2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron First Drive: One more motor equals a lot more E-Tron

MALIBU, Calif. – Back in May, I took a relaxing scenic drive in the updated and renamed Audi Q8 E-Tron, reveling in its plush ride and stupendous Bang & Olufsen stereo filling its cocoon-of-silence cabin. This first drive of the 2024 Audi SQ8 E-Tron would be decidedly different. As the added letter S would attest, the SQ8 E-Tron builds upon the base car with a higher performance envelope and racier looks accented by matte alloy mirror caps. Unless you don’t want those, in which case Audi will happily take lots of your money to make them black … ‘cause every bit of trim has to be black now. Fashion!

Happily, the real story here is “Motor!” While the Q8 E-Tron has the usual all-wheel-drive EV setup of two motors – one powering the front axle and another the rear – the SQ8 adds a third motor to mix, upping combined output by 94 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque in the process. The 0-60 sprint takes only 4.2 seconds when the full force of Boost mode’s 496 hp and 718 lb-ft of torque are applied. Ludicrous it isn’t, but you do get that EV “snap” off the line that’s missing in the more sedate Q8.

That’s not where the motor story ends, though. That third motor is also applied to the rear axle, meaning each wheel gets its very own motor – each good for 185 hp, while the front one has 210 hp – and therefore giving the SQ8 E-Tron a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. Just like mechanical versions, the amount of power sent through each wheel can differ; specifically, the outside rear wheel can spin faster than the inside to push the rear end around a corner, not unlike how caterpillar tracks turn a tank.

On the tightest, twistiest roads of the Santa Monica Mountains, this torque-vectoring talent could be fully felt and appreciated. The rear end rotates more happily instead of plowing and protesting, and you can definitely maintain a quicker pace than you’d expect in a midsize SUV weighing, gulp, 6,118 pounds. The SQ8 doesn’t feel as hopelessly obese as its model line did when introduced as simply the “E-Tron.” Improvements have certainly been made to the overall Q8 E-Tron family, with the SQ8 going beyond with the torque-vectoring rear end, quicker steering (14.6:1 versus 15.8), stiffer sway bars and front control arm bushings, revised damper tuning and 1.4-inch wider track. It unquestionably feels like a tauter, more responsive choice than the Q8 E-Tron, but you still notice its hefty weight. The Mercedes-AMG EQE SUV was far more agile through the same stretches of mountain road.

Of course, most of the people who’ll buy an SQ8 won’t live near mountains or, at least, won’t choose to drive through them with any regularity. And they probably won’t take advantage of the fact that its torque-vectoring rear end allows for some good, new-fashioned drifting. But that’s part of the appeal, right? Luxury cars are often about paying more for capability, even if you’ll only be scratching the surface of that capability. At least you’ll be able to consistently appreciate the extra oomph when charging onto a highway, or the torque-vectoring’s added benefit in slippery conditions.

Visually, the SQ8 is differentiated by bigger front grille openings and enlarged fender flares needed for that extra track width. “Selenite Silver/Alu-optic” trim is then applied in abundance within and surrounding the grille (the Q8 face has light gray trim inside the grille and darker gray surrounding it) along with the lower bumper, rocker panels, window surround, lower rear bumper valance and, per Audi S tradition, the mirror caps. It’s a lot — arguably too much — but it also makes it a lot easier to spot an SQ8 versus its non-S sibling. Despite my earlier snarkiness, I could therefore see how one would prefer the Black Optic package that turns all that silver stuff gloss black … except that it costs $3,500. For black plastic. Even Audi’s own designers and product planners aren’t too keen on this trend, but if people are willing to pay for it, why not, right? At least the revised Audi logo with flat white rings no longer makes the all-black grille look like somebody made off with your badge.

The interior gets S-specific sport seats with fixed headrests and diamond-quilted leather, as well as a three-spoke sport steering wheel, extended leather on the dash and doors, “SQ8” embossed in the shifter/wrist rest, and some beautiful “Carbon square structure” interior trim that’s a delight to run your fingers across. The Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system that so impressed in the Q8 E-Tron comes standard even if I was too busy driving the SQ8 E-Tron with exuberance to notice this time around.

Like the Q8 E-Tron, the SQ8 gets a 23% larger battery than its predecessor (known as the E-Tron S), with a usable capacity of 106 kilowatt-hours. With greater power comes greater energy consumption, though, so EPA-estimated range is less with the SQ8: 253 miles with the standard 20-inch wheels and 218 miles with the no-cost-option 22-inch wheels. In our experience, the former number is totally sufficient for an EV. The latter … um, you should probably stick with the 20s.

With both, you’re looking at a charging max of 170 kW, an amount that’s less than some other EVs, but Audi says the SQ8 is capable of holding that maximum for longer. With a fully functional fast charger, it should take 31 minutes to go from 10-80%. For home charging, there is a 9.6-kW onboard charger standard, along with a dual charge cable, meaning you don’t need a dedicated home charger – a 240-volt electrical outlet will suffice. That said, you can opt for a 19.6-kW second charger should your home be outfitted for such a firehose of electrons. You get a second charge port with that, too, which makes for fewer awkward parking jobs to line up with a charger.

Pricing starts at $90,995, including the surprisingly reasonable $1,195 destination charge, for the SQ8 E-Tron’s SUV body style. The SQ8 E-Tron Coupe starts at $93,795. That’s well short of the $111,950 AMG EQE SUV, but then the Mercedes is a lot quicker and more powerful, and, as I discovered, the sharper electric SUV to drive. Audi’s S models have also never been intended to align with such full-bore AMG metal – RS models are for that, and there’s no such thing as an RSQ8 E-Tron. Instead, the SQ8 aligns more closely on price and output with the EQE 500 SUV, and although I haven’t sampled that, it doesn’t have a torque-vectoring rear end nor the spicier styling elements. It does, however, look like a gigantic blob of a hatchback. Advantage Audi.

Advantage SQ8 over the Q8, as well. It starts at basically the same price as the loaded Q8 I drove in May, and if you can live without the fancy $2,000 massaging seats and $3,500 Black Optic package (seriously people, that much for black plastic?), it’ll stay that way. The third motor is worth the trade-off.

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