2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback E-Tron First Drive: Handling Champion
I can’t be the only one who thinks the Audi e-tron sort of came and went, right? What was once meant to be a front-line soldier in the Volkswagen Group’s post-Dieselgate electric offensive was met with repeated production problems, delays, software challenges and other headaches. Don’t get me wrong; I know plenty of satisfied, early e-tron drivers, and those cars remain a common sight at just about any fast-charging station. But by the time Audi got its first fully electric SUV truly dialed in, the competition was out there in force.
Thankfully for quattro fans everywhere, Audi wasn’t about to let such a groundbreaking car drift into Jaguar I-Pace levels of irrelevance. For the 2024 model year, the entire e-tron SUV lineup has been rechristened to live under the familiar Q8 umbrella, transforming into the Audi Q8 e-tron and more powerful SQ8 e-tron in the process—complete with their more coupe-like Sportback variants.
And it’s more than just a name change. Just about everything about these cars has been upgraded in the process, including their looks, tech features, performance, charging speeds and electric range. Granted, there are still some areas where it falls behind the competition, even now. But none of that changes the fact that this not-new but very improved e-tron SUV is more serious—and more delightful to drive—than ever.
|Quick Specs||2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback E-Tron|
|Output||496 hp, 718 lb-ft|
|Drivetrain||Three asynchronous electric motors/AWD|
|Range||253 miles on 20-inch wheels/218 miles on 22-inch wheels|
|Battery||114 kWh battery|
|0-60 MPH||4.2 seconds|
|Top Speed||130 mph (electronically limited)|
Gallery: 2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron U.S. Launch Gallery
I should note a few things off the bat. First, we first drove the 2024 SQ8 e-tron late last year in Europe; the SUV you see here is the North American-spec version, complete with more official U.S.-specific details than we had last winter.
For this event in California ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, Audi also brought out the SQ8 Sportback for its U.S. debut, so that’s what I am choosing to focus on for this review. You’ll see photos and specs for both models here because Audi says they are completely identical except for their body styles and some cargo space sacrifices on the Sportback.
Don’t expect any significant performance, range or driving differences between the two models, although the Sportback will cost you an extra $2,800. (Also, I picked it on this drive just because I think it looks cooler.)
Four Rings, Three Motors, Lots Of Upgrades
The base Q8 e-tron alone received a lot of enhancements for 2024, but the transformation is even more profound in SQ8 form. (For those who don’t know, Audi’s S range represents the mid-tier level of performance, typically offering some very quick daily drivers; the RS designation is saved for the really high-test stuff, like the RS e-tron GT sport sedan.) Opt for the S model here and you even get a slightly widened body over the standard Q8 e-tron.
Arguably the biggest change is the addition of a third electric motor—there’s now one at the front axle and two in the rear, which adds 94 more horsepower and a fairly staggering 228 additional lb.-ft. of torque over the Q8 e-tron. Now at 496 hp and 718 lb.-ft. of torque, the SQ8 e-tron can shoot to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds when Boost Mode is engaged. Not bad at all. Neither is the quicker steering ratio with more feedback, 50% stiffer front control arms and a raft of other overall suspension and handling improvements.
The real party trick here is the torque-vectoring. It’s an electronic system Audi says can send power freely to the rear wheels under acceleration and cornering wheel in five milliseconds or less—five times quicker than a mechanical differential. As a result, the SQ8 e-tron can also pretty much drift freely, I’m told, although I had neither the space nor the inclination to test this myself.
The setup also has significant traction advantages in bad weather, as you’d expect from Audi. In a world where all-wheel-drive systems are increasingly the norm, the Germans are doing what they can to maintain their edge.
Finally, the battery has gotten a nice upgrade here too. It goes up to 114 kilowatt-hours up from 95 kWh in the previous e-tron even though the overall footprint remains the same. Audi says this yields an EPA-rated range of 253 miles when the SQ8 e-tron rides on standard 20-inch wheels, but gets a sizable drop to 218 miles on the bigger 22-inch wheels. Here, you’ll have to decide whether you want to prioritize range or aesthetics. That tradeoff wouldn’t be worth it to me, so I’d opt for the 20-inch wheels.
|Range||Max Charging Rate|
|BMW iX||324 Miles||195 Kilowatts|
|Genesis Electrified GV70||236 Miles||250 Kilowatts|
|Mercedes-Benz EQE 500 SUV||269 Miles||170 Kilowatts|
|Cadillac Lyriq||312 Miles||190 Kilowatts|
|Audi SQ8 Sportback e-tron||253 miles||170 Kilowatts|
Neither number is all that impressive for 2024, but less range is par for the course for EVs that prioritize performance; the same is true with gasoline-powered cars, certainly. (I may need to put “Energy Has To Come From Somewhere” on a t-shirt and sell it in the InsideEVs merch store.) But competitors like the BMW iX have the SQ8 e-tron beaten pretty handily, unfortunately for Audi.
Fast-charging has boosted a bit too; the SQ8 e-tron models can now handle speeds of up to 170 kW, whereas they could only do 150 kW before. It will go from 10% to 80% at that new max speed in 31 minutes. Again, this puts the Audi below several rivals including Mercedes, BMW, Hyundai and Kia, but it is an improvement over what came before. As before, the e-tron offers charge ports on both sides of the car for your parking convenience, although you can only use one at a time. (I asked.)
An EV That Feels ‘Normal’
But for the right kind of buyer—specifically, fans of Audi’s SUVs who are ready to move on from gasoline—is how “normal” the car feels inside and to operate. Unlike the wild swings that BMW and Mercedes took the Q8 e-tron family is nearly identical to what you’d get in a gasoline Q8.
Audi’s Senior Manager for Product Planning, Anthony Garbis, told me that this is part of the competitive edge here. “You don’t have to be different when you’re trying to move your entire company to electrification in the future,” Garbis said. “Do you think my mom wants to relearn everything just because we’re putting in an electric motor? Besides the gas station, it drives like you’d expect.” Fair point; not everybody wants to live with the Hyperscreen, right?
All told, the interior is pretty conventional and user-friendly—mostly. The revised center touchscreen has a haptic system so it kind of clicks when you touch it, and traditionally that isn’t my favorite setup but it proved quick, responsive and easy to learn. Below that, you have another screen for your climate controls and heated and cooled seats. I’d prefer buttons for these too, but at least that menu is always stationary.
Beyond that, this is a very premium interior, as you’d expect from a six-figure Audi. The seats are comfortable, the steering wheel is among the best in the business, the materials are upscale and even the sloping roof on the Sportback didn’t cut too much into rear headroom for my just-under-six-foot frame. Audi’s always great at interiors and this e-tron doesn’t disappoint.
On The Road
In Santa Monica, I got tossed the keys to an SQ8 Sportback e-tron and was told to go nuts on the nearby Topanga Canyon Boulevard. It’s the kind of famously winding road that Southern California’s famous for, the sort of thing my West Coast colleagues enjoy with some regularity in their Porsches and McLarens while I’m typically stuck on New York’s West Side Highway or the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. (I don’t know why I live here, either.)
Except on this particular day, SoCal had been deluged with rain—yes, it happens there sometimes—while the roads were marked with mud and runoff from the canyons. Suboptimal driving weather, for sure. But it ended up being a perfect test of the SQ8 Sportback e-tron’s abilities, and of this enhanced quattro all-wheel-drive for the electric age.
At the outset, the folks at Audi promised a car that would feel half the weight of its hefty 6,100 pounds; amazingly enough, they were right. The SQ8 Sportback e-tron’s agility is truly astounding, right up there with the “How is this possible?” levels of breakneck straight-line acceleration you get from many EVs.
The torque vectoring and suspension enhancements have yielded something truly impressive; this thing feels much closer to a smaller sport sedan than a big, battery-filled SUV. No matter how bad the rain and mud got, it never lost its footing—or traction. If there’s a better-handling electric SUV on the market right now, I have yet to drive it.
Gallery: 2024 Audi SQ8 e-tron U.S. Launch Gallery
The brakes—six-piston, 15.7-inch units up front and single-piston, 13.8-inch ones in the rear—deserve a special shout-out. This e-tron’s stopping power is immense and adds to the confidence on order here. (But since the Volkswagen Group seems to have a pathological hatred toward this idea, there’s no one-pedal driving on offer here.)
I’m a little surprised Audi didn’t shoot for a zero to 60 mph time under four seconds, as many performance EVs can easily do. The result is a car that’s plenty quick in a real-world sense, but never tear-your-face-off fast even with its performance settings dialed all the way up. It’s far from slow, just not a hardcore speed demon like some choices in this field are.
A few times, I was amazed at how conventional it feels, in a good way. The SQ8 Sportback e-tron is a massively competent, fun-to-drive SUV that happens to be powered by batteries, not something that screams to the world that it’s electric in every way possible. Plenty of drivers want that experience. And here, they get a package with remarkable balance, poise and everyday performance.
It’d be awfully hard not to like the SQ8 Sportback e-tron. From the interior quality to the remarkably usable performance to the superb handling—arguably the best part of this car, really—Audi hit some high notes on this one.
But it’s playing in a crowded field. There’s no shortage of electric luxury SUVs that cross the six-figure mark these days, and some of them offer markedly better range and charging speeds. (The Audi certainly trumps the BMW iX and Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV in the looks department, I’ll give it that.)
Still, it’s clear the improvements made with this name change are substantial and even a little transformative. The SQ8 e-tron is a superb option for the many, many customers who love Audi’s gas crossovers and are interested in dumping the pump for a charger instead. Whatever you want to call it, consider the e-tron back in the game for real.
- BMW iX
- Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV
- Tesla Model X
- Cadillac Lyriq
When do the Audi SQ8 e-tron and Sportback e-tron go on sale?
Audi says it will arrive in U.S. showrooms in the fourth quarter of 2023, which is now. So, soon.
Does the Audi SQ8 e-tron qualify for EV tax credits?
It’s made in Germany, so no, it does not. But the $7,500 tax credit still applies if the car is leased.
Is the Audi SQ8 e-tron the same car as the Audi e-tron?
Essentially, yes. But with this name change and placement into Audi’s broadening EV lineup, the Q8 and SQ8 e-tron models get significant upgrades for the 2024 model year and beyond.
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2024 Audi SQ8 Sportback E-Tron
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