S stands for special in Audi’s new 500-hp SQ8Jun 29th, 2020
What does “S” stand for? In the case of Audi’s new SQ8, it can stand for a lot of things. Sporty, for instance, thanks to improved handling and breaking. Souped-up, thanks to its rumbling turbocharged V8 and staggering straight-line speed. Stacked with equipment, maybe. Stealthy, particularly if you order it in the dark grey you see in the photos here. Most of all, though, “S” stands for special – this is a Q8 that feels like a lot more than a Q8, while retaining all of the things that make the “regular” version so appealing.
Let’s talk about sporty, as the first things you’ll likely notice are the visual indicators of a more aggressive attitude. Big red brake calipers peek out from behind 22-inch wheels; the front bumper has more aggression; the stance is lower and more aggressive; and four big exhausts poke out from the rear.
These elements are not mere window-dressing: the SQ8 is a sharper, more aggressive driving tool than the Q8 on which it’s based. Flick the Audi drive select into dynamic mode and the air suspension settles to a lower ride height, the ride firms up, the shifts get more aggressive, the steering weights up, and the engine sound is more “present,” by the language on the big touchscreen. While still a big, heavy SUV, it turns in aggressively, and those huge 22-inch tires grip like crazy no matter what the weather. The faster you go, the better it gets, the SQ8 feeling lighter on its feet and even more fluid at higher speeds.
The SQ8’s interior is suitably upgraded in lockstep with its upgraded handling. Diamond-stitched sports seats feature integrated head restraints, and substitute aggressive adjustable side bolsters for the usual massage function; carbon trim graces the dash and doors; and there’s a staggering Bang & Olufsen stereo. On the outside, though, like all Audi S cars, it’s the model of restraint – only the quad pipes, the big brakes, and some badging differentiate the SQ8 from a regular Q8 fitted with an S line package. Choose a subtle colour like this Daytona Grey, and it’s a staggeringly fast SUV that can fly very much under the radar.
How fast? With a twin-turbocharged 4-litre V8 as well as a 48-volt mild hybrid system, the answer is very fast indeed. A 165-hp increase over the regular Q8’s 335-hp yields an even 500, and more importantly, there’s torque everywhere in the rev range – whether you twitch your toe while cruising, flatten your foot from a stoplight, or anything in between, the SQ8 quickly finds the right one of its eight gears and flies forward. While the Q8 feels adequately powered for a luxury SUV, the SQ8 feels like a true performance vehicle, and it has the soundtrack to match, a bassy rumble at idle that builds to a stirring race-car snarl at higher revs.
The collective effect of the extra power, the upgraded handling and braking, the spiffed-up interior, and a substantial load of standard equipment, is a vehicle that feels a whole lot more special – which in the end is what the S in the SQ8 stands for, for me. With a $110,900 starting price, it is certainly not an inexpensive performance SUV, but it has a very attractive price-to-power ratio when compared against vehicles like Porsche’s turbo Cayenne – and it’s the extra power is a very attractive proposition if you’re considering a loaded-up “regular” Q8, which can easily close in on the $100,000 mark with a few options.