Audi SQ8 e-tron first drive: This tri-motor EV drives nimbly for its size, but sacrifices a lot of range

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Last week, I got the invite from Audi to venture to (normally) sunny Los Angeles and take a spin behind the wheel of its latest EV model – the SQ8 e-tron. Available as a standard quattro and Sportback version, the tri-motor SQ8 takes the previously launched Q8 e-tron and refines it in a number of ways to improve performance… well, everything aside from range, that is.

The Audi SQ8 e-tron arrives as a familiar, yet refreshed spin on the German automaker’s second wave if you will, of all-electric vehicles. The Volkswagen Group sub-brand was one of the early adopters of electrification with the original e-tron SUV back in 2018, followed by the e-tron GT and RS e-tron GT in 2020, the e-tron S and Sportback in 2021, and the Q4 e-tron and Sportback in 2022.

Earlier this year, I flew out to wine country to test drive the Q8 e-tron and Sportback – Audi’s design refresh and rebranding of the original e-tron for the new electric age, in which all future BEVs will be even numbered, while all ICE vehicles will be odd (appropriately so).

While the Q8 e-tron didn’t appear to stray too far from the last variation under the lone e-tron nomenclature, the EV’s platform architecture told a different story. Audi successfully improved its battery and motor design within both the Q8 e-tron SUV and Sportback, utilizing every inch of the EV’s battery modules by stacking their prismatic cells rather than winding them. The result is a battery pack that delivers nearly 20 kWh more gross capacity (114 kWh vs. 95 kWh) – all in the same footprint.

Audi was also able to achieve a range increase around 20%, eclipsing 300 miles on a single charge for the first time. With its next variant, the SQ8 e-tron, Audi has further improved the driving experience of the Q8 e-tron inside and out.

Audi SQ8 e-tron improvements and other specs

The all-electric SQ8 picks up where Audi left off with the Q8 e-tron earlier this year, bringing an even keener focus on aerodynamics. Not to be confused with the e-tron S, or the e-tron S-Line, the SQ8 e-tron saw a completely redone suspension, steering, and integrated control modules 

Features like revamped air curtains and new wheel spoilers that funnel air under the body and around the car to reduce drag on the wheels help deliver improved aero. Audi says it has reduced drag by up to 6% on the SQ8 e-tron.

Other features include dimpled fiberglass on the underbody cover (golf ball principle) and active shutters which were resurrected from the design of the original e-tron. As with other e-tron models, Audi is one of the few automakers that offers 9.6 kW AC charging points on both sides of the vehicle, with an optional upgrade to 19.2 kW. Only the driver’s side has DC capabilities, however.

The 2024 SQ8 e-tron arrives in both a standard and Sportback version – both tri-motor, both Audi quattro design. The specs between the two variants are virtually the same, except the Sportback is half an inch shorter in height and leaves slightly less headroom and cargo space in its interior. Here are some additional specs:

  • Motor: 3x asychronous electric motors
  • Peak Horsepower: 496 hp (370 kW)
  • Torque: 718 lb.-ft. (in Boost Mode) (972 Nm)
  • Battery Size/Type: 114 kWh (gross) / 397V Lithium Ion
  • Max Charging Capacity (AC): 9.6 kW (19.2 kW Optional)
  • Max Charging Capacity (DC): 170 kW
  • Level 2 Charging (9.6 kW – 240V @ 40A): 13 hours
  • Level 2 Charging (19.2 kW – 240V @ 80A): 6.5 hours
  • DC Fast Charging (170 kW): 31 minutes (10-80%)
  • 0-60 mph Acceleration: 4.2 seconds (0-100 km/h – 4.6 seconds)
  • Top Speed: 130 mph (210 km/h)
  • Max Towing Capacity: 4,000 lbs.
  • Curb Weight: 6,118 lbs.
  • EPA Range (20″ wheels): 253 miles
  • EPA Range (22″ wheels): 218 miles

Next, let’s check out some images of the Audi SQ8 e-trons interior before I dig into my drive experience and we talk pricing. Have a look:

Before we got out on the uncharacteristically wet and rainy roads of Malibu last week, Audi’s senior manager of product planning, Anthony Garbis, explained to us how quiet the new SQ8 e-tron is, going as far as saying it’s as quiet or quieter and an A8, which is super insulated. Garbis wasn’t lying.

One of the perks I pointed out during my drive in the Q8 e-tron this past May, was how quiet of a ride it was, but the SQ8 takes it to another level. I took a moment to pause Sirius XM and ride in the silence of the canyons above Los Angeles, hearing nothing but the rain being kicked up by the e-tron’s EV tires from Hankook. I took a video, but it doesn’t do it justice because of the pouring rain, but it’s quiet, trust me.

Because of the rain and several conservative LA drivers on the wet windy roads, I didn’t get as many opportunities to make the tires squeal as I wanted. That said, there were two points in between rainfalls where I found a straightaway and was able to get my SQ8 e-tron (cover your ears Audi) WELL over the speed limit (let’s just leave it at that).

As a sportier version of the Audi Q8 e-tron, the SQ8 did not disappoint on acceleration, although it honestly didn’t drive like a tri-motor EV. It definitely still felt like a dual motor in my opinion. Perhaps if I was able to hit some hairpins a little harder on dry pavement, I could have felt the torque vectoring, but unfortunately, Mother Nature said otherwise that day.

At over 6,100 pounds, the SQ8 e-tron is a sturdy gal, but it drives a lot nimbler. I believe I mentioned in my review of the Q8 e-tron that I hit a couple turns in Napa a little too hard at the start and quickly realized just how large and heavy that SUV is. While the SQ8 is very comparable to the Q8 e-tron, I found it drove a lot smaller than it looks.

The leather handle in the center console pictured above is an excellent touch in my opinion and the perfect place to rest your hand when cruising. The head up display (HUD) was easily visible and showed navigation and the haptic response of the touch screen was welcomed.

My only issue with the UX is that it was too many tap throughs to switch drive modes when I wanted to test out Dynamic Mode and experience the full horsepower and torque vectoring. Especially when driving on winding roads when you need to be paying close attention. There could have been a way to do it from the steering wheel, but I couldn’t seem to find it during all my fiddling around during my drive.

The Audi SQ8 e-tron (blue) and Sportback (red) / Credit: Audi

In my opinion, the Audi SQ8 e-tron is a slightly sportier version of the Q8 e-tron, but with red brake calipers and some unique badging throughout. I hear “tri-motor” and think “Plaid” or “Sapphire,” but that’s not the level of acceleration you’re going to get in this heavy SUV.

Performance-wise, its more than adequate, but the sacrifice to range you have to make for the powertrain performance doesn’t seem worth it to me. I’d rather take the 300 miles on the Q8 e-tron personally. That said, it’s still an Audi through and through. The quality of the design and the interior especially is luxe, everything worked easily and efficiently, and it made for a quiet, smooth, and relaxing ride – even at high speeds. The SUV screams quality and comfort inside and out.

I also absolutely loved the metallic blue exterior color I drove on my SQ8 e-tron and hope consumers will opt for that shade if and when they buy – I wanna see more bright blue cars on roads.

If you are interested in exploring an Audi SQ8 e-tron, the quattro version will begin at an MSRP of $90,995, while the Sportback version starts at $93,795. Note, those prices already include $1,195 in destination fees. The EVs are expected to hit Audi showrooms in Q4 of this year.

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