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Auto review: Fast fun, no gas: the 2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron

Larry Printz, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

What a difference a letter makes. Take the Audi Q8 e-tron SUV and put an S in front of it, and all of a sudden, you have a battery-electric SUV that’s far more fun than you’d ever expect. And if that’s a sentence you don’t comprehend, allow me to explain.

Just as BMW has M and Cadillac has V in their model names to denote high-performance, Audi has S, as in this week’s test drive subject, the 2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron.

The Audi Q8 is the brand’s flagship SUV, one powered by a conventional gas engine. But add the phrase e-tron after its name, and you get a battery-electric version of the same vehicle. The Audi Q8 is offered in one of two body styles. The first is a practical, traditionally shaped SUV that seems to hold a ton of lifestyle debris. The other is called the Sportback and possesses a sloping rear backside. Its shape is meant to impart sports-car sportiness in a vehicle type best known for slowly traversing mud, snow and rocks. But its form also holds less of your stuff, negating some of what makes an SUV an optimal choice over, say, an Audi A8.

But the Audi Q8 Sportback’s lesser practicality makes it the ideal choice for a sportier rendition, aka the 2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron. That said, if you prefer the traditional Q8 shape, it’s also available in SQ8 e-tron trim.

Both are powered by three electric motors, one on the front axle, the others on the rear axle. Altogether, they generate 496 horsepower and 718 pound-feet of torque. That's an additional 94 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque more than the base Q8 e-tron. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a one-speed transmission. Reaching 60 mph takes 4.2 seconds on its way to a 130-mph top speed. Towing is rated at 4,000 pounds. The SQ8’s added power comes from its use of a different type of battery cell than the Q8, allowing its power to rise to 106 kWh from 86.5 kWh without any change in the battery pack’s size. It also allows for peak charging rates of up to 170 kW, allowing you to recharge fast when using DC fast chargers. This means the Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron can recharge from 10-to-80 percent in as little as 31 minutes.

As for range, that’s dependent on which tires you choose. The standard 20-inch wheels allow for 253 miles of range. Opt for the stickier 22-inch wheels and that drops to 218 miles.

 

Yes, it’s fast. But the fun comes when corners appear.

Consider this. Each rear wheel has its own motor, so there’s no physical connection between the two. This allows Audi to vary the torque supplied to each wheel. So, in corners, when the outside wheel travels farther than the inside wheel, the outside motor provides 162 pound-feet more torque than the one on the inside, making cornering a blast. In addition, this all-wheel-drive system is biased towards the rear wheels. This makes for a very athletic dance partner. Sling it into a corner a bit too hot and crank the wheel. The tail comes loose, tires squealing as you quickly cut through the corner.

As with any great sporting vehicle, it remains controllable thanks to its taut suspension and crisp, precise, communicative steering. Body lean is noticeably absent. The ride is firm, as you might assume, as comfort is sacrificed in the name of handling. But it’s far from objectionable. The SQ8 Sportback e-tron possesses the same solidity you’ve come to expect from Audi.

And it’s quiet — so quiet. For driving enthusiasts who have never driven an electric vehicle, the lack of noise despite the performance is a mind-blower. So, it’s reassuring that the SQ8 Sportback e-tron’s cabin comes with expected comfort and convenience features.

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