After nothing fun for the first-generation, the new 2020 Audi SQ7 is the first-ever S-model of the Q7 in the U.S. While its 500-horsepower powertrain and Quattro all-wheel drive are nothing to snark at, the car itself bails on the typical uncomfortable, hard-edged sporty bullshit for something extremely refined.
(Full Disclosure: Audi kindly dropped off one of the first-ever Audi SQ7s in front of my Brooklyn apartment with a full tank of gas and sanitized interior, in a new pandemic-era method of getting writers to do “first drives” of new models without having to make anybody travel too far. It went pretty smooth and I very much appreciate the caution!)
(Testing Conditions: The car was dropped off to me at 8 a.m. on a workday, and I had to write some stuff. That only left me about five hours to do something with a 500-horsepower, 5,291 pound curb weight machine in the middle of Brooklyn. So I took myself to the beach. If you want me to review this like a sports car on a track, let me know and I’ll call Audi back.)
Many made fun of the first-gen Q7, the vehicle was mostly mocked for being a funny-looking transparent attempt at a comfortable product rather than anything aggressively aligned with Audi’s other brand positioning of all-wheel drive and sports cars.
But for this new generation, Audi is throwing all the crap it gives us on the Audi SQ8 crossover now in essentially the same package with a different body on top. As someone who’d rather have a wagon roofline than whatever you want to call the Q8, choice is good.
While the standard Q7 proudly features an all-new 335 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque 3.0-liter V6 engine, the SQ7 has been graciously gifted with a punchy turbocharged 4.0-liter TFSI V8 making 500 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque. Thank god they gave it a V8, can you imagine?
Like many other Audi S models, it comes with the automaker’s 8-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, but this also comes standard with all-wheel steering (to maybe help some of our previous handling complaints on the regular Q7 we tested).
My impression is that Audi added space only where needed. It’s not a generally-large crossover, like they simply scaled up dimensions of another crossover to achieve more volume. Instead the Q7 just feels lengthened, in the same ways the Golf family has been shortened and lengthened in the past. Extending the dimensions of the second row into the third row to extend just the body but keeping the same impression as a smaller crossover for the first five passengers. Like a wagon!
It very much feels “designed around you” from every seat in the way that German cars tend to feel, instead of something like the new Cadillac Escalade, which gave me the impression of being in a very comfortable seat bolted to a very fast shipping container. Each approach has its merits.
Inside, it makes the Q7 feel smaller than it is in the best way, and more comfortable to drive. The all-wheel steer system helped minimize the size perception, helping me achieve easy three-point turns on narrow beach roads flanked by dense foliage. I was only confident with the paintwork because I could see everything from the car’s surround-view cameras. The full-length massive glass roof on mine kept the back seats from feeling narrow.
The adaptive air suspension and the variable drive modes also added to the driving comfort on the bumpy and rocky dune roads, the crumbling beach pavement, and on the highway. The SQ7’s sportier steering wheel is remarkably thinner than I remember Audi steering wheels to be, making for a more comfortable grip (I’m known to prefer thinner wheels) that also makes the car seem easier and lighter to steer.
Our main complaint about the new Q7 was its vague steering feedback, and even in the sportiest setting on the SQ7 it’s still an issue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not horrible and certainly still intuitive. But there’s not much “instant” feedback of the road surface and sibling-company Porsche’s system in the Cayenne models is way, way better.
This may be an intentional difference, as the SQ7 didn’t start out as a “Porsche of crossovers” like the Cayenne but instead more of a comfortable “family crossover” that’s now been built into something sportier. Less aggressive steering may be what Audi engineers determined is better suited to something with seven seats.
I am hyper-aware that I always put interior and infotainment in the “bad” categories of my reviews, but it’s truly where I always find the most issues, both technically and aesthetically.
I want to get out of my own way first by saying I like the SQ7’s interior, with its red leather seats, slick digital layout surrounding the driver that’s easy to navigate and read after just a few minutes, and giant glass roof (with a gracious shade).
The way the infotainment screen blends into the dashboard almost seamlessly with glossy black trim is slick on first impression. But any use and you realize it has the same effect as painting a house white to match your white garage door: you’re going to be cleaning constantly or it’s going to look like shit after awhile. Also, the little “S” in the steering wheel was not secure and it rattled.
Ultimately I have to complain about the performance, too. As much as I love the softer edges to this SQ7, particularly its incredible air suspension ride quality even over the worst potted and rocky sand road you can imagine, it just does not feel fast.
In whatever drive mode, tooling around town or jumping from light to light, I don’t feel like an idiot toolbag as much as I should. I feel like I’m hiding it, and I don’t like that. The steering is too anonymous, and while there’s power, and it will come, it just never feels like the point.
But Audi makes another point to replace it with.
There are very few cars these days that I find worthy of the title of “luxury.” As has been pointed out to exhaustion by now, your run-of-the-mill Toyota Rav4 on the road is going to have a shitload of safety and tech features, and probably some pretty swanky seats. And it’s not going to cost as much as an Audi.
The gap between premium and luxury is at one of its narrowest in history, and the “cheap cars” practically don’t even exist in America anymore. That’s why I find myself surprised with the new Audi SQ7. It’s packed with so much comfort engineering it almost wills you away from aggressive driving. I left the car more wanting a family to take to the beach than wanting to go to a racetrack. That’s not typically my style.
Sitting in the (red leather) driver’s seat, my hands land on a refreshingly thin steering wheel with super clear button controls. The driver display is completely digital—as Audi once pioneered—and their system is still the best. Information is organized with clear graphic visuals, and instead of it all being crammed together, there is tons of empty space to help your eye easily land on what you’re looking for.
The center dashboard gets two more giant touch screens which took just a few minutes to get comfortable with. It requires a harder press than I’d like, but it does give haptic feedback when you connect with something—an understated feature more cars need. I only touched it to explore the menus when I was parked, or to change the climate control settings while driving. And I like this dual-screen infotainment system better than Jaguar Land Rover’s and even Porsche’s, which I’m usually pretty nice about.
The car’s Quattro all-wheel drive system seemed to help me enough to pull onto the beach stress-free, despite a giant warning sign informing that I’m liable for all towing fees, and the knowledge that I had to get the car back to Audi in less than four hours. The SQ7 will go very fast in very loose sand, but I will warn you that you do need to slightly re-calibrate your brain in sand with all-wheel steer. It was not very often I felt like I was driving “straight,” though the car indeed was.
The all-wheel steer system also made it crazy easy to pull off three-point turns on the narrow beach access road I was terrorizing. Chucking the little lever into reverse, the Audi’s suite of surround-view cameras made me very, very confident I could back into some reeds without worrying I’d fall in the ocean and go into even more debt.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 starts at $84,800 MSRP. The boring grey paint job on my car cost $595 (though it was nice up close!), the red seats were $750, as were the interior’s carbon inlays, the driver assistance package (which includes lane-keep assist) was $1,750, and finally the “two-tone” 21-inch wheels on mine were $2,000. With a $995 destination charge, Audi claims the total price of my test model was $91,640.
This is where I circle back to say, if you don’t have the money, most affordable crossovers on the market are going to give you a very nice experience. The SQ7 is, of course, not by any means $50,000 better. But if you’re shopping for this type of vehicle in this price range, and you don’t want the BMW to grind your bones, and you don’t want a Porsche because those should be small sports cars, this is perfect.
I would rather go for a spin in a Porsche Cayenne for sure, if it was a spirited drive. This is for the less-flashy rich person, who just wants to be able to turn around in one of their mansion’s courtyards without having to do a 20-point turn with the kids laughing at them in the backseat. Humiliating.
The SQ7 engineers have achieved quite a few successes here. It’s a crossover that looks incredibly handsome. It’s a huge family car that feels small. It keeps a soft edge to a fast crossover, unlike BMW can seem to manage. And it feels like what you’re paying more for here is less about top speed and g-cornering, and more about making something with 500 HP overwhelmingly inoffensive and easy to live with.