2024 Audi SQ8 First Drive Review: Speedy Sophisticate

First Drive

Audi has handed one of its top SUVs a substantially refreshed appearance.

Audi recently handed its Q8 and SQ8 range a facelift for the 2024 model year, and we had the chance to sample the more powerful SQ8 at the international media drive event in Cape Town, South Africa. The German-spec model we drove is pretty much identical to the one you'll be able to buy in the USA.

Besides the absurd RS Q8, this is Audi's most powerful SUV, its 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 pumping out 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. Starting at $96,600, it's also one of the most expensive, and customers in the USA will have to pay $103,600 for the Prestige trim when the 2024 SQ8 arrives in the first quarter of 2024. With a more expressive exterior, upgraded lighting technology, and new decorative inlays in the cabin, can the SQ8 stave off the threat of the BMW X6 M60i?

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Exterior: One Of Audi’s Best

Mechanically identical to the pre-facelifted model, Audi has chosen to focus on bolder aesthetics. The new SQ8 features fresh front and rear fascias, new wheel designs, and new L-shaped elements on the octagonal Singleframe grille. New air intakes give the face added gravitas, and you'll also notice a new front lip spoiler and rear diffuser.

Audi, a pioneer in lighting technology, has equipped the SQ8 with Matrix-design LED headlights. The new digital daytime running lights now rest on the upper horizontal edge, emphasizing the SUV's width. You can choose from four unique lighting signatures for the available HD Matrix-design LED headlights with laser light, each changing the effect of the car's face. On the Prestige, digitalized OLED taillights are optional, also with four different lighting signatures.

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Our tester sat on striking 23-inch alloy wheels, a size larger than what was available last year. These wheels cost $2,500 but also require the $1,050 Black Optic Package, raising the final cost by $3,550. In the USA, more conservative 22-inch wheels are standard.

Of the three new metallic paints, Ascari Blue and Chili Red look great, but Sakhir Gold (pictured on a Q8 below) is the most controversial hue - initially, we didn't like it, but the color tends to grow on you, especially when paired with black exterior trimmings. Our SQ8 had the Waitomo Blue paint, a $595 option (the same cost as the three new colors). All the paints have a magnificent finish, though, and sparkle intensely in natural light - the effect isn't as easily appreciated through images.

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Interior: High-Tech Comfort Zone

In terms of quality and style, the SQ8's interior is nearly flawless. The upholstery - a mix of imitation and real leather on the German-spec models we sampled - is lovely. More soft, dense materials are found on the dashboard and door cards. The only cheap components we found are the small cubby on the driver's side, which closes with a loud, plasticky thwack, and the decidedly ordinary plastic paddle shifters.

Audi has introduced new carbon twill matte inlays as standard for the SQ8 - it works well if only to break up the vast expanse of gloss black on the dashboard. As for the seats, they remained comfortable even after hours behind the wheel. While the ventilated seats worked well, their tiny fans emitting noise on the higher settings can be annoying if, like this author, you prefer driving with the radio off to appreciate the V8's soundtrack.

Rear-seat legroom is a highlight, and the trunk measures a commendable 30.5 cubic feet.

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Technology: Fully Loaded, But Not Entirely Intuitive

The dual-screen infotainment system - with a 10.1-inch upper touchscreen and an 8.6-inch lower screen for climate settings - looks modern, but we never fully got to grips with the haptic feedback controls. They work best when the car is stationary and you can fully commit to hitting the right key with the right amount of force. On the move, it's less intuitive, and more than one press is often required to activate the desired function. With more time, the speed of operation should improve, but wouldn't it be nice if ease of use was immediate?

There are no issues with the clear, bright digital gauge cluster or head-up display, but the latter's clarity dips considerably when wearing polarized sunglasses.

For 2024, the adaptive cruise assist area display can show lane change warnings, distance warnings, and traffic light information. More apps are accessible via the MMI infotainment system, including Spotify and Amazon Music, while software updates will gradually increase content availability. The Bang & Olufsen sound system delivers punchy bass and impressive clarity.

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Performance: Rapid And Composed

Audi made no major updates to the SQ8's powertrain, and it didn't need to. The 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 delivers 500 hp and 568 lb-ft of torque. With quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, it flies from 0-60 mph in four seconds. Numbers tell only part of the story, though - the SQ8 will make occupants with more sensitive stomachs feel queasy when you floor it, such is the rate at which it gathers pace. The small 0.3-second gap up to 60 mph between this and the RS Q8 is telling. You can feel the weight transfer and see the hood rising under hard acceleration, but one thing is clear: you don't need more than 500 horses.

Overtaking power is brutal, although downshifts aren't as immediate as you expect, with a noticeable hesitation between planting your right foot and the SQ8 waking up. When it does, not much else will keep up. You can get around the sometimes delayed downshifts by using the paddle shifters in manual mode. It also allows you to hang onto gears longer to enjoy the sound of the V8, but gas mileage will plummet. Audi claims 14/20/17 mpg city/highway/combined for the SQ8.

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SQ8 models come with an adaptive air suspension and an electromechanical steering system. Our tester wore the largest 23-inch wheels, but the ride is composed - most of the time. Potholes and expansion joints exhibit some harshness through the body, but the comfortable seats help to iron out the worst of them.

In Comfort mode at up to 70 mph or so, the SQ8 does a fine job of masquerading as a more docile Q8; it's quiet, the V8 becomes virtually inaudible, the transmission is silky smooth, and the cabin has that vault-like cocooning effect that Audi seems to do so well. At higher speeds, the often blustery conditions in the Mother City revealed some wind noise, and the large tires could be heard over rougher surfaces. But it's still not loud enough to necessitate raised voices in the cabin.

Driven more aggressively over a winding road, the Audi does about as well as it can to conceal its substantial 6,000-pound mass. Handling is competent but not thrilling; the SQ8's excitement stems from its sheer power rather than its athleticism. The speed-dependent steering is light enough around town and responsive enough at higher speeds.

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Pricing And Verdict: A Lot Of Car For A Lot Of Money

In the USA, the 2024 SQ8 starts at a hefty $96,600 for the Premium Plus and increases to $103,600 for the Prestige. Those MSRPs exclude a destination charge of $1,195.

The Premium Plus comes with Valcona leather seats with diamond stitching, 22-inch wheels, Matrix-design LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, four-zone automatic climate control, a 17-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, and adaptive cruise assist with lane guidance. The six-figure Prestige adds OLED taillights, a head-up display, and power soft-closing doors, among others.

The SQ8 barely puts a foot wrong, which is reflected in the fact that the 2024 model is more of an aesthetic upgrade than anything else. In a style-conscious segment, the Audi stands out as one of the sexiest crossovers. It's even quicker than the BMW X6 M60i, despite a 23-hp deficit, although we think buyers looking for ultimate driving enjoyment may prefer the Audi's platform relative, the superb Porsche Cayenne.

But despite not leading in every metric or sensation behind the wheel, the Audi SQ8 is one of the segment's most complete vehicles.

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