New Audi SQ8 e-tron 2024 review: heavy and expensive, but great to drive

The Audi SQ8 e-tron is a paradox on four wheels. Off the pace in some places yet brilliant in others

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

Few will look at the Audi SQ8 e-tron’s numbers and think it makes rational sense, but in spite of its stark inefficiency, huge weight and lofty price tag, it’s an SUV that drives brilliantly and appeals beyond the sum of its parts. 

In the quest to electrify, it’s perhaps surprising to see the premium family SUV as a cradle of its rapid evolution. The Audi e-tron was one of the first offerings, back in 2019, but thanks to the pace in which new EVs are evolving, its mid-life update and a name change were introduced in the latter half of 2022 – and couldn’t have come sooner.

This specific model we’re now driving on UK roads is a top-spec SQ8 e-tron, in the stylised Sportback body. Its fundamentals haven’t changed, which means it’s built not on a bespoke EV platform, but a heavily modified chassis derived from petrol-powered models like the Q5.

Featuring upgrades to the battery pack and electrical systems, the SQ8 e-tron is the most performance-oriented model in the range, introducing a second electric motor to the rear axle, totting up to a total of three. These draw power from an up-sized 114kWh battery pack under the cabin floor. Power sits at a peak of 496bhp – a figure hardly bursting in a world of 600bhp-plus Kias and Hyundais. But more interesting is its peak torque which sits at a whopping 973Nm. 

On-paper performance figures are impressive, but ultimately little to write home about. The SQ8 will reach 62mph in 4.5 seconds, and hit a limited 130mph top speed. But as is so rarely the case with EVs, this car isn’t about the numbers, but the way it drives.

Getting straight to the point, the SQ8 e-tron handles phenomenally well. This is an extraordinarily heavy car (2,650kg), yet it seems to belie every one of those kilograms thanks to its brilliant powertrain and chassis calibration. Aside from more power, the key factor of the SQ8 compared to lesser models is that extra motor’s ability to vector torque on the rear axle.

Whether gently augmenting the power delivery in its more comfort-focused modes, or going for the full effect in Sport by aggressively overpowering the outside rear wheel, it seems to wipe hundreds of kilos off the SQ8’s perceived weight. The car feels taught, controlled and even agile, using torque rather than power to seemingly quash the laws of physics.

Unusually for an ‘S’ model, the Audi SQ8 has different suspension geometry to the standard Q8 e-tron, retaining its air suspension system, but allying it to slightly wider track widths, wider tyres and more overtly aggressive levels of camber. The effect is a firm, but exceptionally controlled ride quality that feels more BMW M car than Audi SUV

Helping the SQ8 in this endeavour is very clean and accurate steering, which together with brilliant throttle control and decent brake feel makes this the best handling Audi SUV by some margin. With space and a slick road surface, the SQ8 seems to dance around with incredible balance and composure – a wholly unexpected quality that to us feels superior to just about every potential rival, be that Merc’s new EQE SUV or even BMW’s brilliant iX.

There is a cost for all this though, and it comes in the form of some quite appalling efficiency. Tested in cool December temperatures, the SQ8 e-tron displayed a potential range of just 200 miles, despite an official rating of around 270 miles. On our mixed driving route of sensible motorway speeds and some town driving, we averaged just 1.9mi/kWh – some of the worst figures we’ve seen on any EV. Aside from feeling a tad wasteful, such limited range and a reliance on the expensive public charging network for long journeys jars with the fact that this is, inherently, a large and luxurious family car that ought to be more usable.

Interior space is competitive in the world of similarly-sized combustion-engined SUVs, but not compared with EV rivals from BMW and Mercedes. Without a bespoke chassis to rest on the usual EV benefits such as a flat floor and extra storage is denied. Build quality is excellent, but in the rapidly moving world of automotive interiors it’s already starting to feel a little generic. 

If you’re into the latest tech, you also won’t be bowled over by the car’s digital interfaces on first encounter. Both touch screens are relatively small in comparison to rivals from BMW and Merc, but Audi’s system is still a fine digital companion that’s easy to operate on the move. Interior refinement levels are also very impressive, although the wide tyres can generate some roar on rougher road surfaces.

There are some curiosities when it comes to the UK-specific specifications, too. Our entry-level Black Edition car starts at just over £100,000, yet lacks basic equipment such as keyless entry or adaptive cruise control – though these can be added through various option packs. A top-spec Vorsprung spec is also available for an extra £15,000 or so, adding larger 22-inch wheels, matrix headlights, a panoramic sunroof and camera-style exterior mirrors.

When considered purely on rational terms, the SQ8 e-tron is invariably left wanting. It’s an expensive electric SUV that’s starkly inefficient and left on the back foot in a segment that sells itself on innovation and the image that goes with it. Yet the fact that it drives with such polish and engagement is definitely worth championing – especially at a time when so many of its key rivals are still getting that part of their new-era of EVs wrong.

Model:Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron
Price from:£100,795
Price as tested:£101,590
Powertrain:106kWh battery, 3x e-motor
Power/torque:496bhp/973Nm
Transmission:Single-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
0-62mph:4.5 seconds
Top speed:130mph
Range:276 miles (WLTP)
Charging:170kW (10-80% 31 mins)
On sale:Now
Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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