2017 Audi SQ7 TDI Road Test
(4 / 5)
Here’s what you need to know
It’s a seven-seat, V8-powered, turbocharged luxury SUV which makes a mammoth 900 Newton-metres. That’s 663 lb-ft of torque. Yes, folks – that’s a lot.
Just over ten years ago, a Finnish company embarked on an ambitious project. It created a diesel engine that was to rewrite the rulebooks on torque.
With a capacity of 25,480 litres (no, that’s not a typo), and designed for the 397m-long cargo ship Emma Maersk, it burns through 6280 litres of fuel every hour. Standing 13.5m tall and 26.6m long, the engine itself weighs over 2300 tonnes.
It has 14-cylinders and don’t get us started on the size of the turbochargers – the Wärtsilä RT-flex96C is the largest and most powerful internal combustion engine in the world.
With a peak output of just over 7,000,000 Newton-metres, it is the king of torque.
With a huge long-stroke design and diesel as the fuel of choice, torque is not just a byproduct for the Emma Maersk, it’s a necessity. Big, heavy machines need torque – simple as that.
But there’s a fine line between needs and wants sometimes.
Feeling that hand-of-God push from behind, being able to tow anything this side of the moon – having a lot of torque in your car isn’t always what’s needed, but it definitely makes life more interesting.
So, this Audi, it has a lot of torque, right?
You’d better believe it. Audi’s largest machine, the Q7, has always been blessed with plenty of grunt, but for some, the standard 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel just wasn’t quite enough. You know who you are…
And that’s why the boffins in Ingolstadt have spent the past few years creating a unique powertrain that combines traditional and contemporary techniques to bump up the torque to a scarcely believable 900Nm (663lb-ft), slotting it into the flagship variant – the SQ7 TDI.
How is that even possible?
To achieve that figure of 900 Newton-metres, the company had to work around the biggest issue that most modern diesel engines face – turbo lag.
It’s one thing to create massive power and torque figures, but with two huge turbochargers, the time for them to spool up is normally prohibitive for daily driving; imagine trying to pull out in front of cars approaching and getting little or no response for a few seconds.
Eliminating this lag requires the turbochargers to be spinning at high speed before the driver has even put their foot on the throttle.
So how do you get a turbo spooled up if there isn’t sufficient exhaust pressure? You create your own pressure source.
Give us the technical details
In a first for a production car, the SQ7 utilises a 48-volt electric subsystem that runs in addition to the standard 12V system we’re used to. It’s kind of a mild-hybrid system, actually.
That extra voltage is required to run the secret to the SQ7’s impressive turn of speed – an electric compressor.
This tiny electric fan can go from zero to 70,000rpm in the space of 250 milliseconds (a fraction more than the blink of an eye), providing an instant charge for the first turbocharger.
After turbo number one has reached peak capacity, turbo number two takes over. This triple sequential action helps the 4.0-litre V8 hit peak power of 320kW (435bhp) – an insane figure for an oil-burner.
With the same torque as two Toyota Prados put together, this seven-seat SUV is able to hit 100kmh in just 4.9 seconds.
Not bad for a 2.3-tonne vehicle. Opt for the five-seat version and you can shave another 0.1 of a second off that time.
Top speed? Well, that’s limited to 250kmh, but be in no doubt – it will hit that without breaking a sweat, thanks to its eight-speed automatic.
Let’s just get this right – there are three compressing fans on this beast. Three of them. Yes, folks, that’s how you become the king of torque.
Fast is good, but it needs to slow down, too
Audi’s duty of care means that a car of this velocital potential has to also be good at hauling up all that mass.
Clamping on the massive 400mm front discs are huge multi-piston callipers which produce retardation that will pop your eyeballs.
If that’s not enough, Audi has optional carbon-ceramic brakes which guarantee continued stopping power no matter how hard you mash the wide pedal.
Does it handle?
You bet. With dynamic mode selected on the Drive Select system, the steering weights up, the throttle response sharpens and the gearbox gets ready for keeping the revs up, all inspiring confidence to throw it around like a hot-hatch.
It seems weird to describe a seven-seat SUV in those terms, but it shrinks around the driver and laps up tight, twisting corners with an agility reserved for something half its size. To do that, it needs suspension that’s a bit better than some standard springs.
There’s some serious action going on underneath
Well, remember that 48V electric setup? With the optional dynamic package fitted, the extra voltage goes into the all-wheel steering setup (which helps the car turn in quicker), a sports differential which keeps the rear end stable and the “electromechanical active roll stabilization” system.
It’s a mouthful, but it takes the high voltage system and uses an electric motor connected to stabilizer bars which stiffen up when the car starts to roll in a corner, and then release when back on the straights.
The result is increased grip when cornering, but a composed ride everywhere else – surely the holy grail of any large SUV.
Is it always so manic?
Thankfully, it’s not just a one-trick pony. Choose comfort mode and the ZF gearbox goes from sharp shifts to smooth changes and the ride softens up further.
Across rubbish surfaces in this softest setting, the SQ7 soaks up imperfections brilliantly, even on 21-inch wheels.
The steering also lightens and the throttle response backs off a fraction. After all, it is an SUV, meaning families will be heading away on weekends, so it has to be comfortable.
Tell us about the interior
Being a true seven-seater, adults can climb into the last two rows and not be a yoga instructor to get out again.
In addition, there are child-seat anchor points on every seat in the rear rows, giving five possible spaces.
Four-zone climate control, lane assist, radar-based cruise control, blind spot monitoring and traffic jam assist mean it’s loaded with tech, and that’s before you get to the 12.3-inch TFT instrumentation.
Dials? They’re a thing of the past. Google’s satellite mapping overlays the navigation, giving you a bird’s eye view of your surroundings, and with hardware from graphics-card company Nvidia, simply speak natural English phrases and the car obeys.
For example, tell the car you’re hungry and you feel like Indian food tonight and it will go and search for the closest Indian restaurants plus set up your sat-nav to take you there.
Thanks to beautiful leather and titanium finishes, and an ambient lighting package that imbues a cool background glow, this car feels a million bucks.
Should we call it a bargain?
After experiencing the rush of 900Nm, perhaps. But the question mark surrounds its sound.
After all, it is a diesel, so how far off a truck is it? Well, on startup there’s a distinct diesel rattle from the outside, but close the doors and it’s dead silent inside.
And when you do press on, there’s a wonderful V8 sound which is unmistakable – you forget completely that this is an oil-burner.
Yes, the propulsion is overwhelmingly convincing – diesel has come a long way.
But a machine like this is surely it’s going to drain the world’s crude reserves, right? Far from it. The ADR sticker says 7.6-litres/100km, and around town, you’re looking at a couple of litres more.
This thing uses no more fuel than Nissan X-Trail.
Here’s the deal
It’s the depth of ability, though, that makes the SQ7 a remarkable machine.
Want to head onto the beach? No problems. Need to tow the boat? With 3500kg braked capacity, you can. Tackling the family run to soccer? Tick. Hitting the Stelvio Pass at warp speed? Tick. Luxurious? Double tick.
With a better power-to-weight ratio than the Emma Maersk, the Audi SQ7 TDI sets the bar for performance SUVs.
Sure, there are some quicker machines out there, but none are seven-seaters, and none can come close to matching the SQ7’s staggering fuel economy.
It is a true jack of all trades – mastered and won.
2017 Audi SQ7 TDI Pricing