- Eh? Why’s that?
- What differences does that new engine bring?
- Anything else to note?
- Audi SQ7 TFSI: verdict
► Petrol-powered SQ7 driven► Less torque, more noise
► A successful transplant?
Now this is just getting confusing. Audi’s range of S models are flitting between diesel and petrol power at the drop of a hat, it seems, with the hottest version of the Q7 the latest victim/beneficiary [delete where appropriate] of a powertrain heart transplant.
Gone is the epic torquey twin-turbo V8 diesel, replaced by one with the same configuration but drinks from the green pump rather than the black one.
Eh? Why’s that?
When asked about it, Audi’s spokespeople told us it was because they want to sell it (and the coupe-SUV SQ8 sibling) in the US market – a market that has held disdain for diesel for far longer than Europe has. In order to make that happen, Audi made the switch to petrol, using the same engine block as that used in the likes of the S8, RS6 and RS7 siblings and hotter RSQ8 – albeit in a less powerful tune.
So, the SQ7 TFSI now uses a 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 that makes 500bhp and 568lb ft of torque (compared to 429bhp and 664lb ft of the diesel version), good for a 0-62mph sprint in just 4.1 seconds (that’s faster than an Aston DBX, facelifted Bentayga V8 and Porsche Cayenne GTS) and a limited top speed of 155mph.
Claimed fuel economy figures (as expected) drop from 29.1mpg for the diesel to 23.3mpg for the TFSI petrol, and CO2 emissions rise from 255g/km to 276g/km. The SQ7 was already thirsty but switching to petrol has made it even more so, even if the engine has cylinder deactivation tech. As part of our week-long loan in the UK, we drove 200 mostly motorway miles with four passengers and luggage and averaged 27mpg on a lightly trafficked quick run.
Standard kit includes Audi Sport-tuned air suspension and rear-wheel steering, with SQ7 Vorsprung models benefits from the 48v active anti-roll technology we’ve come to know well. European models can also be specced with carbon ceramic brakes, but UK ones can’t.
What differences does that new engine bring?
Save for the additional wedge you’ll need to set aside for more regular fuelling, the most noticeable difference after the first few miles is the noise. While the SQ7 TDI had a character all of its own, the gravelly diesel din plays second fiddle to the torque it provided. With the TFSI, the burly petrol V8 noise is much more welcome; it’s deep and muscular, burbling away at low revs. Poke the bear that lies within in faster roads and it growls, barks and even clears its throat with pops n’ bangs on downshifts, making the experience that little more exciting than before. An AMG or JLR V8 offers even more theatre, though.
Along with the fruity engine note, the other largest change is the power band. That hard-hitting diesel applied all of its torque from just 1000rpm, pulling like a freight train essentially from a standing start. This new TFSI unit needs 2000rpm to apply its 568lb ft – less torque than before, but still more than enough.
The SQ7 TFSI is not slow, helped by the extra power over the diesel and the fact it’s more than 100kg lighter, and the engine feels more flexible despite the power band changes. Using a petrol V8 makes it more rewarding to change the gears yourself via the paddles on the steering wheel, for example.
Anything else to note?
Our UK loan took in a trip to the Lake District, which emphasised just how big this 2.2-metre wide SUV feels on tighter roads – obvious really, but it really does feel like you’re breathing in most of the time, and simply keeping pace with smaller cars at a modest pace can be tricky, despite all the V8 shove that’s so satisfying to exploit when you find space.
Less obvious but important to note given the size is the emergency braking system – it activated numerous times during parking and when we reversed for a bus on the Kirkstone Pass, presumably because it mistook greenery for a solid object. It’s abrupt, frustrating and doesn’t half make you look daft. At least you can turn the intrusive lane-keeping system off with a push at the indicator stalk.
The flipside to this girth is the handy seven-seat practicality. The second-row slides back and forth manually, and the seat backs recline. They also fold flat and then roll forwards (providing the front seat isn’t pushed far back for a tall driver) to provide access to the +2 seats in the rear, which electrically motor up from the boot floor. They’re tight for adults, but fine for kids, with access helped by very low sills as you climb aboard.
With all seven seats deployed the boot shrinks hugely from the generous 705 offered with just five seats in place – the space has to come from somewhere, after all, but just remember there’s no obvious place to store the rear parcel shelf either.
Our test car wore 21-inch alloys – the smallest available – but on standard air suspension the ride and refinement on UK roads is mostly serene. Poor surfaces can induce some patter, but the overwhelming impression is of a supple, well-controlled ride that rounds out the lumpiest of bumps, plus it’s all very hused at speed.
The SQ7 feels so big and comfortable that its capability when pushed harder is a genuine surprise – adaptive air suspension ably manages all the mass, while all-wheel drive really digs in and slings it through corners, helped along by rear-wheel steering.
Audi SQ7 TFSI: verdict
You ever hear those stories of people getting transplants and bits of their personality changing along with it? It’s kind of the same with the SQ7. It’s still a large, imperious, well-built and practical SUV that is all about covering ground at tremendous pace with little effort required from you.
That new heart has made the SQ7 a bit more of a lout under buttoned-up exterior – louder and more aggressive and likes a drink a little more than before. But you’re still impressed by its breadth of talents.