by Jared Rosenholtz
The 2019 Audi Q8 was among the best family luxury SUVs we tested last year but with "only" 335 horsepower coming from a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, it may not scratch the itch for buyers who want insane performance. Audi upped the ante at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto show with the reveal of the RS Q8, a high-performance model with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 throwing 591 hp down to all four wheels. The RS Q8 is blisteringly quick but not everyone requires that much performance.
If only there were a nice, middle-ground option. Well, the Audi SQ8 was already offered in Europe, powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo diesel V8 with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. We knew there was no way Audi would offer the diesel here in the United States, but we assumed the US-spec SQ8 would use the same twin-turbo V6 found in the S6 and S7. As it turns out, we are happy to be wrong because the 2020 SQ8 is coming with eight cylinders.
The Audi Q8 is a great place to start when designing a performance SUV. We love the base car's styling and the SQ8 takes those pretty looks and dials up the aggression while differentiating itself from the RS model. Unlike the RS Q8, which features a darker grille surround, the SQ8 goes with a unique silver finish that matches Audi's signature silver S model mirror caps. Audi calls this finish Alu-optic, and we think it looks great. Quad exhaust tips at the back let the people behind you know you've got some serious power under the hood.
The SQ8 will ride on 21-inch wheels or optional 22-inch wheels if you want to be even more flashy. It is worth noting, however, that the pictures you see here are of the European model because Audi hasn't built the US-spec car yet.
Inside the cabin, the SQ8 is not radically different from the base or RS models. Audi always includes more aggressive sport seats on its S models and in the SQ8, they are heated, ventilated, and cross-stitched as standard. Touch MMI returns unchanged with two touchscreens to control the climate and infotainment system. The Digital Cockpit display looks great, as always, and features a more performance-oriented dial set up than the standard Q8. The SQ8 offers enough of an upgrade over a standard Q8 but is slightly less aggressive than the RS Q8's cabin.
We expected the SQ8 to have the same 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 found in the US-Spec S6 and S7, producing 444 hp. Much to our surprise, Audi announced the US-Spec SQ8 (and SQ7) will use a de-tuned version of the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 found in the RS Q8, RS6, and RS7.
In this application, the engine sends 500 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque out through an eight-speed automatic. This is 71 hp more than the European diesel V8, though the torque figure is less impressive. The mid-level V8 allows the SQ8 to hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, placing it nicely between the Q8 (5.9 seconds) and the RS Q8 (3.8 seconds). Like the RS Q8, the SQ8 also features rear-wheel steering to help it feel more nimble around corners.
Audi has remained tightlipped on pricing for the Q8's sporty variants. We still don't know how much the RS Q8 will cost, so it is difficult to gauge how much this new SQ8 will be. Pricing for the 2020 Q8 starts at $68,200 and we expect the RS Q8 to cost at least $120,000. This leaves a massive pricing gap for the SQ8, though based on the performance we'd guess the MSRP will be closer to the RS Q8 than the Q8.
The BMW X7 M50i, which has 23 hp more than the SQ8, costs $99,600 but pricing for the less powerful Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 has not been announced yet for the US. The SQ8 will likely be cross-shopped with the X7 M50i and GLE 53 but we'll have to wait for Audi to announce official pricing.