When Audi first launched the SQ7, a lot of people laughed. It was expensive and huge in size, perhaps a little out of character on the UK's roads. But that SUV made its mark, popular for its luxe finish and the size, including the seven seats, in a category that's seen no shortage of competition.
The new Audi Q7 launched in 2015, accompanied by the plug-in hybrid version, the Q7 e-Tron for those concerned about emissions. But now, for those not so concerned about emissions, and wanting power, power and yet more raw power, comes the Audi SQ7.
This is Audi's super SUV. Loaded with performance stats that read like a sports car, spacious enough to live in, dripping in quality - the Audi SQ7 hides some quite delightful surprises.
Audi SQ7 review: Design
Distinctly Audi and distinctly Q7, the SQ7 is big, boxy and fits in with Audi's family design. We've often said that Audi's cars follow a pattern of appearing in the same design at different sizes and, in many ways, that's a good description of the SQ7. Where it differs from the earlier generation of cars is in its sharper and more aggressive design, with more obvious creases along its would-be shoulders.
It fits with the changes that have rolled along Audi's other cars, but here it's boosted with the S treatment. That doesn't make a huge change to the overall design, it's more a case of adding the badging and chromed detailing to the grille and front air scoops, aluminium-coloured highlighting on the sides, and that four-branch sporty exhaust.
The big story behind the Audi Q7's new design is really about the lighter body, using a lot of aluminium, but it still weighs in at 2.3-tonnes. There are seven seats as standard in the SQ7, with the third row folding into the boot floor as you'll find on the likes of the Land Rover Discovery - so if you're looking to put bums on seats, Audi is there and in amongst it in the large SUV segment.
Audi SQ7 review: On the road, with a 4-litres of diesel and three turbos
One of the innovations on the Audi SQ7 is the introduction of a third turbo. There are two regular turbos - powered by the exhaust-gas - but in an attempt to eliminate turbo lag, there's a third electronic compressor, running off a new electrical subsystem.
The idea behind this third compressor is that it steps in to provide instant boost, meaning better performance off the line. And there's no doubting the power on offer from this 4-litre diesel: 435bhp and 900Nm torque. It therefore takes-off like a sports car, running from 0-62 in 4.9-seconds.
Given the vastness of the SQ7, that's a huge mass of car you're hurtling down the road. And because we're not all racing drivers, it's likely that that power is going to be put to good use elsewhere: using those short over-taking lanes up hills in the deep countryside is a blast, as the SQ7 barely cares about inclines given there's so much power to spare.
You needn't drive fast all the time, though. And what's perhaps most surprising about the SQ7 is the wonderful burble of its V8 engine at low speeds: it sounds like a sports car, not a diesel SUV, and you can hear it coming from afar.
It doesn't quite corner like a sports car, however. Despite the reduction in weight, there's no avoiding the high right height you'll feel in those corners, but the SQ7 hangs on, tempting you to turn it faster than you'd ever think you should.
The electrical subsystem that powers the third turbo can also power an electronic anti-roll system, should you opt for the £5,700 dynamics sports pack. This both aids on-road performance, stabilising fast corners, but also allowing separated control on rough surfaces.
Naturally the SQ7 is Quattro, splitting the power between front and rear wheels as needed, hunting for grip all the time, with that dynamic sports pack also adding a sports differential. If you're really keen in cornering as fast as possible, this will allow independent left and right torque control of the rear wheels. You might have thought that hot hatches have all the fun - but think again, as this stately home on wheels does too.
As tempting as all that is - and there's no doubting that the SQ7 is almost hilarious to drive, especially in Sports mode - we do wonder exactly who wants a car that's this big and this powerful. We've said that about a number of Audi RS models, as well as SQ models before, but Audi keeps making them and yes, keeps selling them. So someone can certainly see the appeal in spending big.
Adjustable air suspension is standard and that means you can lower the ride on the road or raise it when you decide you need more clearance in the rough. We took the SQ7 on a short but varied off-road route and things were comfortable enough, the added height giving more travel to the wheels, and letting you skip over deeper ruts without the risk of catching the bodywork.
This is all delivered from 190g/km (199g/km once you add the 21-inch wheels on our test model) and with an on-paper consumption of 39.2mpg. In the real-world, we found the SQ7 running in the 20s instead; driving up and down hills, testing that off-the-line pace and enjoying yourself isn't conducive to getting the best performance and we suspect that somewhere in the mid-20s will become the real-world average. Thirsty work, compared to the cheaper Q7 e-Tron's 160mpg-ish claim and short-range zero tailpipe emission option.
Audi SQ7 review: Interior and techtastic treats
Audi has been aggressive with the introduction of new technologies on its cars over the past few years, and the SQ7 comes with Audi's digital Virtual Cockpit as standard. This is in addition to the central display, which can be hidden if you don't want it breaking the slick lines of the dash.
The Virtual Cockpit is great, giving the option of huge mapping across the 12-inch display, swapping this from road maps into Google Maps if you prefer and putting it all in the driver's eyeline. Control from the steering wheel is a breeze and Virtual Cockpit remains our favourite feature of all the tech, because it makes an immediate and distinctive difference to the driver's experience.
Some of the other controls are stretched further across the dash, with Audi Drive Select at the far end, better placed for the passenger to tinker with, while the centre is mostly dominated by controls for the air conditioning, with the rear passengers getting aircon controls of their own.
There's one thing we really like: the arrangement of the automatic drive selector and the MMI Touch controller. The configuration in the SQ7 uses a larger scrawl pad rather than a touch-sensitive dial top, but the leather-covered driver select lever is a perfect palmrest when scrawling in figures. Why is this important? Because if you're scrawling in a new destination when driving, it's all incredibly easy and natural, so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.
You get a lot as standard on this pimped Q7, including a power tailgate, satnav, aircon, privacy glass and more. But much of the smart stuff comes at a cost: our review vehicle carries an additional £20k worth of extras. Admittedly, the £1,700 of panoramic sunroof does make for a very airy cabin, but once you're tricked up to an almost £100,000 on-the-road price, you might be wondering if this is reaching a little far.
The Tour Pack is interesting though. This £1,705 option includes much of the smart assistance on the road that steps towards self-driving. It offers adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, lane assist, traffic jam assist, and pre-sense (which is basically a crash avoidance system, providing braking in emergencies, as well as steering to avoid impact if it's safe to do so).
There's no denying that the Audi SQ7 is insane. But at the same time, if you can afford it and like the Audi style, it's hard to be disappointed: it's fun to drive, versatile, debuts a bunch of new technologies, and while it will cost a lot to run in a world where you could have a more sensible plug-in hybrid instead, it's a luxury petrolhead's SUV (well, except that it's a diesel, of course).
There's a huge amount of rivalry, though. From stalwarts like the Discovery and the Range Rovers, there's also BMW's X5 in many forms (X5 M and PHEV), the Mercedes GLS (in a number of forms), the Porsche Cayenne S, and so much more besides. It makes that choice all the trickier.
So the final word can only be this. If you're looking for a large SUV with insane power and performance, then say hello to the Audi SQ7.