No premium German carmaker's lineup is complete without a 500hp electric SUV. How does Audi's effort stack up?

By Nic Cackett / Wednesday, 20 December 2023 / Loading comments

It’s almost a year to the day exactly that we last drove the Audi SQ8 e-tron, a car you wouldn’t say is custom-built to appeal to the average PHer on the basis that it is a large, expensive SUV powered exclusively by a battery. In fact, at 2,650kg without yours truly sitting in it and tested here in its slightly less practical Sportback format, you might conclude that this is the equivalent of being given a marmite sandwich in place of Christmas lunch. A sandwich that cost you £100,795. 

Nevertheless, we’ve neglected to drive the car since it rocked up in the UK in the intervening months, and on the basis that it outputs 503hp (in optimum conditions, needless to say) and some of you might be considering taking the family-friendly, performance EV plunge in the new year, we’ve rolled up our sleeves for a second go. Additionally, John H was in two minds about the conventional SUV derivative he drove in Lanzarote (of all places) last year. So we thought we’d clear that up, too. 

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, you’ll want to avoid the Sportback version as a matter of course. As ever, the only reason to buy one is if you prefer the styling, and honestly that seems like a long shot for anyone with eyesight good enough to qualify for a driving licence. Even if you are strangely partial to the hacked-off rear end and fastback-style boot lid that results, its silhouette makes the rest of the SQ8 look like a weirdly high-sided, blobby saloon. And that makes passersby hate it. Or this passerby did, at any rate. 

Mercifully though, our test car did come with conventional door mirrors (which the LHD models John drove did not) so that was automatically a brownie point in its favour; ditto the interior generally, which doesn’t overtly attempt to wow you like some of its rivals – and is probably all the better for it. You’ll still find yourself prodding a lot of screens for basic functions, but never in a fury. The driving position is fundamentally fine and the seats good. It’s put together with the usual precision. It feels upmarket. 

Admittedly, that familiar four-ringed feeling is slightly undone by the distinctive electrical whine first identified in the Canary Islands. Readily apparent on getaways and when coming to a full stop, it is one of those noises that you don’t notice so much once you’re used to it – but when you’re not, or you’ve opted to grumpily tune into it, there’s really no mistaking it. And that’s a shame because the one sound most of us would prefer not to hear coming from our six-figure SUV is one that recalls a milk float. (It isn’t that bad, yet nor is it good. Which is to say virtually silent. Which is what it should be.) 

Were it silent, you might be inclined to start appreciating the SQ8 – albeit for mostly foreseeable reasons. It is, like practically everything that sips from the plug, a doddle to drive and quite often a pleasure. Especially in town where even agile, high-powered SUVs can seem like a chore. Not the SQ8 though, which exits junctions and merges into traffic like an oversized i3. It rides competently and quietly. And if you’re in a genuine do-or-die rush, it will carve up slow-moving traffic like a motorbike courier. Obviously, a Lamborghini Urus will do this too – but you feel less guilty about it in the (mostly) mute Audi. 

It transfers this turn of pace onto the open road without much fuss. There is decent progression to the accelerator pedal (i.e. it’s not all or nothing) and, as before, you can modulate the regen using the paddles. When you actually need to apply the brakes directly, the response is intuitive enough (still not a given in EVs) although the extent to which you notice the fastidious recuperation of energy depends on how hard you’re trying. Typically – and for better or worse – this will not be much. Firstly, with up to 718lb ft of torque on call and traction to spare, not much effort is required. Secondly, because the chassis is more shower than goer. 

Truthfully, many of the criticisms could be cut and pasted from the big book of old Audi chestnuts. The steering is sternly weighted yet muddy off-centre and ultimately aloof. The adaptive air suspension (best left in Auto) is robust, credible and never less than rigorous in countering lean, but the S-specific underlying firmness too often denies it the chance to flow on British roads. So while there is frequently no technical reason to slow down, you tend to do so anyway having failed to adequately locate the fun. Remind you of anything? 

In fairness to the SQ8, John had a better time of this in Lanzarote, and had we driven the Sportback on roads that mirrored its development setting(i.e. smooth, fast EU-mimicking asphalt) it would likely have played to its strengths. The car cruises admirably well and overtakes slower-moving traffic with the usual dismissive ease. You’ll need to select S mode via the gear selector to access the no-holds-barred ‘Boost’ element of the power readout (and mash the bulkhead with your foot, too) but the resulting shove leaves you in little doubt that 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds is achievable. 

Repeating it too often is the inadvisable bit. The SQ8, it must be said, is not overburdened with range. Audi is likely aware of this comparative deficiency: the meat of the model’s recent facelift was focused on increasing battery capacity (to 106kWh) and improving aerodynamics (out of which the Sportback does best). But a WLTP rating of 276 miles in Black Edition format is nothing to write home about – not when real-world testing suggests it translates to around 215 miles at 93 per cent. A serviceable amount, given the way most people currently use EVs. But no reason to seek it out. 

Ultimately, that conclusion suffices for the car around the battery, too. The Sportback’s marmite-ish styling aside, the SQ8 does most things capably well. Perhaps it whines when it shouldn’t and doesn’t complement its driver when it should, yet otherwise it gets on with being a very fast electric SUV just fine – and is infinitely better looking than the iX xDrive50 M Sport that BMW will sell you for roughly the same money. Then again, Audi’s arch-rival took the precaution of installing an imaginative, super-plush interior in its offering and extracting 100 additional miles of range from it. The SQ8’s standout incentives, in contrast, seem few and far between. 

Specification | 2023 Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron Black Edition

Engine: One front electric motor, dual rear motors
Transmission: single-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 503
Torque (lb ft): 718
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Weight: 2,650kg
Energy consumption: 2.3 miles/ kWh (WLTP)
Range: 276 miles
Price: £100,080 (as tested: £100,795) 

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