Audi’s elegant electric family hauler

As Audi expands its electric range, the latest offering adds stylish practicality 


DON’T feel bad if you find yourself stumbling through Audi’s model range with a sense of confusion. You’re not the only one. 

What with the nondescript A3 and A4 sedans, the larger Q3 through Q8 SUVs, the elegant S6 and S7 sedans, and a bunch of high-performance models with “RS” (racing sport) in their names, it feels as if we’re swimming in alphabet soup. 

Here’s another ingredient to throw in: The new electric US$89,800 (RM419,366) Audi SQ8 E-Tron. It’s neither as sporty as the tuned-up RS variants nor as cool as Audi’s excellent Allroad wagons. But the improved driving and battery performance of its electric Q8 E-Tron sibling, an elegant interior and a price tag that matches the value it offers make Audi’s newest five-passenger EV worth considering. 

Chiselled Family Hauler 

I drove the SQ8 E-Tron last week almost 70 miles (113km) from Santa Monica through Topanga Canyon and the hills around Mulholland Highway, then back down the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu. While it’s not as athletic as those Audis with the coveted “RS” badge, it is the highest-performing variant of Audi’s largest electric SUV. For my test I had an SQ8 E-Tron in a Sportback version with a Prestige trimline; that combination offers standard comforts such as power soft-closing doors, digital matrix-design LED headlights, rear sunshades and park assist. 

It cost US$105,740 as tested. Sportback simply means the roofline is more sloped, for a sportier look than the basic version. (“Sporty” should be taken with a grain of salt; this is, after all, still a grocery-getter.) Both versions have the same performance specs and interior setup. 

Audi has been under pressure to rejuvenate its model lineup and provide some exciting new electric vehicles since its internal-combustion lineup has grown too ubiquitous, even a little stale, in recent years. Audi says it will produce electric versions of the A6 sedan and Q6 SUV next year; both will use the same electric platform co-developed with Porsche. By 2033 the automaker will sell only EVs, a spokesperson told me on Nov 14. 

The SQ8 E-Tron is a part of that effort, so I was especially curious about what would make it worth US$15,000 more than the regular Q8 E-Tron. 

I found it delightful both to view and to drive. It looks more chiselled than its sibling, with flared fenders, a front end that maximises aerodynamics and a stance wider by 1.5 inches. True Audi fans will notice the SQ8 E-Tron also has newly stylised four-ring badging and freshly redesigned logos. 

Its dual charging ports — one on each side — give you the option of using a Level 2 charger or a fast-charger. Two years of unlimited free charging come standard. So do all-season tires and 20-inch wheels. 

Solid and Smooth 

Even before I got inside the car, the folks from Audi told me that this is “not a car for 

doing doughnuts in”. I didn’t exactly need the disclaimer. I could see for myself that this is a 6,000lbs (2,721kg) SUV, not a track car. 

But no further caveats were needed as I wound myself past the endless fencing of King Gillette Ranch and the sun-baked hills of Malibu Rocky Oaks Estate Vineyards. It has plenty to offer. The 496hp of its three electric motors is available only under a special boost mode, but that’s still 94hp and 228 ft-lbs of torque more than what we get with the Q8. It goes from 0 to 60mph (96.56kph) in 4.2 seconds, which is about a second faster than the Q8. Top speed is 130mph. 

I didn’t come close to that top-end range out on Mulholland, but I did find myself cruising at 80mph a little too easily for comfort with my budget for speeding tickets. 

The underpinnings on the SQ8 are 50% stiffer than its predecessor, according to Audi. What this means is that it feels solid and balanced around corners, with braking that inspired confidence even on steep declines. Two motors in the rear and electric torque vectoring lend it agility I wasn’t expecting in an SUV with up to 54 cubic feet of cargo space in the back. Four-wheel air suspension comes standard; so, does the Level 2 autonomous driving system. 

The cabin provided a calm environment that made me feel refreshed when I got out, rather than distracted. It’s less jammed with screens than the electric vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, with better thought-out and commonsense controls than those from BMW. 

As one of its perks, the SQ8 E-Tron gets diamond-quilted seats and a panoramic sunroof. I’m tired of seeing diamond stitching offered as a special consideration. I think it will look dated in a few years’ time, and it’s already started to feel that way-but everyone is allowed their own taste. Unlike the near-nausea-inducing electrical drone of the BMW XM, the SQ8 was as quiet inside as an executive sedan. Dual-pane acoustic window glass is standard, which helps explain the divine silence inside. 

Charged Up 

The battery and charging capabilities of the SQ8 E-Tron are not its most glamorous features. I wish it had a longer driving range. It gets 253 miles on a full charge, but that’s achieved only on 20-inch wheels; bigger rims degrade the battery faster. It will charge from 10% to 80% in 31 minutes at a public DC fast charger, which is about the going rate for luxury electric SUVs these days. 

The SQ8 E-Tron has 20% more range than the Q8 because of improved aerodynamics that I mentioned earlier and more efficient battery configurations under the body. After caning it for two hours through the hills, I still had an estimated 150-plus miles of juice remaining from the initial 249 miles of range registered. Not bad. 

As expected, I didn’t get in any doughnuts while the SQ8 E-Tron was under my command. I didn’t even get the wheels to screech, although I did eke out a few rear-end wiggles around the tightest turns up on Mulholland. 

This isn’t an SUV you’d want to race, like the exceptional and throaty Lamborghini Urus. But with its higher-performance drive style, generous standard offerings and upgraded electric capabilities, the Audi SQ8 E-Tron feels worthy of its price tag. — Bloomberg

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition