It’s a Tuesday morning within the mountains north of Malibu, California, and I’ve acquired an enormous grin on my face. I’m behind the wheel of a model new automobile, braking sharply to enter a protracted, uphill hairpin flip with a reducing radius. Halfway by means of the bend I press tougher on the accelerator and the tail kicks out ever so barely because the automobile rotates round, accelerating by means of the apex as I make a fast steering correction to level the nostril on the nook exit. I snigger out loud, a bit astonished by what I’m driving. After a set of sweeping S curves I dive into a good right-hander, and one other outburst of giggles ensues.
You’d be forgiven for considering that I’m within the newest sizzling hatchback or high-end sports activities automobile. In actuality, I’m driving the 2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron, a big electrical luxurious crossover that’s the newest model of what used to simply be known as the E-Tron (and to not be confused with the gas-powered Q8). The commonplace Q8 E-Tron is a wonderfully good however in the end boring EV, however this SQ8 efficiency variant is the primary Audi that has actually made me smile and snigger from pure driving enjoyable.
Full disclosure: The SQ8 E-Tron is so in demand however produced in such low volumes that each obtainable automobile goes straight up on the market as an alternative of any coming into the press fleet, so Audi actually needed me to drive thirty minutes from my residence to Santa Monica for my solely likelihood to check out the up to date SUV. They purchased me a really good lunch afterward.
The dealing with magic is due to the SQ8 E-Tron’s upgraded powertrain, which is actually the identical as the pre-facelift E-Tron S. Audi added a second motor on the rear axle, giving the tri-motor SQ8 E-Tron a most energy output of 496 horsepower and 718 pound-feet of torque when increase mode is activated. That’s 94 hp and 228 lb-ft greater than an ordinary dual-motor Q8 E-Tron, and adequate to get the SQ8 E-Tron from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and attain a high velocity of 130 mph, 1.2 seconds faster and 6 mph sooner than the Q8 E-Tron.
That further velocity is all properly and good, however it’s the dual-motor rear axle’s new torque-vectoring capabilities which are the star of the present. With a motor individually powering every rear wheel and no mechanical connection between them, torque is totally variable and will be adjusted in below 5 milliseconds, a lot faster than a mechanical system might. The SQ8 E-Tron’s exterior rear wheel can put out 162 lb-ft extra torque than the within wheel, with the within entrance wheel capable of be braked on the similar time. In Dynamic mode this provides the SQ8 instantly responsive turn-in that surprises me with how entertaining and transformative it’s. The torque vectoring feels completely pure, and it makes the SQ8 a lot simpler to drive shortly on a twisty highway.
Making its canyon prowess much more notable are the SQ8 E-Tron’s underpinnings. Unlike different high-performance EVs in the marketplace, the SQ8 E-Tron shares its MLB Evo platform with inside combustion automobiles starting from the Audi A4 and Q5 to the Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne. It doesn’t have fancy chassis tech like lively anti-roll bars or rear-wheel steering, both. The SQ8 E-Tron weighs 6,118 kilos however it feels a lot extra nimble than that determine suggests, helped not solely by the torque vectoring however its near-50:50 weight distribution and low heart of gravity. Compared to the Q8 E-Tron the SQ8’s steering is way heavier, which I vastly desire, and the steering wheel gives extra highway suggestions than different new Audis I’ve pushed.
In reality, the SQ8 E-Tron’s tossable dealing with makes me glad that its straight-line velocity is comparatively tame in comparison with extra highly effective rivals. The acceleration is fast sufficient to take my breath away and shove me again within the seat with out being exhausting or an excessive amount of; the proper quantity of energy to drive shortly on a superb highway with out reaching harmful speeds and pushing too laborious. Other quick Audis I’ve pushed just like the RS5 and S7 have felt nothing greater than boring and competent to me, however the SQ8 E-Tron is genuinely exact and fascinating.
This is the primary Audi S mannequin to have a wider physique, and it actually transforms how the Q8 E-Tron appears. The SQ8 E-Tron has a set of fender flares that will increase total width by 1.5 inches, and the monitor is 1.4 inches wider as properly. As commonplace the SQ8 E-Tron comes with 20-inch wheels, however my take a look at automobile has a set of rad twisty 22s carrying Hankook Ventus S1 Evo 3 EV tires with a sq. 285/35R22 setup. These adjustments give the SQ8 E-Tron a critically sizzling stance, particularly the Sportback mannequin, and the entrance flares even have practical air channels. The sticky summer season tires definitely assist present the SQ8 with a ton of grip, and I don’t expertise a single second of understeer or hear any tire squeal—apart from after I made a tough left flip at full throttle from a cease signal, leaving black tire marks on the highway.
Peek by means of the SQ8 E-Tron’s wheels and also you’ll see considered one of its largest flaws. The SQ8 has the identical brake setup as the usual Q8 E-Tron (albeit with crimson calipers added), consisting of six-piston calipers with 15.7-inch rotors up entrance and single-piston calipers with 13.8-inch rotors in again. The friction brakes themselves aren’t the problem; they’re loads robust and weren’t liable to fade even after a couple of hours of laborious driving. My downside is with the SQ8’s regenerative braking, or lack thereof.
Like different Audi EVs, the SQ8 E-Tron has regenerative braking that’s adjustable by means of a few phases utilizing the steering wheel pedals, however it doesn’t have true one-pedal driving. Even within the strongest setting the regen can’t deliver the SQ8 shut to a whole cease, which I discover to be actually irritating. It’s even annoying when within the canyons. I really like having the ability to drive an EV shortly on a superb highway with out ever needing to the touch the brake pedal, however within the SQ8 it’s laborious to inform whether or not slowing down utilizing simply regen will probably be sufficient when approaching a nook, main me to make some awkward stabs of the brake pedal each a lot too early and just a little too late. I begin entering into the groove ultimately, however going from regen to urgent the brake pedal by no means feels pure or seamless. Sure, I might simply flip the regen braking off fully and solely use the friction brakes, however at that time why drive an EV in any respect?
Turning again onto Pacific Coast Highway and placing the SQ8 E-Tron again into its Comfort drive mode is a serene expertise. Standard dual-pane glass makes the SQ8 even quieter than the A8 sedan, and the suspension’s softest setting is sweet and soft regardless of the massive wheels. In regular driving conditions the entrance motor is turned off for higher effectivity, and the rear axle’s torque vectoring makes metropolis maneuvers and freeway lane adjustments faster and tighter.
The SQ8 additionally will get the identical battery and charging enhancements as the usual Q8 E-Tron. Battery capability has grown from 86.5 kWh to 106 kWh, growing the EPA vary from 208 miles to 253 miles. With the 22-inch wheels the vary drops to 218 miles, nonetheless 37 miles larger than earlier than, and my automobile’s show confirmed 235 miles of vary with a full cost. The SQ8 E-Tron can now quick cost at as much as 170 kW, a rise of 20 kW, now adequate to go from 10-80% in 31 minutes. The commonplace onboard charger is a 9.6 kW unit, however an $1,850 package deal provides a second cost port on the automobile’s left facet and will increase the AC charger’s capability to 19.2 kW, slicing Level 2 cost time from 13 hours to solely 6.5 hours. Plug & Charge is commonplace, and each SQ8 E-Tron comes with two years of free limitless charging at Electrify America stations.
Like earlier than the SQ8 E-Tron is available in two physique types, the usual SUV and the Sportback that has a sloping “coupe” roof. (As a lover of crossover coupes, the Sportback can be my alternative.) Other than these fender flares, the SQ8 is differentiated from the traditional Q8 E-Tron with aluminum mirror caps and different silver exterior accents, although my automobile has the non-obligatory $3,500 Black Optic package deal that provides all the outside trim a gloss black end and provides these 22-inch wheels. The SQ8 additionally has bigger entrance grille openings, totally different badges, and a few distinctive exterior colours, together with the superior Soneira Red of my Sportback.
Aside from a perforated steering wheel, an embossed shifter, sport seats with thicker bolsters, and a few further carbon trim, the SQ8’s inside is an identical to that of the Q8 E-Tron, which is to say engaging however not notably attention-grabbing. The SQ8 comes commonplace with prolonged leather-based on the sprint and door playing cards, and the entrance seats are 12-way power-adjustable. For $2,000 you may get a package deal that provides air flow and therapeutic massage for the entrance seats, however it annoyingly replaces the game seats with the usual Q8 E-Tron’s seats, which aren’t as supportive.
Unchanged for the SQ8 E-Tron is Audi’s MMI infotainment system that pairs a ten.1-inch higher touchscreen with an 8.6-inch decrease touchscreen, the latter of which is generally used for local weather controls and different automobile settings. Both screens have haptic suggestions, which is nice, and the 12.3-inch digital cockpit gauge cluster show is great, particularly when utilizing navigation. While MMI is simple to make use of I’ve by no means actually been a fan, largely due to how dour and previous the graphics look and the shortage of customization for the screens.
Every SQ8 E-Tron has a 3D Bang & Olufsen sound system, four-zone automated local weather management, a hands-free energy tailgate, heated entrance and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, an built-in toll reader, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a wi-fi cellphone charger, and wi-fi Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It additionally comes with all the protection tech you’d anticipate, together with a 360-degree digital camera system, adaptive cruise management with lane centering, automated emergency braking, automated excessive beams, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, rear collision detection and site visitors signal detection. Spending $6,000 to go for Prestige trim stage will get you digital matrix headlights, a lightbar on the high of the grille, a head-up show, soft-close doorways, sunshades within the rear doorways and parking help.
The SQ8 E-Tron begins at $90,995 together with a $1,195 vacation spot cost, whereas the Sportback model prices $93,795, That’s a $15,400 upcharge over the usual Q8 E-Tron and $14,800 greater than the Q8 E-Tron Sportback. If a performance-oriented electrical SUV is what you’re after, I believe it’s properly well worth the cash. The SQ8 E-Tron may not be as fantastic to take a seat in as a BMW iX M60 or as quick and technologically superior as a Mercedes-AMG EQE SUV, however it’s extra enjoyable to drive than both and cheaper, too.
Most of all, the SQ8 E-Tron has me excited for Audi’s upcoming electrical automobiles just like the A6 E-Tron and Q6 E-Tron that can journey on new devoted EV platforms. Those fashions can have extra highly effective motors, extra environment friendly batteries and extra spectacular options, plus usher in what I discover to be a extra thrilling design language. If they make me crack a smile just like the SQ8 E-Tron does, Audi would possibly make a fan out of me but.