by Karl Furlong
Getting a head start in a new automotive segment is advantageous, but that advantage tends to erode over time once competitors have sussed you out. That much was the case with the Audi e-tron, a mid-size electric crossover that went into production in 2018, long before more modern rivals like the BMW iX and Cadillac Lyriq, both of which surpassed the e-tron in critical areas like range.
But the new e-tron is here - now prefaced by the 'Q8' name - and with it, a high-performance SQ8 e-tron. This model has three electric motors and makes 496 horsepower. It essentially replaces the previous e-tron S, and crucially, a larger battery promises to improve on the dire range of that model. If you prefer your electric crossover to be quick enough to scare many muscle cars, the SQ8 e-tron could be for you.
See trim levels and configurations:
A release date for the Audi SQ8 has been set for the end of April 2023 in the USA. That means it will be coming out here two months after it does in Germany and other key European markets.
At the time of writing, the exact price of the 2024 Audi SQ8 e-tron in the United States was unknown. Audi had only shared the base price of the standard Q8 e-tron in Germany, which was 74,400 euros - pretty much exactly the same in US dollars. That's $3,600 more than the 2023 e-tron in the US, so by applying a similar increase to the current e-tron S, we estimate that the new SQ8 e-tron will begin at a cost of around $92,000.
Among rivals, it's impossible to look past the BMW iX - for better or worse. The iX xDrive50 makes more power than the 2024 SQ8 e-tron (516 hp) and starts at an MSRP of $84,100.
In the period since the e-tron SUV was launched, the price of the Tesla Model X has risen drastically. It now starts at a staggering $120,990, although it does seat up to seven and requires just 3.8 seconds to hit 60 mph.
Not merely a facelift but also a rebranding exercise, it's only fitting that the exterior of the Audi SQ8 e-tron has come with a fresh look. New front and rear designs have been implemented, and there is a revised Singleframe grille. The two-dimensional design of the four rings on the exterior is another update, and this is the first Audi to feature the model badge with Audi lettering on the B-pillar. Digital Matrix LED headlights are snazzy and should provide excellent illumination, and there is a thin strip of illumination along the top edge of the grille that follows the rounded tops of the Audi rings.
At the back, there is a blade above the redesigned rear diffuser. However, the taillights that stretch across the width of the body are similar to the previous e-tron S. As a whole, the design language isn't dramatically different, but that's fine: most will agree that the SQ8 e-tron is a sporty and sophisticated SUV. There is also a glass panorama roof that floods the cabin with natural light.
It's not all about the looks, though, as aerodynamics have also received attention. For the first time, an Audi model has a self-sealing system in the area around the grille. This is combined with electric shutters that can close the radiator automatically, optimizing airflow at the front.
The SQ8 e-tron has unique 21-inch alloy wheels to set it apart from the standard Q8 e-tron, but other wheel sizes could potentially be available when it arrives here.
Although we don't know what all the Audi Q8 e-tron colors are, the brand has shared pictures of it in Ultra Blue Metallic, Chronos Gray Metallic, Madeira Brown Metallic, and Mythos Black Metallic. Of course, we'll have to wait for confirmation of the US-spec model's color palette to confirm whether all of these shades will be available.
The dimensions of the Audi SQ8 e-tron see it slot into the midsize crossover segment. At 193.5 inches in length, the SQ8 e-tron is 1.5 inches shorter than the BMW iX. Whereas the regular Q8 e-tron measures 76.2 inches in width and 64.3 inches in height, the sportier SQ8 e-tron is a few millimeters wider and lower. It has a 115.3-inch wheelbase.
No curb weight has yet been indicated for the SQ8 e-tron but, with its larger battery, it could easily be heavier than the e-tron S - and that already starts at over 6,000 pounds.
With three electric motors, the new Audi SQ8 e-tron SUV is not wanting for power and performance. Combined, the SQ8 has specs of 496 hp and 718 lb-ft of torque. That comes from the combination of one front electric motor making 166 hp and two rear motors - one powering each rear wheel - making 131 hp each.
The placement of the motors enables all-wheel drive, and as a result, the SQ8 e-tron can go from 0-62 mph in 4.5 seconds. For the shorter 0-60 sprint, we expect the new SQ8 e-tron to at least match the 4.3-second sprint of the older e-tron S. That's in line with the base BMW iX's 4.4-second effort. If you aren't concerned about speed limits or preserving the electric SUV's range, the SQ8 can reach a limited top speed of 130 mph. According to Audi, the drive torque can be distributed across the dual electric motors between the wheels in a split second.
To go along with the potent electric motors, the SQ8 e-tron has an air-spring suspension. The car's height can be varied based on driving conditions, and the air-spring tuning was adjusted to improve lateral dynamics. Audi has also altered the gear ratio of the steering for quicker responses, and all other chassis control systems were also adjusted.
As before, we expect the new SQ8 e-tron to handle and grip with the assurance of a lighter vehicle.
It's in this area that the new Audi SQ8 e-tron required an improvement. The e-tron S with 20-inch wheels managed only 72/75/73 MPGe city/highway/combined, and the range worked out to just 208 miles. By comparison, the BMW iX xDrive50 with the same wheel size has a 324-mile range and returns 86/87/86 MPGe.
The new SQ8 e-tron has a new 106-kWh battery (114 kWh gross), and the charging speed is also up to 170 kW. As a result, the new SQ8 e-tron's battery can be replenished from 10% to 80% in around 31 minutes. A new Plug & Charge function simplifies the charging and billing process at compatible charging stations, but we'll have to wait to see if this feature will be made available for American customers as well. With AC charging or a wallbox, the charging rate is 11 kW or 22 kW optionally. Charging the battery this way is better done overnight.
Audi claims a range on a full charge of 307 miles, but that's based on the WLTP cycle. Considering that EPA range estimates in the USA are usually about 11% lower, a range closer to 275 miles is more realistic. That's not as good as the iX, but it would still be a considerable improvement over the older e-tron S.
As with the exterior, the interior of the Audi SQ8 e-tron has much in common with the e-tron S. It's defined by numerous digital displays that look fantastic but aren't always easy to operate when on the move. The quality inside the SQ8 e-tron is expected to be as high as before, which means plenty of dense, soft-touch plastics and smooth upholstery choices.
Audi's MMI touch response operating system consists of a top 10.1-inch display and a lower 8.6-inch one. These replace most conventional switches and knobs, but you can also use natural voice control to manage many of the car's functions. Audi's full HD virtual cockpit remains one of the best, with crisp graphics making it easy to keep track of key information.
Audi is proud of the fact that it has utilized recycled materials for insulation, damping, and even the carpeting. Recycled PET bottles, Dinamica made from 45% polyester fibers, and used textiles are all used. This is still a premium SUV, though, so the seats in the Audi SQ8 e-tron can also be upholstered in synthetic leather. The full range of upholstery choices for the US market will be shared closer to the car's arrival here in 2023. Likewise, we expect the US-bound models to come with material options like porous wood veneers, aluminum, and even carbon fiber.
There is enough cargo space in the Audi SQ8 e-tron for everyday needs, but the e-tron is not class-leading in this respect. In front, there is a small frunk with a capacity of 2.2 cubic feet, while there are 20 cubes behind the second row. Curiously, that's a lot less than the 28 or so cubes in the e-tron S.
The most popular competitors of 2024 Audi SQ8 e-tron: