Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

Getting to drive Audi’s quickest electric SUV—the all-wheel-drive, tri-motor 2024 SQ8 E-Tron—on sunny, Southern California highways for a few hours this past week was shaping up to be a formality.

But then dark clouds moved in and the skies opened up, just as I was given a demanding canyon-road drive route and passed a keyfob to the SQ8. 

Oh, that’s a good thing. My drive opportunity had suddenly become way more interesting. Audi has built its reputation, gasoline or electric, on Quattro all-wheel-drive and its surefootedness in adverse weather conditions. That soaker of a day, a greasy sheen on the road, and a puddled, sometimes-gritty winding route chosen for dry conditions altogether added up to a great test of the poise, grip, and confidence that this system brings—even when the surface is slick. 

The experience allows me to describe with a lot more conviction the difference that having three motors versus two actually brings—other than just quicker acceleration. Really, it’s the SQ8 E-Tron’s strength versus any other electric SUV, including other three-motor models.

But first, the sporty variant has some impressive specs. Instead of the two-motor system in the Q8 E-Tron, providing one motor for each axle, the 2024 Audi SQ8 E-tron packages two motors together at the rear wheels, adding 94 hp and 228 lb-ft of torque for a total of 496 hp and 718 lb-ft. Audi notes that the SQ8 can launch from 0-60 mph in just 4.2 seconds (versus 5.1 seconds for the Q8 E-Tron), and its 130-mph top speed can be maintained in Autobahn-type high-speed driving for at least 12 miles across a range of conditions.

There’s no physical connection between the two rear wheels, and that allows the two rear motors to deliver different levels of power in cornering. Up to 162 lb-ft more torque can go to the outside rear wheel than the inside one, while applying the brake pads at the front inside wheel to aid cornering. 

Audi SQ8 E-Tron tri-motor system

Audi SQ8: Dynamic push-pull between rear motors

Simply put, that means all three motors are able to continue providing forward propulsion, while the system helps push-pull with torque-vectoring in a way that gets you around the corner quicker, without losing composure.

That lack of interruption in forward momentum is the signature dance move of the tri-motor system. On the wet canyon roads, pushing right up against the traction limits of the tires, the SQ8’s systems reeled in the dynamics of this 6,118-pound SUV, making it feel nimble almost beyond belief. Yes, in the rain. 

On a couple of especially tight corners, with lots of space and throwing a little more zeal into it, I managed to get some wiggle out of the tail while running in Dynamic mode, which taps into all 496 hp, potentially. But again, it was quickly restrained as I felt those motors do their job volleying the SQ8 back to stability. 

With every stability aid turned off this may be a tail-out torchbearer, but what the whole kit together enables while barely sliding is amazing. 

Why the SQ8 E-Tron’s drive systems work so well has a lot to do with reaction time: Torque vectoring is five times more responsive with electric motors than with an internal combustion powertrain, according to Audi. 

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

SQ8 E-Tron: Optimizes an already great package

Body control and friskier-feeling steering are also part of the improved dynamics. Versus the E-Tron, the 2024 Audi Q8 E-Tron family gets a quicker 14.6:1 steering ratio with stronger on-center response, revised damper tuning, stiffer anti-sway bars and control-arm bushings, and revised tuning of the chassis and stability control systems. A four-wheel air suspension is included in the SQ8, with longitudinal components reworked for improved dynamics. Plus the Q8 E-Tron lineup carries over the E-Tron’s very smoothly blended braking system. 

The 2024 Q8 E-Tron model lineup  also gets more range. Audi has boosted the battery capacity to 114 kwh gross (106 kwh usable)—up from 95 kwh gross (about 84 kwh usable) in the previous E-Tron, bringing an EPA range improvement of about 20% throughout the lineup. The pack is the same size and even has the same case as its predecessor, but the improvement comes from higher cell-level energy density plus a shift in the internal configuration of the modules. 

Audi emphasizes that as one of its S models, the SQ8 is a performance-oriented vehicle but isn’t intended to be one of its most extreme RS performance halo vehicles. That said, it delivers a lot more performance than its S-Line models, which essentially just bring a performance look. 

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

The SQ8 is offered in SUV and Sportback body styles, with the key difference being the roofline. Sportback models get more of a continuous arc starting behind the front seats, while SUV versions get something closer to a traditional SUV roofline. The two are actually quite close in usable interior space, although getting in or out of the back seats of the Sportback is a bit more challenging. Big-box store shoppers will also appreciate the greater cargo height of the SUV. 

The SQ8 E-Tron includes a panoramic sunroof, plus the dual-pane acoustic window glass that’s optional on the Q8 E-Tron. Audi claims it’s as quiet or quieter than the A8 sedan, and it felt that way to me. 

On the way from the Q8 S E-Tron—the very limited-delivery model that briefly introduced the three-motor layout with the former model—to the SQ8 E-Tron, Audi has improved aerodynamic efficiency by as much as 6%, aided by new front air curtains, active grille shutters, wheel spoilers, and underbody aerodynamics. It helps with efficiency and also in keeping the cabin quiet.

Audi SQ8: Spicier design details, wide-track look

The SQ8 also gets a coordinated set of spicier design details. Red-painted fender flares add 1.5 inches of body width to allow an additional 1.5 inches of  track width that combine to give this model just enough of a difference in stance. The grille apertures are larger—yes, there is one here—and a matte-metallic material with just the right hint of gloss is used in front, at the rear, and for rocker-panel accents. The Q8 E-Tron is also the first ‘S’ vehicle from Audi that shifts to black-edged badging. 

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

Inside, the SQ8 E-Tron has upgraded upholstery, plus carbon-square dash trim in place of the Q8 E-Tron’s open-pore wood, and a three-spoke steering wheel (round, thank you!). The front seats are fantastic, with just the right amount of thigh and side support to hold you in place for high-g cornering but not to squeeze too tightly. 

Two different trim levels of the SQ8 are offered: Premium Plus, and Prestige. They start at about $11,000 more than the Q8 two-motor model, with the Premium Plus at $90,995 in the SUV style or $93,795 as a Sportback. Four-zone climate control, a heat pump, and pre-conditioning are all included, while LED matrix headlights, a head-up display, and soft-closing doors are part of the Prestige package.

My tester, an SQ8 E-Tron SUV in Prestige guise, with a Magnet Gray exterior and Arras Red interior (with nicely coordinated contrasting gray stitching), added up to $102,345 with the inclusion of the optional 22-inch five-arm titanium-finish wheels wearing sticky Hankook Ventus S1 Evo 3 rubber that lower its EPA range rating to 218 miles. Over nearly 70 miles, my test SQ8 E-Tron indicated I’d averaged 1.7 miles per kwh—driving quite quickly up and down grades and with no regard for efficiency, and running the defogger some of the time. That suggests a worst-case-scenario range of around 180 miles.

A dual-port charger is available on the E-Tron, bringing an upgrade from the standard 9.6-kw onboard charger to a 19.2-kw capability—and the flexibility to plug in for 240-volt charging on either side of the vehicle for the peak charge rate. All Q8 E-Trons also include a mobile charge cable that can handle 120- or 240-volt charging. 

The CCS/Combo port for fast-charging is only on the driver’s side, and with a higher 170-kw charge rate it can get from 10-80% in just 31 minutes. The SQ8 E-Tron comes with two years of unlimited Electrify America charging, and with Plug & Charge functionality you’ll be able to plug into more than 3,500 fast-chargers in the U.S. and not need to worry about payment details. 

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron

Audi SQ8: Anything else so quick and composed in the corners?

How does the SQ8 E-Tron measure up to rivals? The BMW iX M60, Mercedes-Benz AMG EQE SUV, and Tesla Model X Plaid all provide more straight-line punch than the SQ8, and the Plaid also offers a tri-motor layout. But it’s hard to imagine the latter remaining as calm and composed while being hustled along wet canyon roads quite like the Audi.

Rolling on to drier roads—briefly as I did, by the end of my drive—the SQ8 dialed in higher, jaw-dropping cornering gs and pin-you-into-your seat acceleration without beating me up. With all the traction and poise built into its drive and chassis systems, it’s a reminder that in the real world, no drama is the best drama. 

Audi covered travel and lodging expenses for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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