It's like a Bentayga or Urus, but for half price.
It's difficult not to get excited about a car like the 2023 Audi SQ8. Audi's execution is pretty much flawless here, and there isn't a single area where the SQ8 feels lacking. In fact, the mid-level Q8 variant is so excellent it makes us question why some buyers feel the need to spend more than twice as much on a Bentley Bentayga or a Lamborghini Urus. Sure, both of those SUVs offer superior performance and more prestigious badges, but the gap is smaller than you might expect.
After spending a week in the SQ8 - and having already done the same in the range-topping RS Q8 - we are convinced that anything above the S model is a frivolous purchase. Here's why we'd recommend the SUV with four rings on the front over the Flying B and the Raging Bull.
I can't recall the last time I drove a luxury SUV and thought, "This design is pretty much perfect; there's nothing I'd do to change it." The Q8 is based on the larger Q7, but Audi didn't go for the same controversial coupe styling adopted by rivals like the BMW X6 and Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. Not only is the SQ8 more conventional than its German competitors, but we think the styling is more cohesive than its Bentley and Lamborghini platform stablemates.
Audi chiseled away much of the Q7's more bulbous proportions, leaving behind a muscular SUV that looks both elegant and aggressive in S guise. Our tester wore a German Rainbow shade of Florett Silver, but Audi does offer a few fun colors, such as Dragon Orange, Matador Red, and Navarra Blue. An available Black Optic Package ($2,200) adds unique 22-inch wheels and other black accents, including the grille surround. Some buyers may prefer the Q8's characteristic silver grille outline, which is especially pronounced with a bolder color, but the all-black look is more in-line with other Audi models.
In the past, we have stated that the Volkswagen Touareg is the best SUV in modern history. That's because it went on to form the basis for the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, and Porsche Cayenne, models that brought unparalleled financial success to their respective brands. Like these aforementioned SUVs, the SQ8 rides on VW Group's MLB architecture, which is a shared modular construction for longitudinal, front-engined vehicles. Simply put, this Audi shares much of its core structure with far more expensive SUVs.
In fact, the SQ8 uses the same 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine found under the hood of Bentley, Porsche, and even Lamborghini models. It produces 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque in this application, good for a 0-60 mph time of just 4.3 seconds. We know this engine is capable of more power in the Urus and RS Q8, but the SQ8 never feels underpowered.
The SQ8 exhibits Audi's characteristically light steering. Even in Dynamic mode, there isn't a ton of feel through the wheel, but there's enough to inspire confidence when driving quickly. Even at around 5,300 pounds, it feels spry. Adaptive air suspension provides a cushy ride, even on the S model, with the ability to raise or lower the ride height for various purposes. Our one suggestion is to get the Sport Package for $5,900. It's a pricey add-on, but it includes active roll stabilization (powered by the mild-hybrid system) that fixes the car's body movement while cornering. Without it, the SQ8 doesn't feel particularly sharp when pitched into a bend.
This is far from the sportiest SUV we've ever driven, but it makes no sacrifices in comfort in pursuit of performance. Buyers who like a little growl from the engine but still want a cloud-like driving experience will enjoy the SQ8. Think of it like a Lamborghini Urus, but softer (and way less expensive).
Audi may not carry the same prestige as Bentley or Porsche, but it's not as if the SQ8 skimps on the interior. A Luxury Package ($4,350) adds an Alcantara headline, extended leather on the doors, and seat massaging. Speaking of those seats, our tester came equipped with vibrant Arras Red leather that feels on par with the stuff you'd find in a Bentley or Lambo. Throw in some perforated leather on the steering wheel, carbon fiber on the dash, and premium metal on the controls, and the SQ8 punches well above its price in terms of interior quality.
The onboard technology is a strong point, with dual touchscreens that are easy to operate without a steep learning curve. An available Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System ($5,000) makes the most of the infotainment system with 23 speakers and 1,920 watts.
Because the SQ8 doesn't aim for the SUV Coupe look, it manages to be more practical than its rivals. The rear cargo area houses 30.5 cubic feet of space (60.7 cubic feet with the seats folded), easily besting the X6 and GLE Coupe. Our only complaint is that Audi didn't put a rear seat release in the trunk, meaning you have to walk to the back seat in order to drop them down. Those rear seats slide and recline, providing up to 40.2 inches of legroom, which is, you guessed it, more than the BMW or Merc.
There's a reason why we called the Audi SQ8 a budget Bentley; it offers many of the same features and content for up to half the price. Pricing for the 2023 SQ8 Premium Plus starts at $95,500, which goes up to $101,500 for the more well-equipped Prestige. As tested, our SQ8 was just under $115,000, which is still far less than a Bentley Bentayga V8 (from $192k) or Lamborghini Urus (upwards of $225k).
If you aren't concerned with showing off, the SQ8 provides nearly the same experience found in far pricier SUVs. Aside from a missing Sport Package and no seat release buttons in the trunk, we had trouble finding anything negative to say about it. The SQ8 is pretty much perfect.