The Audi SQ8 blends superlative performance with its 507hp engine, chassis tuned for sportiness and all the top-shelf equipment you could want
As wildfires rage, hurricanes brew, and a virus continues to wreak havoc on the world, a temporary escape can come courtesy of a big, gas-powered V8. The 2021 Audi SQ8 (price on application) fits that bill in a luxurious package with enough moxie to make self-quarantine anything but boring.
In Santa Monica, California, the updated SQ8 is at home cruising wheel-to-wheel with Mercedes-Benz G Wagons and GLS 580s, Range Rovers and Bentley Bentaygas, drawing wistful looks from fellow Audi drivers in their smaller Q5s and Q3s. The giveaways of the SQ8’s more powerful and capable underpinnings – aside from its growling exhaust note – include gleaming aluminium trim around the front grille, side rocker panels and side mirror housings.
Front and rear bumpers are unique to this model, with an integrated front splitter and a rear diffuser inlay that’s flanked by quad exhaust pipes. Wheels are 21-inch alloys designed specifically for the S model, equipped, in this case, with summer tires and the sport package’s red-painted brake callipers.
A right turn onto Latigo Canyon Road and we elbow-bump the highway goodbye and head toward the switchbacks of the Santa Monica Mountains. These roads could wring the best out of an R8 V10 Spyder, let alone a 2,200-plus kilogram SUV. We’re nearly alone as we make the climb, save for a few bicyclists and a utility van going the other way.
The SQ8’s brakes – 400mm in the front and 350mm in the rear – get pounded repeatedly going into hairpins, and the suspension is put to the test on off-camber turns and rough patches littered with gravel. A number of systems help to keep the big SUV in its place: In addition to Quattro all-wheel drive, the SQ8 gets standard adaptive air suspension fitted with stiffened dampers and springs, as well as rear-wheel steering that helps the car turn in better on tight and decreasing-radius corners.
With the sport package, a sport rear differential actively distributes torque between the rear wheels and sends power where needed, providing an even crisper turn-in, while active roll stabilisation flattens out the car in the corners. The result is a tighter and more comfortable ride compared with most SUVs, although we wouldn’t claim the SQ8 could carve a canyon like a sports car.
The SQ8 is not a family hauler, but a luxury sport cruiser for those who want plenty of room for luggage and golf clubs, with a back seat big enough that adults won’t feel like they’re relegated to the automotive equivalent of the kids’ table. Cargo space is less compared with a more upright SUV, measuring a still-respectable 605 litres.
The cabin of our test car is dressed in Arras red leather with grey stitching and glimmering Carbon Vector inlays, which give the interior a textural depth beyond wood or metal. Seats are heated and ventilated, but we miss the massage function found only with the luxury package, which is an optional extra that would put its price into RS Q8 territory.
Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ includes a head-up display, dual central screens, navigation, and smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. New to Audi’s MMI (multimedia interface) is an integrated toll module, which allows owners to link their toll accounts directly with the vehicle’s onboard system, eliminating the need for a separate transponder.
The journey back is via Decker Canyon Road (said to be one of the best driving routes in Malibu), which, coincidentally, is the same route traversed by the Audi engineers who were testing the SQ8 in its development phase (along with the usual stints on the Nürburgring and elsewhere). Soon, our exercise in pulling lateral Gs winds down as we make our way back, the browns and golds of arid hillsides giving way to blue vistas of the Pacific.
Looking south toward Santa Monica Bay, jets ascend out of LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) above the pier’s iconic ferris wheel, and for a few moments, as the afternoon sun glistens on the water and the ocean breeze flows in through the open roof, life feels almost normal again.
This was first published on Robb Report US