Yep, it's another SUV from Audi. But this one slots in right at the top of the range. As such, the new SQ8 is a 2.3-tonne SUV-coupe intended to take on BMW's upcoming M-fettled X6 M50d in the corners and still waft along well enough to see off the Range Rover Sport SDV8. To pull off both feats it gets an entire arsenal of whizz-bang tech, much of it centred around that turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 - which pumps out 664lb ft of torque - and the stabilisation wizardry enabled by anti-roll systems and active air suspension. If that all sounds familiar it's because much is shared with the SQ7 - although the SQ8 promises to add bespoke fine-tuning and a lower centre of gravity than its sibling. As Audi's present performance SUV flagship, outwardly it projects a more prominent sporting focus - no mean feat for the clever hardware or the engineers tuning it...
Any discussion of the merits of the large SUV-coupe is essentially moot. As ever, the SQ8's tapering roofline robs the cabin of some rear headroom and boot capacity - but a growing customer base is clearly happy to sacrifice both for the more aggressive body shape. Unlike the Porsche Cayenne Coupe, there's no notable weight penalty with the slicked-back roofline, so on-paper performance is unaffected, with the SQ8 taking 4.8 seconds to hit 62mph and topping out at an electronically limited 155mph. But engineers claim that the SQ8 has a genuine handling advantage over the SQ7 thanks to its shorter maximum height and lower tail, allowing for unique chassis tuning underneath.
Inside, all SQ8s come as standard with Audi's very latest Virtual Cockpit suite, including the two centre console screens and digital instrument cluster, which take some getting used to but they do eventually become intuitive and easy to use once you're up to speed - and they remain as visually impressive as ever. Up front, the cabin feels big and airy, helped in part by supportive bolsters and a great seating position, which uses the wraparound effect of the high scuttle to deliver something which feels close to sporty. The SQ8 is big, but as a result of the great adjustability offered by its controls, you feel comfortable with the dimensions in seconds. So long as you're not too bothered about visibility directly behind - you're provided with a narrow view through the angled tailgate - the SQ8 shrinks around you.
Audi's 4.0-litre turbodiesel unit produces a peak of 435hp from 3,750rpm to the 5,000rpm redline, but it's the 664lb ft of torque that kicks in from 1,000rpm that matters most. You might expect a muscular unit like this to offer the elasticity of the old (and greatly missed) V12 TDI, but for some reason there's a noticeable step in performance at about 2,000rpm. When you're driving around town it feels like the eight-speed tiptronic is to blame for the hesitation, while on the open road it seems as though the motor itself needs a second to inhale before letting loose. Odd, given there's 48v mild-hybrid and electric turbine tech onboard - although once moving there's no denying the SQ8's potency. It surges forward like a juggernaut, acceleration both linear and unyielding, so pace piles on quicker than you think.
Keep to the inside lane of a motorway and the SQ8's composure and refinement is really very impressive, its lane assist tech set to on by default (you can switch it off) and adaptive cruise system being ultra-smooth during both throttle and brake applications. On standard-fit 22-inch wheels it doesn't exactly waft, but there's no question the SQ8 would take you hundreds of miles without you really noticing. Only the occasionally jiggle of quicker suspension settings leaves the softer Range Rover Sport with a slight advantage - but on the flip side, the SQ8 feels like its made to deliver total confidence at 155mph. Which, of course, it is.
Switch from comfort to dynamic mode (Audi's latest Virtual Cockpit layout locates the Dynamic Select controls onto the haptic feedback central screen) and there's a noticeable stiffening of the air suspension's rebound rates. The car remains remarkably good at gliding over large bumps, but smaller, sharper imperfections make for a busy ride - one that within a couple of corners of our country route has us winding the chassis back to comfort mode. It's a mark of Audi's anti-roll hardware, shared with Cayenne and Bentayga no less, that even this softer setting results in next to no body roll through the bends. The SQ8 body corners flat while the wheels below pitter patter over bumps and cracks on their own, leaving you to lean on the surges of torque and try your damn hardest to break the traction of the 285-width boots. You won't.
Only fallen leaves flummoxed the car in PH's experience, a circumstance which saw the SQ8's tail give first - not as part of some hidden mid-corner adjustability, as offered by the Cayenne Coupe Turbo - but simply because the nose is so utterly dominant in the model's chassis balance. The brakes are similarly undefeatable at pace, making the SQ8 about as securely adhered to the road surface as any large SUV, which, as ever, is both technically impressive and vaguely soporific. Audi's sport differential is standard-fit here but with such hefty reserves of grip it's mostly there just to provide more unrelenting drive out of every type of corner. Add in a steering system that's quick to respond but void of communication, and an air-bed chassis certainly not concerned with driver feedback and, well, you know what you're getting.
Most SQ8 buyers certainly will, and they will regard the forfeiture of immersive handling as no more serious than the sacrifice of rear headroom. Probably less so given the straight-line performance that is undeniably on offer here, and the nonchalant way the SQ8 can be driven quickly. It fails to trump the Range Rover for comfort or for a sense of connectedness with the control surfaces, but it often feels like more of a high-grade technical accomplishment. Which is familiar trait for very ecomplimentary as an objective appraisal gets. Ultimately, the SQ8 feels top-of-the-line. But that's it. We await the arrival of the RS Q8 and its Range Rover SVR-rivalling petrol V8 performance with interest. Perhaps that will be the red hot poker the SUV-coupe needs.
Engine: 3,956cc V8 twin-turbo diesel (with 48v mild hybrid hardware and electronic compressor)
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 435@3,750-5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 664@1,000-3,250rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 2,365kg (unladen)
MPG: 31.4 (Vorsprung 30.7)
Price: £81,740 (£104,240 as tested for top Vorsprung trim level, plus options inc. £750 for Orca Black Metallic paint, £450 for red brake calipers with S logo, £400 for black roof rails, £475 for rear side airbags, £325 for tyre pressure monitoring system).
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