How does the sporty, hot-hatch version of Audi’s luxury SUV handle off road? Ed Coles gives his verdict... after his fastest-ever feed run
I was eagerly awaiting delivery of the Audi SQ8, not least because it was the sporty version that was being dropped off. Black, sleek bodywork, blacked-out windows and 22in wheels are certainly a statement. I think its silhouette is rather pretty. I imagine if Batman and Knight Rider teamed up, this is the car they would drive.
The red sporty brake calipers are the first clue to the intentions of the Audi SQ8. To simplify things, let’s call it the hot-hatch version of the Q8. Before the expected groans of “that’ll not go off road”, the SQ8 Quattro is fitted with Audi’s allroad system, so we get some fancy, adjustable suspension and settings for all occasions.
As it’s a sporty version, let’s start off with what’s under the bonnet. Plastic. A lot of plastic. Tucked away is a V8 four-litre turbo diesel engine, with 435 tiny horses galloping about. They produce 900Nm of torque, so more than enough pulling power.
It’s restricted to 155mph and has a 0-62 of 4.8 seconds. The SQ8 Quattro has permanent four-wheel drive with a central self-locking differential and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Next, it’s time to pull out the trusty feed bag and have a look underneath. All the essential bits of sorcery are safely shielded by industry-standard plastic. There’s a few glimpses of the independent suspension, which can rise 90mm from its lowest setting of 164mm, giving the SQ8 an impressive ground clearance of 254mm.
Moving around to the boot, you can’t help but notice the 22in wheels. They look smart, but the low-profile road tyres could be the weak link in off-road escapades.
Using the auto-opening function, we’re greeted by a pretty decent-sized boot. The coupe styling takes a bit of height out of the boot but there’s still plenty of room for sporting kit. Deactivating the auto-load cover is essential so that we don’t decapitate our faithful four-legged friends.
Space-wise, to use the standard unit of measurement, the Audi SQ8 can comfortably accommodate eight or nine full bags of wheat with enough room left for a gun slip, 30in to 32in barrels.
Inside the Audi SQ8
The SQ8 is exceptionally well kitted out inside — and spacious. Maintaining a sporty feel with carbon fibre inlaid into the interior, it is a rather swish blend of textures and neon lighting.
Alcantara trims mix elegantly with the black Valcona leather sports seats, which are electrically adjustable in every conceivable way. Overall, it has a high-end feel. The sleek centre console and dash contain many bells and whistles — Bang & Olufsen sound system, DAB radio, wireless phone charging, heated seats, Apple CarPlay, parking cameras and all the usual goodies.
The satnav is pure next level witchcraft with crystal clear images that can be viewed on the speedo or console. All the driver aids are there, too — fancy ABS, traction and stability control, cruise control and lane departure. Let’s just say, it’s fully kitted.
The SQ8 comes with Audi’s allroad system, which includes adjustable air suspension. The allroad and off-road modes jack the suspension right up, while the dynamic mode plants it firmly to the ground. Throttle and overall performance are fettled about with accordingly.
The driving modes are reasonably straightforward: off-road, allroad, dynamic, comfort, individual, auto and efficiency. So, it’s time to take her for a spin.
Despite its large, powerful engine, the SQ8 is very drivable, rather gentle at low speeds and pottering around, it’s all rather smooth. On tight and twisty roads, it feels like it ought to — precise, planted and sporty.
I keep having to tell myself it’s an SUV. It really does feel like a hot hatch. On the open road, I decide to be slightly heavy right-footed to see what all the fuss is about. It is quick, and I haven’t put the auto box into sports mode yet or got anywhere near eighth gear. The SQ8 is a weapon of mass fixed-penalty notices.
With a push of a screen, the off-road mode is selected and I can feel and see the suspension rising, giving a bit more breathing space underneath. The suspension feels slightly hard, but it deals well with the lumps, bumps and ruts.
Despite me sweating, it performed well, negotiating its way through the wood. Luckily, it’s been dry because you do have to wonder about those 22in low-profile tyres in wet conditions. That aside, with a reasonable load of wheat in the boot, this could be the quickest feed run I’ve ever done. I’m doubting that the spinner could keep up.
The SQ8’s advantages are adaptability and drivability. From shopping and dropping the kids off to moments of midlife crisis, all bases are covered. It performs well on country lanes and motorways, and is none too shabby off road.
Drives like a dream both on and off road, spacious and high-end spec