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2020 Audi SQ7 Test Drive Review
Audi’s flagship crossover gets the S performance treatment.
With great looks, a raft of high-tech features, and exhilarating performance, Audi’s midsize luxury three-row performance SUV has it all. The second-generation Audi Q7 got a facelift for the 2020 model year, when the sporty SQ7 was added to the lineup.
Look and Feel
More than almost any other automaker, Audi has perfected the art of extending a design language up and down a lineup, creating a unified family look for all of its vehicles. Not that they’re identical; it’s just that Audi vehicles share style, proportion, and significant details that identify them as Audi. Like many design and styling choices, this leads to a binary perception: Either you like Audi design, or you don’t.
We see the Audi lineup as modern, crisp, tailored, and elegant. The SQ7 has sharp edges, distinct bends, and looks like it can cut through the wind, despite its size. The signature Audi Singleframe trapezoidal grille is flanked by a pair of intense-looking dual-LED-projector headlights with signature daytime running lights, and the hood features a modest power bulge at its center. The roofline races back from the fast windshield, ending in a gentle swoop with a small spoiler. Like every Audi, the fit and finish on the SQ7’s exterior are excellent.
Inside, the SQ7 shows off Audi technology with twin touchscreens in the center stack, and the configurable Audi Virtual Cockpit as its instrument panel. The twin touchscreens are neatly integrated into the dashboard, not exposed and free-standing as the current style dictates. The top screen handles infotainment duties, while the lower screen is devoted to HVAC functions, supplanting the usual sea of buttons and knobs. It’s a clean, high-tech look. There’s an effort in the cabin to look clean, streamlined, and substantial. Witness the beefy steering wheel, and the hefty gear-selector handle. Notice the continuous lines of trim that connect the center air vents with the passenger-side air vents. Details like this, along with superb materials selection and build quality, elevate the SQ7 above many luxury competitors.
Befitting an Audi S model, the SQ7 gets a lusty turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine with variable valve timing, an aluminum-alloy block and heads, tuned to produce 500 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, sent through an eight-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters), and Quattro all-wheel-drive system (AWD), with a self-locking differential.
The powertrain uses Audi’s 48-volt electrical system, with a lithium-ion battery and a belt-alternator starter. It's a mild-hybrid system that can recover up to 12 kilowatts of power and feed it back into the battery. In some situations, the system can act as an efficiency assist, enabling long coasting with the engine deactivated, but all necessary systems still powered by the battery.
Vehicle dynamics and handling are what really make the SQ7 stand out from the crowd. Sport-tuned adaptive air suspension with damper control is standard, which allows you to tune the ride from Comfort to Sport Plus, depending on road conditions and your taste—or you can let the SQ7’s computers select the ride for you, based on near-instantaneous sensor detection. On a smooth straightaway stretch—like a 70-mph highway— the SQ7 simply breezes along, connected to the road but not transmitting any harshness or vibration. On a nice, meandering country lane, the SQ7 hunkers down, remaining composed and calm even with changing road camber.
Driving at a good clip is stress-free—the only challenge is keeping your speeds below the legal limit, because driving is so easy and rewarding. Audi reports a zero to 60 mph time of 4.3 seconds for the SQ7, on the way to a top speed of 155 mph. Impressive, given the SQ7 weighs 5,291 pounds. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 mpg combined.
Form and Function
Even with all that performance on tap, the SQ7 is still a very capable utility vehicle. The SQ7 is Audi’s largest SUV, with standard seating for seven. Luggage space behind the third row is 14.2 cubic feet. Fold the third row flat, and you’ve opened up 35.7 cubic feet of space. Flop the second row, and you can jam 69.6 cubic feet of cargo behind the front row of seats. Seating capacity and cargo space might be the factors that tip potential buyers from the two-row SQ8 to the three-row the SQ7 within the Audi lineup.
Front-seat comfort, as you might imagine, is superb, with perforated diamond-stitched Valcona leather sport seats with heating and ventilation for both driver and front passenger. The second row is split 40/20/40, with adjustable recline and available heating. Getting into the third row is simple and convenient, made easy by the big second-row door openings. Ample storage is available throughout the cabin, and the high roofline with a low beltline keeps claustrophobia at bay for all three rows.
As a luxury car, the SQ7 adds more convenience features to the mix. A power liftgate is standard, and can be actuated from the back of the car with a kick under the bumper or a finger to the switch, from the interior via a toggle, or from the key fob. Three-zone climate control makes sure that all passengers are comfortable. A panoramic sunroof with sunshade is standard, and rear side window sunshades are available.
The SQ7 comes with the latest version of Audi’s MMI infotainment system. The touchscreens operate with haptic response, which makes them much easier to use while driving. The dash is loaded with tech, including a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, an integrated toll module, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, wireless Apple CarPlay, voice recognition, and more. Audi Virtual Cockpit plus is standard, replacing the physical gauges of the instrument panel with a configurable high-resolution video display. The integrated Google Earth navigation display is a wonder that really upgrades the navigation experience.
Audi has packed in its latest in advanced driver assistance systems, including active lane assist with emergency assist, adaptive cruise control, side assist and Audi pre sense rear with rear cross-traffic assist and vehicle exit warning, intersection assist, and top-view camera system with virtual 360-degree views.
Bose 3D Surround Sound with 19 speakers, 15 channels, and 558 watts of amplification is standard on the SQ7, but audiophiles will want to invest in the available ($5,000) Bang & Olufsen 3D Advanced Sound System, which ups the ante to 23 speakers, 23 channels and 1,920 watts of amplification, and the coolest pop-up tweeters in the top front corners of the dash.
Since the SQ7 will likely be carrying your most prized possessions (your family members), safety features have been baked in, many standard and more available. Driver adaptive and front-passenger dual-stage airbags, along with front thorax side and head-curtain airbags are standard. Rear side airbags are available. LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) connectors are standard on rear seats. Electronic stability control with off-road mode, secondary collision brake assist, traction control, an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, tire pressure monitoring system, electromechanical parking brake, and a rear-view camera are all standard.
Standard driver assistance includes Audi advanced key, automatic headlight, and windshield wiper sensors, high-beam assist, cruise control, Audi pre-sense basic and front, parking system plus with front and rear acoustic sensors, and top-view camera system with Virtual 360. Available systems include active lane assist and collision avoidance assist, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, turn assist and predictive efficiency assist, traffic sign recognition, head-up display with navigation and assistance systems information, night vision assistant with pedestrian and large animal detection, and intersection assistant.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the standard Q7 “Good” (its highest rating) in all categories except headlights, where it rated “Poor” and LATCH ease of use, where it rated “Good +.” IIHS did not rate the SQ7, but we assume that it would rate the same as the Q7 as a variant. The 2020 SQ7 has not been rated for crashworthiness by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it received a four-star (out of five) rating for rollover.
The 2020 Audi SQ7 starts at $84,800 MSRP. Depending on your perspective, you either nodded knowingly or gasped and grabbed your chest upon reading that figure. Certainly, the SQ7 is a big step up from the regular Q7, which starts at $54,800. But it starts lower than the two-row SQ8, with which it shares a lot of features.
The competition in luxury three-row SUVs is thick, with some very excellent vehicles in the mix. Among the best are the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 and GLE 63 S (starting at $72,350 and $113,950 respectively), the BMW X7 (starting at $74,900), Lexus LX (starting at $86,580); Infiniti QX80 (starting at $69,050), the Volvo XC90 (starting at $49,000), the Acura MDX (starting at $44,500), the Cadillac XT6 (starting at $47,995), and the Lincoln Aviator (starting at $51,100). Among the two-row contenders are some really potent names, like the Land Rover Range Rover, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the Lamborghini Urus, the Bentley Bentayga, the Rolls Royce Cullinan, Porsche Cayenne, and others, but they’re more competitors for the SQ8 than the SQ7.
If you do choose a 2020 Audi SQ7 to join your stable of vehicles, don’t be surprised if you find yourself neglecting the other stalls in your barn. The SQ7 is a versatile, comfortable, sporty ride, and will reward drivers and passengers who are fortunate enough to spend time behind its wheel and in its comfy cabin.
Jason Fogelson has reviewed hundreds of cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles and ATVs for websites, magazines and newspapers. He is based in the Detroit area.
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Looking for a Used SQ7 in your area?
CarGurus has 147 nationwide SQ7 listings starting at $85,440.
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