seats. Standard safety features across all trims include a rearview camera, Audi pre-sense front and Audi pre-sense basic.
The Prestige welcomes ventilation for the front seats and a head-up display and soft-close doors in terms of convenience features. As for added safety tech, active lane assist and Audi pre sense 360 are also added.
Audi's infotainment system has two screens. The bottom features the controls for climate, which is nice to always have at hand, while the top screen does everything else. The Audi virtual cockpit is standard across the board with MMI Navigation plus with voice control, a limited-time subscription to Audi connect services, wireless Apple CarPlay, and wired Android Auto.
Some of those CarPlay icons are small, and tough to jab at when driving. There also seems to be two kinds of touches for the screens, a soft one and a hard one. The drive mode button and the climate control take some pressure. In the infotainment options, it only takes a tap.
The SQ7 comes from the factory with a 19-speaker Bose 3D Surround sound system including a 15-channel amplifier and 558 total watts, but buyers can upgrade to a 23-speaker, 1,920-watt system. Bluetooth, HD Radio, and a trial subscription of SiriusXM are also standard.
The 2021 Audi SQ7 hasn't been subjected to any recalls yet and the 2020 model avoided issues, too. If reliability is a concern, the 2021 SQ7 comes with a four-year or 50,000-mile basic warranty and the drivetrain warranty is standard for the same time period and mileage limit. Roadside assistance is also standard for a period of four years or until you've reached the 50,000-mile mark.
A full review of the SQ7 in terms of safety hasn't been done by the NHTSA as yet, but the 2020 Audi SQ7's review resulted in a score of five out of five stars in the frontal collision tests. The IIHS also awarded the 2020 model with mixed ratings ranging from Good to Superior.
Possibly the biggest difference between the Premium Plus and Prestige trim is their suite of safety features. Both trims get a six-airbag system including dual-front and side curtain airbags. A top-view camera is included along with vehicle exit assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Park distance control and lane departure warning are also included on all trim levels. The Prestige trim adds adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist and active lane assist along with intersection assist and traffic sign recognition. A head-up display is the last feature on the list for the Prestige.
The Audi SQ7 handled everything we threw at it for a week, on and off the road. It sounds fantastic on start-up, and when the 500-hp twin-turbo V8 sings, it's like nothing else. Throw in the fact that it feels as comfortable as any luxury cruiser when in its softest mode, and we have a winner.
What the SQ7 really has going for it is its tweener size. Despite its sales numbers (the Q is outsold by the Lexus RX more than three to one and the Mercedes GLE two to one) it does fit the buyer who needs a little more space than a midsize SUV, but not too much more. Think two kids, but a lot of activities.
Now, if one wants power, they can get more from either of the other German marques. The X5 M50i undercuts it in price by a few thousand dollars too, with 23 more ponies. But that shouldn't be the deciding factor. It's been true for a while that of the three German super sleds, Mercedes feels the most luxurious, BMW feels the sportiest and Audi is in the middle. If balance is what you're looking for, this Audi does it best.
The Audi SQ7's price sits above the BMW X5 M50i and the GLE 850 with a base price of $85,000. The top-tier trim has a significantly higher MSRP of $95,100 and we're still not too sure if it's worth the price jump. All of the mentioned pricing is exclusive of the $1,095 destination fee.
The 2021 Audi SQ7 lineup comprises two trim levels; the Premium Plus and the Prestige. Both models are powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 48-volt mild-hybrid system aids the powertrain set-up. Both models also come with quattro all-wheel drive as standard.
All models come with keyless entry, push-button start, a panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control, a heated tilt and telescopic steering wheel, eight-way power-adjustable front seats and power-folding third row seats. As for infotainment, both models come standard with a dual-screen set-up that enables Audi's MMI software, the upper screen is 10.1-inch upper screen and the lower screen is 8.6 inches. Full smartphone integration is also enabled via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and HD Radio, SiriusXM and Bluetooth streaming are included. A 12.3-inch instrument cluster is also included along with a 19-speaker sound system.
The Prestige adds front seat ventilation, soft-close doors and a head-up display in terms of standard features. It also enjoys the addition of adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist and active lane assist along with intersection assist and traffic sign recognition.
If you're not satisfied with the standard set-up on both spec levels, you can opt for one of the additional packages. Notably, some packages are trim-specific. For the Premium Plus, the $1,750 Driver Assistance package adds adaptive cruise assist with traffic jam assist and lane assist as well as intersection assist and traffic sign recognition. The Executive package adds ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and ambient lighting for $2,400. For the Prestige, the Sport package adds a quattro sport rear differential, roll stabilization and red brake calipers for the front and rear, it costs $5,900. The Luxury package adds a massage function to the front seat, black Alcantara headliner and extended leather trims for $2,900.
Overall, the new Audi SQ7 is right up there with competitors from the rest of the German landscape. The Prestige trim, which adds adaptive cruise, a head-up display, and ventilated seats, is only about six grand more than the Premium Plus model. That's a difference of about 7%, which we'd say is worth it. There aren't many other choices as the SQ7 is only offered with one engine option and two wheel choices. As we said, we'd take the wood over the carbon inside, and if you really want those massaging seats, you can spec them with the $2,900 Luxury Package that includes front passenger seat memory, an Alcantara headliner, and more leather. We'd skip that too, but understand why some might check that box.
The Porsche Cayenne and Audi SQ7 go head to head for the attention of deep-pocketed buyers in this segment. Of course, the Cayenne Turbo is considerably more expensive than the Audi, but its 4.0-liter V8 produces slightly more power to boot. The Porsche also boasts a stunningly minimalist interior, so they are tied in that department, although the Audi is more practical with three-row seating, while the Porsche can be equipped with four individual bucket seats. But where they differ most is in their driving dynamics - the two may share MLB Evo underpinnings, but the Porsche handles sweeter and is sharper overall, while the SQ7 is a little softer, despite being a semi-performance model. The Cayenne is notably smaller than the Audi, so if practicality is your main goal, the SQ7 wins.
The Bentley Bentayga costs more than double the price of the SQ7, but is it worth it? The Bentayga's 542-hp V8 is slightly more powerful than the SQ7 and Bentley produces far more truly luxury-focused vehicles than Audi does. That being said, the SQ7 is plush and filled with expensive materials and tech. We prefer the Audi's interior in terms of the dual-screen set-up and the performance bits on the inside, but the Bentley is noticeably more comfortable. If you're shopping with a family in mind, the SQ7 is the better choice because it offers more space and seating for up to seven, despite being marginally shorter. However, the Bentley is in a truly different league from a luxury perspective, and if you want to feel like you're driving a cloud, the Bentayga can't be beaten.
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