Feel of a feral force

Stealthy seven-seater packs safety, luxe — and a fe­ro­cious V8 diesel

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - PRESTIGE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

WEL­COME to the seven-seat SUV on steroids. Audi’s SQ7 is one of the quick­est, smartest high-rid­ing forms of mass tran­sit avail­able.

It will out­run a BMW M50d or a Porsche Cayenne S diesel and will out-hus­tle the pair through the turns (it’s worth not­ing both ri­val brands have new ver­sions due in the next year or so).

At $153,616 the SQ7 is about $4000 dearer than its di­rect com­pe­ti­tion and the tech­nol­ogy em­bed­ded in the car mer­its the pre­mium, even if you need to find $13,500 for a dy­nam­ics pack to get the most out of the ex­tra­or­di­nary 4.0-litre V8 turbo diesel.

Other in­ci­den­tals in­clude $2250 for metal­lic paint and $4000-$5000 to up­grade the stan­dard 20-inch wheels with 21-inch jobs.

The rel­a­tively un­der­stated look of the SQ7 — a pair of tailpipes at each cor­ner is the only hint of the per­for­mance it de­liv­ers — means plenty will also spend $950 to have the brake calipers painted red.

The equip­ment list is im­pres­sive. There are LED head­lamps, a hi-res dig­i­tal driver’s dis­play, pow­ered tail­gate, head-up dis­play show­ing speed and nav­i­ga­tion, 8.3-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen, Bang and Olufsen speak­ers and wire­less charg­ing for com­pat­i­ble smart­phones.

Driver-as­sist fea­tures in­clude city-speed au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, blind-spot and lane de­par­ture warn­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert, re­vers­ing cam­era, au­to­matic high-beam dip­ping and au­to­mated park­ing.

Adap­tive cruise con­trol, ac­tive lane-as­sist and Audi’s traf­fic jam as­sist com­bine to steer the car — most of the time — be­tween the lines and main­tain a gap to the ve­hi­cle in front.

Space for the sec­ond-row oc­cu­pants is huge and the seats

fold down for ready ac­cess to the third row. These de­ploy at the push of a but­ton and are big enough to fit a cou­ple of small­ish adults on shorter trips. Kids will be fine.

ON THE ROAD

A 2.3-tonne SUV shouldn’t out-ac­cel­er­ate a sports car yet the SQ7 does just that. Ef­fort­lessly, re­peat­edly and with as lit­tle fuss as you’d ex­pect from an en­gine pack­ing 900Nm and no no­tice­able turbo lag.

The of­fi­cial sprint time of 4.9 sec­onds is quicker than the S3 sedan sta­ble­mate and largely at­trib­ut­able to the elec­tric com­pres­sor that kicks in from take­off to force-feed air into the twin tur­bos.

If the sprint is im­pres­sive, the SQ7’s roll-on ac­cel­er­a­tion is gob­s­mack­ing with the drive mode set to dy­namic. The eight­speed auto doesn’t have to try too hard to keep the en­gine in its peak torque range of 1000rpm-3250rpm and over­tak­ing be­comes a point-and-squirt ex­er­cise.

If you plan to drive the SQ7 as it was in­tended, ex­tend the price by $13,500 to in­clude the dy­namic pack with four-wheel steer­ing and a sports dif­fer­en­tial, along with the electro­mechan­i­cal anti-roll setup also used on the Bent­ley Ben­tayga and Porsche Panam­era.

The elec­tron­ics mon­i­tor speed, yaw rates and body an­gles to de­ter­mine how stiff the roll bars should be. At low speed and on rough sur­faces, the two halves of the bar are sep­a­rated to let each cor­ner move freely. As the pace in­creases the halves of the roll bar are twisted against each other to min­imise body roll.

The only lim­i­ta­tion to how quickly you drive the SQ7 is a sub­lim­i­nal ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the con­se­quences of in­er­tia over­com­ing elec­tronic wiz­ardry as you power a cou­ple of tonnes of ex­pen­sive metal into a tight bend.

That thresh­old is well be­yond any­thing the le­gal lim­its and san­ity per­mit in Aus­tralia. The­o­ret­i­cally, the sta­bil­ity con­trol would in­ter­vene … but you can’t help that nag­ging feel­ing things could get real ugly, real quick.

The ar­ti­fi­cially weighted steer­ing doesn’t help here. The steer­ing feel is masked by a con­trived weight on ini­tial turnin that doesn’t bol­ster con­fi­dence. Drop the steer­ing feel back to com­fort and there’s not enough weight to feel at ease through a se­ries of tight­en­ing sweep­ers.

The sports seats are snug but there’s still enough room to stretch your back or thighs on a long haul and the flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel is one of the few in­di­ca­tions you’re not in a reg­u­lar Q7.

Given the base diesel Q7 starts at $96,855, there are a lot of fi­nan­cial rea­sons why you mightn’t need the SQ7. This car isn’t about need, it’s about want — and who doesn’t want a seven-seat SUV to out­haul and out­drag most cars on the road?

VER­DICT

The SQ7 is un­ques­tion­ably the fastest, best-ap­pointed sev­enseater in the main­stream mar­ket. It is not the most en­gag­ing drive but the sheer fe­roc­ity of the diesel V8 and the data-driven ve­hi­cle dy­nam­ics over­whelm the com­pe­ti­tion in the real world.

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