DriveLife reviewed the Audi Q8 in February 2019, and liked it a lot, giving it a 4.5-Chevron rating. The Q8 has stunning looks and it reeks of luxury – hence, it won our 2019 Luxury Car of the Year award.

With a 210kW/600Nm twin-turbo V6 diesel, it didn’t really seem like the Q8 needed more power or torque. Audi New Zealand disagreed, and so here we are in Christchurch at the launch of the SQ8, and also the SQ7. Gone is the V6, and in its place is a twin-turbo V8 diesel, pumping out a stunning 320kW of power and a stump-pulling 900Nm of torque. We’re also going to drive the new Q7.

But first, some technical and sales talk. Dean Sheed, GM of Audi New Zealand, kicked off the session. He says that Audi has seen 8 successive years of growth, with a global figure of 1.8% from 2018. China is their number one market, followed closely by Germany. Coming up globally, Audi will be focusing on new model launches, continued electrification, WLTP (World Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure) approvals, and autonomous driving. In a very keen statement, he feels that Level 5 autonomous driving – full self-driving – is just 5-10 years away. In hindsight, he says that it’s more like ten years, but still, I’m impressed. I thought it would be a good 20 years away yet, and other manufacturers have mentioned 20 years as a realistic number.

For the local market, total passenger sales for Audi have dropped by 4%, but likely this is due to not having an A1 replacement for 9 months, and no Q3 model to sell for six months. Locally, the premium market segment in total is up 9% for 2019, after being negative for the first 6 months.

SQ8 and SQ7 on the hills above Akaroa

One of the new features Dean mentioned was Audi Connect, which uses an embedded SIM card to enable smart phone usage, send data to Audi and its dealers, for future use for autonomous driving, and over the air updates (which is coming this year he says). All new Audis by the end of the year will have Audi Connect. Currently, there is testing in Germany where the Connect system talks to traffic lights, to slow down or speed a car up to match traffic lights to increase flow of traffic, enable smoother driving, and to save fuel. Sounds like a great idea.

Sales-wise, the Q2 is Audi NZ’s biggest seller, followed by the Q5 and then the Q7. So it seems SUVs rule the sales charts, although there’s still good volumes of sales for the A1-A6 models.

Dean then went into EVs and charging systems, mentioning that Audi in Europe have invested 100 million euros, adding 4,500 charging points across Europe. This includes all Audi factories, where 1 in 10 car parks will have EV charging capability. Audi is aiming for 40% of sales to be EVs by 2025, when there will be 30 models of BEV (full electric) or PHEV (plug in hybrid) for sale. This includes New Zealand.

e-tron updates

And so to the e-tron, Audi’s full EV SUV. There’s been 92 deliveries in New Zealand so far, a mix of business and private customers. Around 60% have chosen the virtual mirror option, and 40% have signed up for the home charging option, where Audi teams up with Vector and HRV to check a household’s usage, then install a dedicated EV charger. Instead of 8 or maybe 16 amps, a dedicated charger will pump 32 amps into an EV. The system will be solar compatible shortly.

In April this year, the e-tron 50 arrives. This is a new base model, priced at $134,900. It will have a smaller battery capacity at 71Kw/hr, a WLTP range of 320km, and a power output of 230Kw and 540Nm of torque.

Following that will be the e-tron Sportback 55. This is a new sportback body style, with a high performance version to come later. In 2021, there will be a Sportback S model with in excess of 300kW of power, landing third quarter of 2020.

There’s also the e-tron GT coming, a sister car to Porsche Taycan, which should be available early 2021. Lastly, there’s a Q4 e-tron coming, sometime in 2022/2023.

Coffee stop in Little River

Short term outlook and free insurance

Next up was Head of Marketing for Audi in New Zealand, Chanelle McDonald. She went on to give us a short term outlook for Audi in New Zealand. There will be 15 model launches in first 6 months of this year, with a bunch of new RS models.

In a significant move, Audi NZ have launched their own comprehensive car insurance plan, in partnership with Providence Insurance. The kicker here is that it’s free for the first 12 months for any new Audi registered before March 31st this year. The insurance policy includes no-excess for windscreen, headlights and taillights. There’s a use of genuine parts for repairs, use of an Audi approved collision repairer, and rental vehicle cover included for no extra cost. I can see this being an attractive option for many buyers, perhaps even swinging them from another brand. Audi NZ have really thrown the gauntlet down on this one, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the market with this offering.

SQ8

A6 Allroad

Unfortunately, there was no A6 Allroad at the launch, although this new model will be available shortly. Audi considers the Allroad to appeal to buyers who want an SUV, without it being an SUV. Interestingly, 100% of A6 Allroad buyers are male, are 40-59 years old, and have keen interest in outdoors.

There’s now air suspension, a new TDI engine pumping out 257kW of power and 700Nm of torque, allowing it to tow a maximum of 2.5 tons. Decent numbers in a car this size. It’s now 20 years since the launch of the Allroad, and this is the 4th generation being launched, and costs $134,900.

We only get one model in New Zealand, a single turbo 257kW version, which launches to 100 in 5.2 seconds. There’s 20 inch rims, as well as matrix LED headlights, wireless phone charging, a HUD, an Extended Leather Package, and a 360-degree camera system.

Q7/SQ7/SQ8

Finally, we got onto the new models that we had come for.

For the Q7, there’s a new look for the all-alloy body car, with the base model Q7 50 TDI  priced at $144,900. There’s a new grille, new tailgate design, MMI touch response screens, a heads-up display (HUD) as standard, as well as Audi’s Active Display. The engine is carried over; it’s the 210kW, V6 diesel with 600Nm of torque, which will propel the car to 100km/h in 6.3seconds. The new Q7 is priced $10k over outgoing model, but there’s lots of new standard features. Included in these is air suspension, an electrically folding tow bar, all wheel steering, HD Matrix Laser headlights, wireless phone charging, and wheels ranging from 20 to 22 inches.

The new Q7 and also the other two models gain Audi’s new Mild Hybrid System (MHEV), and this will be expanding across the entire range.  MHEV can reduce fuel consumption by 0.7l/100km they say, and starts with a belt driven alternator/starter, which charges a 48-volt battery. There’s constant engine monitoring to see if it can send power to the battery but not increase fuel consumption.

It also means the car can coast between 55 and 160km/h, and under 22kmh engine may turn off.  We saw this first in the Q8. The system uses radar, sensors and navigation to determine if it’s worth turning engine off.

But MHEV can do so much more than this, integrating with a lot more systems in the car. One of those systems is called electromechanical active rollbar stabilisation (eAWS). Essentially, there’s an actuator on each rollbar, and this can either apply torque (up to a maximum of 1,200Nm using a 48-volt, 1.5kW motor) during cornering to reduce body roll, or disconnect altogether for a smoother ride.

The new SQ7 is now priced at $184,900, up $3K over the previous model. It was hard to believe that since its launch here in 2016, Audi have sold 450 SQ7s. It seems we still love lots of power and torque. 43% of previous Q7 sales are SQ7s, and the new model will get to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds. The engine is now a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel, but it has an added electrically-driven compressor to help overcome turbo lag. With 320kW of power and 900Nm of torque at 1,200rpm, I don’t think turbo lag will be an issue. According to Audi, this is the most powerful diesel engine on the market today.

Over the Q7, the SQ7 has 4 zone AC, S sports seats, heated rear seats, Bose audio, and rim options from 21-22 inches.

Mechanically, there’s the 48-volt electrically-powered compressor (EPC), which works with two sequential exhaust-driven turbos to remove turbo lag. The first, smaller turbo always running, while the EPC kicks in when more acceleration is needed. Basically, the EPC removes the turbo lag while the bigger turbo is waiting to spool up. When the Audi Valvelift system recognises the need for more power, the second larger turbo kicks in, as well as the second set of exhaust valves. The two turbos are mounted in middle of the vee of the 4.0 litre V8.

This concept will flow down to V6 diesel versions

While the SQ8 looks different with its sportier rear design and different grille and bumpers, mechanically it’s identical to the SQ7.

The SQ8 is priced at $194,400

DRIVE TIME

Enough talk, time to test these cars out to see if they live up to the hype. We first hopped into the new Q7, so no mechanical changes, but a new interior (basically the same as the Q8), new front design, and other changes listed previously.

A few things stood out, for example the ride is outstanding for the size of the rims. The surface doesn’t matter, this machine rides beautifully. There’s almost no tyre, wind or road noise, as you’d expect for a car at this level. It may ‘only’ be the 210kW twin-turbo V6 diesel carried over, but it’s still punchy on the motorway. In saying that, like the base Q8, there’s that turbo lag when you accelerate away from the lights, or a stop sign. Desperately hoping the SQ7 and SQ8 do not have this lag.

As we headed towards the hills, the bulk of the Q7 loomed in my mind. This is a big beast. Still, with those massive tyres, grip is always there and handling is surprisingly good; even in standard form, the Q7 can hustle it around the bends. Does eAWS work? Hard to argue there, I’m a convert.

Time to get into the new SQ8, and crank that twin-turbo V8 diesel. Again, the ride stands out. With that air suspension and the active anti roll bars, the SQ8 rides brilliantly, and really, it shouldn’t. Grip is even more stunning than the base Q7, and I ran out of corner before the car ran out of grip. Of course, then there’s that (almost) triple turbo V8. Coming out of a corner, and giving the car some gas will see it propel you out of the bend at a phenomenal rate of speed. Along with that performance is the sound. I believe a lot of SQ7 and SQ8 sales will happen after simply someone drives the car. It sounds freaking amazing. Diesel yes, but an aural delight. I think my fuel bill would be high with this car, just because I want to hear it so bad.

We take more bends on the hills above Akaroa, sign posted at 25-35km/h, and the SQ8 sails around them like it’s on rails. We’ve put the car into Dynamic (Sports) mode, so the suspension automatically lowers itself and other settings are tweaked, but still, it sticks and handles so well it’s a blast to drive.

At long last, we get to Annandale, a 4,000 acre farm on the coast. The ‘driveway’ to our lunch venue is 7.5km of winding farm road, which will take us over 30 minutes to cover. I feel guilty taking this $194K car on this road, as it’s bone dry and the car is totally covered in dust within a few hundred metres. It stays like this all the way, forcing us to leave a 50-metre gap between cars, so we can actually see. Another highlight is revealed; even with such wide tyres at on the front, steering is responsive on this metal road. It doesn’t skip or slide, and grips reasonably well on the loose metal. I floor it a few times on straight pieces of the track, expecting that those massive tyres and 900Nm of torque is going to make all hell break loose, but it doesn’t. The car loses grip initially, then systems kick in and it rockets forward. Impressive engineering, when you have that sort of power and torque under your right foot.

We arrive at Scrubby Bay, and have some lunch, take some photos. I wish Audi hadn’t got three grey cars for this drive – and I mean identical grey – but they still look good, with the private bay in the background. This sure feels like home ground to a cars like these.

Post-lunch, we get into an SQ7 for the drive back to the airport. It’s déjà vu – mechanically, it’s identical to the SQ8 – so the drive feels very similar. We take a different return route, on a narrow, winding metal road towards Purau Bay. There’s not much oncoming traffic, which is great, and the ride proves itself all over again. Air suspension and those active anti-roll bars work as perfectly as they were designed to do.

After the metal, the seal finally arrives, and along with it some more tight bends. I’ve got to stop going on about the handling, grip and sound of this car, but it’s hard to. It’s one of those cars you need to drive to believe how good it is.

Although we’ve taken a longer route, before long we’re back at the airport and drop the cars off. It’s been a busy day, but a good one. One thing is for sure; I can’t wait until we get an SQ7 or SQ8 to review. By all accounts from today’s drive, it’s going to be amazing.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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