Audi has provided an early Christmas present in the form of the Audi SQ7 for the Australian market with the launch on the twisty drivers paradise alpine roads on the NSW ski fields this week. Some of the 300 pre orders that have been made will receive their present before Christmas and others that have opted for the Audi individual VIP treatment will unfortunately have to wait a little longer.
The SQ7, while based on the brilliant Q7 brings to the market some awesome new technology, interior and exterior changes and a design that looks smaller than it is. Below are some initial thoughts on the interior comfort of the SQ7 and some drive impressions.
The design embraces what appears to be flavour of the month in a coupe/wagon style but manages that sleek form and low drag coefficient in a practical body shape that will age well unlike some others currently being offered. SQ7 specific details include a choice of 12 paint finishes, a singleframe grill, the air inlets with their dual slats, the upper section of the exterior mirror housings and elements of the door trim gleam in an aluminium look.
The roof edge spoiler is wider and more distinctive than that of the Q7. A diffuser insert with an aluminium clasp encloses the four rectangular exhaust tailpipes. SQ7 TDI and V8T emblems adorn the front, the fenders and the rear. LED headlights and dynamic rear turn signals are standard. Optionally available is Matrix LED technology that include intelligent cornering lights.
While it is over 5m long it has a squat appearance being 1.97m wide and only 1.74m tall. Surprisingly for a large vehicle its drag coefficient is just 0.34 and the centre of gravity is low. This factor also sharpens the sporty character.
Step inside the SQ7 and the immediate ambience is luxury and space. The standard sports seats for front occupants are comfortable and supportive over long periods in them. The optional sports seats plus for the front driver and passenger are some of the best I have sat in. There is electric adjustment for everything from the usual height and tilt, to lumbar support, shoulder and base wings that adjust to provide a perfect fit for any driver. The customised contour seats with seat ventilation and optional massage function offer even more comfort.
The three spoke flat bottomed steering wheel feels superb in your hands and provides precise feedback from the road. Unusually the adjustment for height and reach isn’t electric. In front of the driver is the Audi virtual cockpit with 12.3-inch display that presents its information in brilliant, high-resolution graphics.
It displays a special screen when the car is started and a special S design when driving. These elements also appear on the 8.3 inch monitor of the MMI navigation plus with MMI all-in-touch. The driver uses the multifunction steering wheel to choose the view in the virtual cockpit. Audi supplements this with a head-up display. It projects important information, such as speed and navigation data onto the windshield in the driver’s direct field of vision.
Audi is taking a new approach to controls with the optional MMI navigation plus with MMI all-in-touch. The driver can enter characters on the large touchpad or perform multi-finger gestures to zoom in on the map, for example. The system provides acoustic and haptic feedback after each command. The MMI logic with its flat hierarchies and free text search is oriented on modern smartphones. The natural voice control system understands a large number of expressions from everyday speech.
The middle row seats are comfortable enough for my large frame to sit in. Better suited to two but accommodating three, there is plenty of head, shoulder and leg room. The third row seats while having comfortable seat squab and backrest are limited in foot and leg room. They are suited to pre-teen occupants mainly.
The three-piece backrests in the second row can be folded down separately, and the third row can be lowered electronically into the floor of the SQ7 TDI to provide a long flat load area. The rear can also be lowered to assist with loading parcels. With a full load of passengers, the seven-seater model has a luggage capacity of 235 litres. With the third row folded down, this becomes 705 litres with a maximum of 1890 litres. A power tailgate is standard.
The SQ7 TDI ups the ante with elegant interior details. A red ring surrounds the start-stop button, and the pedals are plated with stainless steel. The centre tunnel console, the standard sport leather steering wheel, the key and the illuminated door sill trims bear SQ7 logos. The interior lighting shines in LED technology. There is a standard ambient lighting package, which can be adjusted over a range of 32 colours. Besides the three colour profiles familiar from the Q7, the SQ7 TDI also offers the Sport light profile in red/white.
Black is the dominant colour in the interior. The two-piece inlays combine brushed aluminium with chrome paint finish, slate grey. Carbon Atlas, piano finish and other materials are available from Audi Sport GmbH. The sport seats come standard in Valcona leather. The sport seats plus come factory fitted with the high-grade leather upholstery, including a diamond pattern.
As this is a family car after all, keeping the troops entertained and connected is important and Audi doesn’t disappoint. . The top infotainment system uses the second-generation modular infotainment platform. Its central computer comprises two main units – the radio car control unit and the MMX board (MMX = Multi-Media eXtension).
The MMX board integrates – along with the working and flash memory – a super-fast processor that processes all online, media, voice control, navigation and telephone features. The board is a plug-in module. Audi can keep it at the state of the art during the development process and thus bring innovations in consumer electronics into the car at an early stage.
A Wi-Fi hotspot enables the passengers to surf with up to eight mobile devices. The standard Audi connect package brings numerous online services on board, including navigation with Google Earth and Google Street View, and it can also serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The Audi smartphone interface brings Apple Car Play and Android Auto into the car. If the customer connects an iOS or Android smartphone to the USB port (iOS from 7.1, Android from 5.0 Lollipop), the smartphone’s contents such as navigation, phone, music and select third party apps are offered in a separate MMI menu. They can be accessed conveniently by MMI or voice control.
Two Audi tablets (optional and expensive) that can be fastened to the backs of the front seats provide entertainment for the rear passengers. Networked with the MMI navigation plus with MMI all-in-touch, they serve as Rear Seat Entertainment. At the end of the trip, the passengers can unclip the tablets and continue to use them outside the car.
The sound systems on board provide an extraordinary sound experience. The standard sound system is the innovative Bose sound system with 3D sound. It includes 19 speakers, two of which are integrated into the A-pillars to depict the spatial dimension of height. To be honest this system is more than enough.
For those who simply must have better there is the $11,340 optional Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System with 3D sound comprises a 1920-watt amplifier and 23 speakers, four of which are installed in the A-pillars. Those elements that create spatial height are played back through these speakers, creating a large virtual stage for the music.
So what is the Audi SQ7 like to drive? Let’s see, we have a 5+m long 2270kg seven seat vehicle that feels like it is a metre shorter and some 500kg lighter. It provides a smooth and powerful 4.0l V8 TDi producing a healthy 320 kW of power and a massive 900 Nm of torque from a low 1000rpm through to 3,250rpm, driving through a slick 8 speed tiptronic transmission and delivers all that power and torque to the road through Audi’s brilliant Quattro permanent AWD system. An rpm-adaptive torsion damper balances out undesired engine vibrations to enable efficient driving at particularly low engine speeds.
It has some pretty cool engine management technology with sequential charging with two turbochargers, combined with an electric powered compressor for strong boost at low engine speeds with a 48 volt electrical subsystem to supply the electric powered compressor that regenerates power from harnessing energy from the vehicle itself.
It will rocket from 0 to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, delivering instantaneous effortless acceleration from standstill through to well in excess of 200km/h with a top speed of 250km/h (electronically governed). – The official combined consumption is just 7.2 litres per 100km and I can confirm that although on the launch the SQ7 was driven rather “enthusiastically” it sipped fuel at a measly 9.1 litres per 100km.
The SQ7 TDI rolls standard on 20-inch wheels with size 285/45 tyres. Alternatives range up to 22-inch tyres from the Audi sport line from Audi Sport GmbH. The brakes are big and powerful. Mounted on the front axle are internally ventilated, lightweight discs measuring 400 millimetres in diameter. They are gripped by black (optionally red), six-piston calipers with S logos. A brake system with particularly lightweight and abrasion-resistant carbon fibre-ceramic discs are also available to order.
The SQ7 will also tow 3500kg with a 350kg tow ball rating and has all road and some modest off road capability. With height adjustable suspension the SQ7 has up to 300mm of ground clearance and a fording depth of up to 600mm. The modest approach and departure angles and road performance tyres are the main limiting factors. However towing your boat trailer or seadoos along the forest trails or on the beach will pose no problem. The SQ7 caters for the active lifestyle aspired to by many.
In standard format the ride and handling of the SQ7 is superb. The chassis adheres to the principle of strict lightweight construction. Its five-link suspensions front and rear are made largely of aluminium. Electromechanical power steering, the Audi drive select dynamic handling system and the adaptive air suspension with S-specific tuning are standard. Our first drive on the launch was in the ‘entry’ level standard SQ7 and we were impressed. It provided an engaging driving experience that brought smiles to our faces.
As an option, Audi will equip the SQ7 TDI with a driving dynamics package comprising three technology modules: the sport differential, all-wheel steering and electromechanical active roll stabilisation.
Somehow through this awesome technology, Audi have managed to almost defy the laws of physics. The effect is taut, sporty handling: The car leans less in bends, and the tendency to understeer is further reduced. This enables higher lateral acceleration and thus faster cornering. The front and rear stabiliser can be adjusted independently of each other. This active distribution of power between the front and rear axles significantly enhances steering precision and the agility of the automobile.
The SQ7 balances the conflicting requirements of smooth and luxurious ride, and race track handling like very few cars. While scooting along some delicious windy alpine mountain roads the SQ7 remained composed at all times. Mid corner bumps were like a mosquito biting an elephant. It may be biting but you hardy feel it. Throughout the launch drive the word ‘balance’ kept coming to mind. It is a pleasantly balanced vehicle.
If somehow you manage to make the SQ7 lose composure you had better be by yourself on a closed section of road, because you would have to be driving in a ridiculous manner to achieve that.
This is a vehicle that behaves in a manner that belies its size and weight and through clever non-intrusive technology allows you to feel in control at all times.
Important safety features include the park assist, cross traffic assist rear, exit warning system, collision avoidance assist and turn assist as well as the Audi pre sense systems. At speeds up to 85km/h the standard solution Audi pre sense city monitors the area in front of the SQ7 TDI for other vehicles and pedestrians. In a critical situation, the system warns the driver and initiates full braking, if necessary. Additional assistance systems round out the range. These include night vision assistant, Audi active lane assist, Audi side assist and the 360 degree cameras.
The SQ7 isn’t perfect though and there are some things that we didn’t quite like. Firstly if I am paying upwards of $160,000 for my vehicle I would expect electronic height and reach adjustment of the steering wheel and not pay $950 as an option, especially given that everything else on the vehicle is electronic. Secondly there isn’t a lot of storage room in the centre console box or for that matter the small glove box. The third row of seats while comfortable in squab and backrest are somewhat restricted in knee and foot room and better suited to pre-teens. I am not a fan of the transmission selector in the SQ7, I prefer the gear stick in the S3 as it seems more intuitive to use, however that is a purely personal preference. Oddly for Audi the lift up rear floor that covers the electric subsystem and Bose sound system didn’t seem to fit or lift easily. It seemed to jump out of its side holders upon lifting.
But the biggest niggle of them all, and it is a big one, is that despite my repeated polite requests to swap my current vehicle, that costs basically the same, for one of theirs, the gracious people at Audi seemed somewhat reluctant to accommodate my perfectly reasonable request. Oh well I can still wish for one under the Christmas tree.
We drove a number of differently configured vehicles on the launch starting from the base model at around $155,000 MLP through to vehicles that were optioned up with a variety selected from the long and expensive options list and topped out to just under $190,000 MLP. To my mind the mandatory option is the driving dynamics package at around $14,000. it is great value. You don’t need it to enjoy the SQ7, it just takes the experience to another level.
Currently about 20% of all Audi sales is a sport variant. They have capitalised on their motorsport successes and a long history of building premier hero cars. They now have one in each of their market segments and model variants. They are challenging if not succeeding in being the leading sports luxury brand in Australia.
There are few cars that I get really excited about, or have a grin that won’t go away when I drive it. I have to admit I am looking forward to spending a longer time in the SQ7 in future road tests. It really was that much FUN! I have been trying to think of another car that provides the same degree of luxury, performance, handling, practicality and composure. To be honest I am struggling to come up with a direct comparison. It is in a league of its own. Starting from around $155,000 MLP the SQ7 could well be the ultimate family sports SUV and Audi should well be pleased with themselves.