THE AUDI SQ7 REMINDS US OF GUACAMOLE.
We love Mexican food, but we hate Mexican restaurants that charge extra for the avocado-based condiment. It is an integral part of the cuisine, and some eateries take advantage of that and charge you a few dollars more to get the full experience.
That is how it feels when you drive Audi's new high-performance variant of its seven-seat SUV. It is an amazing machine, possessing a cutting-edge engine and technology that makes an SUV drive like a sports sedan - if you're willing to pay for it.
Vehicle Style: Performance SUV
Price: $153,616 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 320kW/900Nm 4.0 litre V8 turbo-diesel | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.5 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
The 2017 Audi SQ7 debuts three new technologies for Audi, including an electric compressor (otherwise known as an electric turbo), a 48-volt electrical sub system and an electromechanical active roll stabilisation system for improved handling.
In simple terms, the electric compressor works to force air into the first of the 4.0-litre V8 diesel engine's two sequential turbochargers. The theory is the compressor (which spins at up to 70,000rpm) can get the turbo working from standstill, thus eliminating the dreaded turbo lag.
The 48-volt electrical system is required to power the compressor and runs in parallel with the typical 12-volt system that powers the usual ancillary features of the car.
The full 48 volts are also needed to run the electromechanical active roll stabilisation, which is a highly advanced suspension system that is able to endow the SQ7 with its sporty handling while still offering a comfortable ride. It works by using a pair of electric motors to twist the front and rear anti-roll bars during spirited driving for extra body control. But when you just want to cruise the anti-roll bars are, effectively, uncoupled for more compliance.
It is an amazing system that works remarkably well.
The cabin is a typical high-class affair from the four-ring brand, a modern luxury design with good materials and an intuitive layout.
The SQ7 adds sports seats to the equation for added support when cornering.
The second row seats offer good space and can be folded individually for added practicality, plus can be tilted forward to access the third row.
The third row seats are raised or lowered via a switch in the boot that lends the SQ7 extra versatility that few rivals can match. The SQ7 can also be ordered as a five-seater but the price remains the same.
In standard trim, the SQ7 comes generously equipped with leather trim, four-zone air-conditioning, a self-parking system, Audi's new virtual cockpit, smartphone interface, Audi connect, a Bose 3D sound system, MMI navigation plus, 20-inch alloys and adaptive air suspension are all included in the cost.
On top of that, there is the full suite of safety features including traffic jam assist (the company's mild autonomous driving functions), Audi pre sense, attention assist, turn assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping, collision avoidance assist, door exit warning, pre sense rear, cross traffic assist, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera and 360 degree surround view cameras.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 320kW/900Nm 4.0 V8 turbo-diesel
- Transmission: 8sp Automatic, all-wheel-drive
Pitching the SQ7 against a demanding section of Australian alpine road between Cooma and Tumut this week, the big SUV handled itself remarkably well.
The active roll stabilisation coupled with the SQ7's four-wheel steering system and the quattro sport differential makes the SUV perform like a sports sedan. It changed direction remarkably well and sat impressively flat in the corners.
But - and it's a guacamole-inspired 'but' - the active roll stabilisation is optional. Just like our favourite Mexican condiment, Audi charges extra for the sportiest, most dynamic components of its sportiest, most dynamic Q7 model.
Active Roll Stabilisation, four-wheel steering and the sports diff are part of the Dynamic Package, a $13,500 option on top of the SQ7's $153,616 (plus on-road costs) asking price.
It's not a surprising decision given this isn't the first Dynamic Package the brand has offered on its sporty S and even RS models. The company says it is about giving customers choice, but anyone that doesn't choose to add the dynamic extras will miss out on experiencing the full potential of what is an excellent machine.
However, that's not to suggest the SQ7 is disappointing or poor value without it - quite the opposite in fact.
Hauling along all the occupants and their luggage with ease is the awesome engine under the bonnet. The 4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel produces a healthy 320kW of power and a staggering 900Nm of torque. Thanks to the electric compressor peak torque is available from as low as 1000rpm.
Audi claims the SQ7 is the fastest seven-seat SUV in the world with a 0-100km/h time of just 4.9-seconds. To put that in perspective a Porsche 718 Boxster takes the same time.
What's more impressive however, is its rolling acceleration. Whenever you're cruising along, no matter what gear you're in, or which one of the adjustable drive modes, the SQ7 instantly builds speed the moment you squeeze the accelerator.
The eight-speed automatic is pretty quick to react as well, particularly when you select the 'Dynamic' mode in the Drive Select settings. Otherwise it is smooth and intuitive in the other, more sedate settings.
Our test drive included time in both the standard SQ7 and one fitted with both the Dynamic Package and larger 21-inch alloy wheels.
The road holding from the big tyres - 285/45 rubber as standard - is impressive and the four-wheel steering system - which improves low-speed manoeuvreability by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front while, turning them in the same direction at speeds over 80km/h, helps improve high-speed stability - makes the SQ7 even more responsive.
It is a clever system but when combined with the active lane keeping assist, the steering feels artificial at times, particularly as the steering wheel can feel like it is resisting or pushing against your inputs instead of obeying.
But it is not a big enough problem to really deter you from the SQ7.
TMR FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The 2017 Audi SQ7's engine is a gem, the space and design of the cabin is excellent and, when fitted with the active roll system, the handling is as good as anything in its class.
While it is disappointing that the suspension system is an extra expense, the truth is even at $167,116 with the Dynamic Package added, it is still a compelling proposition and even good value given the performance gains it brings.