Road tests

New Audi SQ8 2023 facelift review: fast and expensive

The Audi SQ8 has been treated to an update, but it remains a rapid and practical SUV

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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It seems odd to say this about a £100k SUV, but the Audi SQ8 is a whimsical creation, with a practical cabin, a nicely sorted chassis and a V8 engine that somehow manages to enhance the experience without dominating it entirely. Those after genuine cross-country alacrity will still be better served by one of Porsche’s excellent updated Cayennes – but there’s enough about the updated SQ8 to keep it on the shortlists of those after a different badge.

Amid the inexorable push towards electrification, the market for rapid combustion-powered large SUVs is beginning to wither. But Audi still wants (or needs) to extract a few more years of services out of its faster SUV flagship, the SQ8, so it has treated it to a series of mainly cosmetic upgrades in a bid to boost its showroom appeal.

And we really are talking about mostly visual tweaks here; there are redesigned, slimmer headlights that free up space for a neater front-grille arrangement, assisted further by a more aggressive front bumper. At the rear there’s a prominent diffuser, incorporating four working exhaust pipes (no fake tips here, thank you). There are some different wheel designs and new colours, too, plus a couple of fresh finishes on the dashboard inlays.

The cabin is largely untouched, then, but it still stands up reasonably well – with a couple of exceptions. Audi’s haptic-feedback touchscreen remains fiddly to use, and the gearshift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel feel desperately cheap in a car of this status and price positioning.

Speaking of which, the SQ8 does without the S line trim of the regular model, so there are just two versions to choose from: the SQ8 Black Edition, and £97,245, and the fully laden SQ8 Vorsprung, which weighs in at £116,795. Whichever one you go for, you get 23-inch alloy wheels, a B&O premium audio system, four-zone climate control and rear-wheel steering.

As with the regular Q8, the SQ8 gets no major dynamic changes. That means it sticks with the well-proven 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, in this installation tuned to produce 500bhp and 770Nm of torque. There’s an eight-speed automatic gearbox and, of course, quattro four-wheel drive. Audi claims this package can the 2.2-tonne SQ8 from 0-62mph in a whisker over four seconds.

The main chassis differences between the SQ8 and the regular models are a 48-volt active anti-roll bar, coupled with a bespoke suspension tune and a sports differential that shifts torque between the rear wheels to aid cornering. And it’s actually quite impressive, managing to keep the car’s body tied down in faster curves while, curiously, also delivering greater compliance on scarred road surfaces than its more modest stablemates. 

A Porsche Cayenne would still ultimately feel more agile, we suspect, and no less compliant – even on steel springs instead of the SQ8’s air set-up – but Audi’s engineers have done a decent job here of mixing poise and performance with cruising comfort.

A proper prod of the right-hand pedal livens up the V8, of course, and it remains the car’s star turn. It delivers a well-judged NASCAR-esque thud that is politely characterful – enough to remind you that you’ve splashed out on two more cylinders than the rest of the range, without threatening to get in the way of conversation. 

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When you’re up and running, the V8 is barely any more noticeable at 70mph than the V6s in the Q8 TFSI and TDI – which is to say that it’s drowned out by a bit of wind noise from around the side mirrors (despite acoustic glass) and a fair bit of a tyre roar transmitted up from the monster 23-inch wheels. Fuel consumption remains pretty catastrophic, of course, with a claimed figure of 22.8mpg that’ll dip into the mid-teens if you really turn on the taps. But then, anyone who’s buying a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged £97k SUV has to be at least slightly more motivated by celebrating what a V8 can do than regretting its side effects.

Model: Audi SQ8 Black Edition
Price: £97,245
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Power/torque: 500bhp/770Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 22.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 281g/km
On sale: Now

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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