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:
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.
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 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.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Audi SQ7: