Select DYNAMIC mode and the air suspension lowers the body to this level

Select DYNAMIC mode and the air suspension lowers the body to this level

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In the words of a friend who owns a Golf GTD and is a long time fan of multiple Volkswagen Group models, driving the Audi SQ7 would have to be "like propelling a municipal building at lightspeed". Is three times the torque output of most small diesel engines necessary, though? 

There is nothing to touch its torque output in the world of series production SUVs.

Of course not, well at least not for the average Joe or Joeline. On the other hand, if you have a decent sized boat, a couple of jet skis, a horse float/box or a large caravan, then this is your car: it will legally pull up to 3,500kg. Simply, there is nothing to touch its torque output in the world of series production SUVs.

With big diesel SUVs not too highly sought after in North America and China, volumes won't ever be anything but minimal. So why was such an engine developed? Well in fact, this engine, or at least related versions of it, shall soon be spreading throughout the kingdom which has its headquarters in Wolfsburg. And therein lies the answer: across multiple brands, in different forms, the numbers for the 4.0 TDI more than add up.

Three turbos; just not in the BMW diesel way

Already, we've seen this 4.0-litre V8 in one Porsche and it's headed for another. There are important differences, though, between what powers the SQ7 TDI, and what's under the bonnet of the Panamera 4S Diesel.

In the big hatchback, the output is 442hp and torque is 850Nm. These numbers are enough to make the Porsche the world's fastest diesel production car, with 0-100km/h taking a claimed 4.3 seconds and a top speed of 177mph. The Audi's equivalents are 4.9 seconds and a limited V-max of 155mph. CO2? That's 199g/km. Combined economy is 37mpg. Which is worse than what I saw: 39.3mpg.

The major difference between the engine in the Porsche and the one in the SQ7 TDI is the adoption of 48V electrics.

The major difference between the engine in the Porsche and the one in the SQ7 TDI is the adoption of 48V electrics. On sale in relevant markets since May 2016, the Audi was the first vehicle to be powered by the 3,956cc diesel. In the SQ7, it has a Valeo-developed turbocharger which is spun by an electric motor rather than exhaust gases. The principle behind it is that the impeller, which pumps air and fuel into the cylinders, still spins at 10,000 rpm even when it's not needed. For this reason, turbo lag is claimed to be eliminated. Power is 320kW (435hp) and torque is 900Nm. As well as the e-turbo, there are two conventional ones.

Audi calls the e-turbocharger an EPC (Electric Powered Compressor). This generates maximum power of 7kW and is linked to the 48V electrical subsystem. That includes a 48-volt lithium-ion battery which is positioned below the boot floor. The battery has a nominal energy content of 470kWh and a peak output of up to 13kW. Ingeniously, a DC/DC converter connects the 48V and 12V electrical systems. Impressively, and unlike the Q7 e-tron (petrol-electric PHEV), which has to have a huge battery pack, the SQ7 is a seven-seater.

Electric supercharger or electric turbo?

A final word on this topic as different terms are in circulation for these sorts of compressors. An electric supercharger is added to a turbocharged engine and this uses a motor to turn a compressor. In the case of an e-turbo - a powered turbocharger - the motor is positioned on the shaft of the turbocharger. Honeywell, which supplies both e-superchargers and e-turbos to certain OEMs, has made an effort to explain the differences but it can be tricky to quickly grasp the differences at first. One example is Honda's fuel cell vehicle, the Clarity. This is one well-known vehicle which is fitted with an e-supercharger.

The platform story

The future Audi Q8 will be built in the same plant as the Q7 and SQ7 TDI.

As has been noted in an earlier review of the Q7, this SUV was the first for the MLB Evo architecture. It won't be the last. As we know, build takes place in Bratislava and all variants, including the e-tron, are manufactured on one line. The current and next VW Touareg are also made or will be made there, along with bodies for the Bentley Bentayga. The future Audi Q8 is another big SUV for Bratislava.

The Lamborghini Urus, to be revealed to the media in December, will be a further 4x4 with MLB Evo as its platform . So too will be the new Porsche Cayenne, which premieres in a month's time at the Frankfurt IAA. This architecture is for longitudinally mounted engines and while it can have front-wheel drive applications in certain car models, all SUVs have standard all-wheel drive.

MLB Evo will stay in production in one form or another well into the second half of the next decade. It's not exactly a lightweight platform, though the same applies to all of its rivals. As noted in a recent Land Rover feature, the new aluminium chassis Discovery still weighs around two tonnes.

A weighty issue

Putting an SQ7 on a large enough set of scales shows a read out of 2,330kg unladen (excluding the driver). Not bad for a 5,069mm long and 1,968mm wide (exluding mirrors) 4x4 with a lot of glass and seven seats as well as a fair amount of standard equipment. Which you would expect, given the price, which is GBP70,835 before options. On the reviewed example, that rose to

The cost of the optional ceramic brakes is GBP8,100.

GBP94,650. A major chunk of that is courtesy of ceramic brakes, which add GBP8,100. Leather trimmed front seats are GBP2,000.

Things which make you wonder if you might not be quite in the total lap of luxury: the tailgate is opened electrically but press the pic on the remote again to close it and you're out of luck - sorry to mention this Audi but a much cheaper Discovery does both.

What else? Another minor quibble. Am I alone in questioning the attractiveness of those slabs of silver plastic on the car's sides? No doubt they are an attempt to bring down the visual centre of gravity but they doesn't work. In the SQ7, each has the word quattro on it and this makes it look very after-market, just as 'e-tron' does in the same place on the PHEV variant. Expect them to vanish when facelift time comes around in 2018 or 2019.

Standing at the front end, it's an arresting look and yes, it does yell 'move over' which is what some buyers will want those ahead of them to think. The sheer size of the wheel arches means that even the optional (a relative snip at GBP500) 21-inch 'Tornado' alloys look titchy. It has to be 22-inchers then.

When you dial up Dynamic on the suspension settings, the engine note becomes properly bass-heavy and petrol V8-like.

The V8 T badges on the front wings are a great detail and when you dial up Dynamic on the suspension settings, the engine note does indeed become properly bass-heavy and petrol V8-like. Extraordinary. This also drops the pneumatic springs and really does firm up the handling.

Even with all that weight, the SQ7 corners in a way which borders on the unbelievable. As good as a Range Rover Sport or a Cayenne. I'm not sure if the ceramic stoppers are a necessary option but they're mightily arresting. And to look at - I have seen A segment car wheels which have the same circumference as these discs.

Audi interiors are mainly close to being the gold standard, though not in every way. If I want to use the nav system I need quick presses on a screen, or to speak with the knowledge that I'll be instantly understood (not always the case with an accent, granted). Why would I instead want to scrawl an address on a touch pad? To me that is a gimmick which I would never use. Have tried it a few times on several cars with an open mind. SorryNotSorry: #fail every time.

Summary

We're talking a potential 3,500kg. If you're wondering why the big-bucks-brakes are available.

How to rate this monster? In some ways, it reminded me of the Mustang GT from a few weeks back. It burbles oh-so-intoxicatingly at idle (why would you ever switch it out of Dynamic mode?), has handling that you can't quite believe, grips in a way that those wide tyres suggest and just refuses to lean in bends to any unnerving angle. Amazing. Then you have the economy. Drive it solo at just under the legal motorway limit and the result will be 40mpg or more. If you intend to go seven-up, all adults, take note that that could be as much as three tonnes. Plus what's in the boot, on the roof and in the 85-litre fuel tank. So we're talking a potential 3,500kg. If you're wondering why the big-bucks-brakes are available.

The torque which you can turn on is (monu)mental and that's the SQ7's real USP. Should there be an SQ7 (minus the TDI and possibly with a TFSI suffix), I really can't see it being as good as the diesel. It's about time we started remembering all the great things about this fuel, even while admitting that one day it will better for everyone if the so-called zero emissions cars and SUVs of today really could be that. I'd love a Tesla Model X. But maybe not in Australia, India and so very many other countries where the majority of energy is generated from coal. That though, is a discussion for another day.