There are certain phrases in automotive journalism that become a bit overplayed. One of them is “physics-defying.” Someone might pen this kind of hype to describe a particularly capable sports car where the only thing it's actually defying is the bean counters’ preference for only making bland, soul-less crossovers. However, there’s a new asterisk that must be tacked on. Sometimes, technological advancements truly defy our understanding of physics, especially when they’re integrated into very new technology. Like Ingolstadt's latest, most powerful electric SUV: the 2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron.
After giving the more pedestrian (but still very good) Audi Q8 E-Tron a thorough go last spring, I got to see what more power and a retune of the electronic Quattro system could do to optimize the VW Group's MLB Evo chassis with this latest SQ8. The tech that this stylish brute possesses is not only exciting in the sense that it ups the fun-to-drive factor but also gives some indication of what’s potentially to come in future performance electric vehicles. After giving the SQ8 E-Tron a good, thorough rip, there’s plenty of excitement to go around.
|2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron Quattro Specs
|Base Price (Sportback as tested)
|tri-motor all-wheel drive | 114-kWh lithium-ion battery
|28.5 cubic feet behind second row | 56.4 cubic feet behind first row | 27.2 cubic feet behind second row (Sportback) | 54.5 cubic feet behind first row (Sportback)
|253 miles | 218 miles with 22-inch wheels
|Just enough athleticism to make a big difference with little compromise.
The Audi SQ8 E-Tron largely resembles the standard Q8 on the outside, save for a handful of sporty upgrades. First and foremost: its track and body are 1.4 and 1.5 inches wider, respectively, giving it a more aggressive stance overall. Fender flares largely account for that latter figure and make it easy for passersby to discern between the standard model. So do its standard, brushed-aluminum-mimicking front fascia, mirror covers, rear diffuser, and rocker covers. Audi calls its metallic finish Alu-optic, and it harkens back to classic Audi design. Audi also spent a lot of time optimizing aerodynamics on this car's face and there are wider openings to aid cooling and up the sporty aesthetic.
I was glad to grab the keys to a Sportback as its overall shape and proportions make it one handsome devil. What you lose in rearseat headroom you make up for with the view you get looking back at it in a parking lot. Then, its optional 22-inch five-arm-interference design wheels are some of the best stockers I’ve seen in a long time and fit the curved-roof S’ overall muscular persona quite well.
Speaking of headroom, the SQ8 is a comfortable and beautiful environment to hang out in. Diamond-stitched leather sport seats are standard, as is the leather that covers portions of the dash and other surfaces. Overall visibility is excellent, the seating position is upright but not too high, and I was able to achieve a very performance-oriented fit by tilting the 12-way adjustable seat to my liking, and bringing the steering wheel reasonably close to my torso. Like the standard Q8, the S is amply tall-guy-friendly up front.
When it came to the SQ8’s infotainment interface, it’s not necessarily hard to use, but there is more of a learning curve than other brands’ systems. But it’s quite responsive and haptically not-annoying in that it seemed to respond well to my taps.
While I didn’t get much of a chance to feel out its advanced driver assistance features, I was quite impressed by the way the SQ8’s systems recognized slower-moving vehicles ahead of me一on very twisty roads, no less一and gently applied the brakes in an effort to maintain some distance. Neat!
Charging and Range
As far as "fueling" up goes, the SQ8 E-Tron features a 114-kWh battery, with 170-kW DC fast charging which can apparently take the car from 10 to 80% charge in as little as 31 minutes. For Level 2 charging, Audi says it can reach full capacity in 6.5 hours at 19.2 kW on a 240V/80A service. And, like the standard Q8, DC fast charging at Electrify America stations is included free of charge (the financial kind, I mean) for two years.
However, there is a range deficit to discuss: 30 miles are cut out over the standard Q8 E-Tron, bringing it to 253 miles assuming you stick with the standard 20-inch wheels. Those handsome 22-inch barrels? Those drop the range down to just 218 miles. This is quite a dip. Still, the hopped-up SQ8 is pretty much the first of its kind一a high-performance luxury electric SUV from a legacy automaker一so it will be interesting to see how other brands’ competition stacks up in the future.
I had no big complaints with the Q8 E-Tron when I drove it back in May. It rode quite well in all modes, had great power delivery, and punched above (below?) its portly weight in tight, fun corners. At the time, I couldn’t help but think: Where do you go from here? Especially considering that Audi calls this top-level EV its flagship model一is there such thing as a flagship, of a flagship?
Traditionally, the Ingolstadt-based brand doesn’t go super hard in the paint with its S models; usually, that’s reserved for the RS badge. Instead, it carefully engineers just enough athleticism to make them noticeably quicker and attack corners with a little more precision. The SQ8 isn’t any different, though the increase is enough to truly impress.
Especially considering the conditions. What better way to feel out synthetic Quattro than in all-day-long showers on tight, coastal California canyon roads?
First thing’s first: This S-ified hulk is fast. It may have 6,118 pounds to haul around, but it’s got 496 horsepower and as much as 718 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, an increase of 94 and 228, respectively, over the more normie-spec Q8 E-Tron. Granted, it’s also 320 pounds heavier than that car. But then, its 0-60 mph time is a whole second quicker at 4.2 seconds一not bad for a bank vault on wheels. This is thanks to its tri-motor configuration: one motor for the front axle and two sitting right next to each other on the rear.
Then, lateral and longitudinal motion were well within this bank vault’s wheelhouse: the SQ8 handled itself incredibly well across the board.
It simply shrugged off drenched canyon concrete in multiple scenarios. One particular left turn onto a fast stretch of road would normally be a head-scratcher for any modern traction/stability control system, but the S simply sunk its 285-wide Hankook summer claws in and lunged off into the foggy distance. Possibly ironing out all the bumpy asphalt in the process, too. It gripped so well everywhere that I barely had to alter my driving for the conditions I was dealt. Then, like the lesser Q8, acceleration wasn’t typical EV brutality; it too had a pleasantly progressive power delivery. Just with much higher figures making their way to where the rubber met the road.
This same kind of character shined bright on the street and in the twisties, especially in Dynamic mode. This upped the four-wheel air suspension’s stiffness and improved its center of gravity by dipping the ride height a touch. The S’ front and rear five-link independent suspension and near 50:50 weight distribution are joined by stiffer sway bars and 50% stiffer front control arm bushings over the Q8 E-Tron, and you definitely feel it. More of the road made its way through the chassis and steering wheel and to my nervous system, though not to any degree that’d ever be considered annoying.
When it came to handling, body roll was nonexistent, and the ride was incredibly solid and well-damped. It soaked up particularly notorious bumpy stretches of canyon tarmac when set to Comfort or Dynamic mode, maintained a confident grasp of the road, and never felt choppy or skittish. The steering was same-song-second-verse: It was quite direct for the SQ8’s size and possessed an amply quick and refreshingly sporty 14.6:1 steering ratio. With decent variable weight, to boot. To aid turn-in and help mask its heft, Audi says the car lightly applies the unloaded inside front wheel’s brake, which I couldn’t pick up on while diving into more than a few tight corners.
Finally, reigning in all 6,118 pounds was never a chore, though conditions never really permitted testing out its braking system’s true endurance. Massive 14.75-inch front and 13.8-inch rear rotors sporting six-piston front and single-piston rear calipers filled out its wide wheels’ barrels. Regenerative braking had a significant hand in the matter, too, but the pedal still felt quite conventional and possessed the perfect amount of firmness and travel that allowed for easy, confident modulation.
Remember when I mentioned the SQ8’s powertrain is a tri-motor configuration? Audi says there’s one very neat feature about this rear-biased setup: It’ll drift. Sadly, the environment and conditions didn’t allow it during my drive一trying to get rotation out of this thing’s dimensions is best left for the track, not a narrow, public mountain road. But the system essentially mimics a conventional differential’s lockup under straightforward acceleration, and the two motors’ programming will allow slides when x-axis motion is factored in and traction control is turned off. Fingers crossed I get to experience this in the proper venue sooner rather than later.
Think of its standard electric torque vectoring as synthetic mechanical all-wheel drive, except Audi says it appropriately responds to slip in as little as 30 milliseconds, whereas the brand’s current conventional Quattro system takes 200 milliseconds. This is beyond conventional brake-supplied torque vectoring: While ripping through and out of a corner, the system can distribute power so instantaneously that the brakes are never factored into the equation. In terms of precision driving capability, the future's looking bright.
Which is probably also why the SQ8 felt so damn confident through damp, mountainside twisties. I was shocked at the amount of throttle input I could feed it on longer sweepers, and the car just continued on confidently up the road without any hints of slip. I occasionally felt some ever-so-slight ABS system actuation near the limit, but for the most part, it just powered right along.
Audi SQ8 E-Tron Features, Options, and Competition
While the standard Q8 E-Tron has some stiff competition from Mercedes, Tesla, BMW, and Jaguar, nobody else has really thrown their hat in yet when it comes to performance versions of flagship electric SUVs. The Ford Mustang Mach-E GT is an option, but that’s not in the same class size or niceness-wise. Albeit, Jaguar comes close: the I-Pace is still around and features an R-Dynamic HSE trim for the 2024 model year. It starts at $73,275, rips to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and will possess up to 246 miles of range.
By comparison, the SQ8 starts at $90,995 for the regular body style, $93,795 for the Sportback. My Premium Plus tester during this particularly rainy and overcast day topped out at $105,740 after options. At this level, neat digital matrix headlights are thrown in, as is a head-up display, power soft-close doors, parking assistance and intersection assist driver aids, sun shades for the rear doors, and projector lighting to fancy its presence up a bit.
The Early Verdict
The 2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron is one corner-capable electric SUV and the most fun one that I’ve taken for a rip yet. It does its classic Audi ancestors proud by offering immensely confident overall grip and handling in the wet, masks its portly weight incredibly and features a well-laid-out and luxurious cabin that anyone could spend all day in. Well, at least until that 218 miles of maximum range is reached.
It also instills a positive outlook on the future of fun driving. The SQ8 may not have the feel and aural experience of its ICE counterpart, but considering how seriously impressive this car's torque vectoring system is一I think we should coin it either synthetic Quattro, SynthQuattro, or s y n t h q u a t t r o一the future of performance driving could be quite bright. And while this sort of thing may be reserved for six-figure flagship SUVs for now, it shouldn't be too long before we start seeing this tech trickle down to more accessible Audi EVs that are more my speed. Like, for example, a next-gen electric S4. Color this B5 S4 owner excited.
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