Despite a stocky build of five feet 10 and 268 pounds, former Major League Baseball star Pablo Sandoval was surprisingly agile in his heyday. The beloved infielder helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series between 2010 and 2014, having already earned the nickname "Kung Fu Panda" after leaping gracefully around a catcher to avoid a tag in a 2008 game, his finesse defying his portly frame.
The same could be said about the three-plus-ton 2024 Audi SQ8 e-tron. Stretching 193.5 inches long and 77.8 inches wide, the SQ8 e-tron—formerly known as the e-tron S—is nearly as lengthy as Audi's mid-size A6 sedan while measuring substantially wider and taller. And yet, up in the mountains outside Los Angeles, this luxury performance SUV displayed some mass-defying athleticism.
While not a fully fledged RS model, the SQ8 e-tron is the highest-performing variant of Audi's largest electric luxury SUV. Three induction AC electric motors—one on the front axle and two at the rear—produce a combined 496 horsepower and 718 pound-feet of torque, 94 ponies and 228 pound-feet more than the standard Q8 e-tron. Audi estimates a 60-mph sprint of 4.2 seconds—certainly not slow but not as blisteringly quick as other performance-minded EVs either.
The real highlight comes in the corners. The electric Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased, and the two aft-mounted motors employ electric torque vectoring to give the SQ8 e-tron its unexpected agility. The system can send additional torque to the outside wheel while simultaneously braking the inside, adjusting as needed every five milliseconds. The result is sharp turn-in when attacking curves, and we could feel the motors quickly redistributing torque as needed, helping us carry more speed through the turns. The way the rear end can squirm under power adds a level of excitement that instantly separates the SQ8 from the comfort-focused Q8 e-tron.
This engaging character is emphasized by a new 14.6:1 steering ratio introduced across all Q8 e-tron variants, providing a response that's quick but not darty. In Comfort mode, steering weight is minimal, and while Dynamic mode dials in more heft, the SQ8's helm never feels particularly heavy. It isn't the most communicative steering in the business, but there is a touch of delicacy to the SQ8 e-tron's controls that helps this brute feel lighter and smaller than it is.
The SQ8 is further distinguished from its more pedestrian sibling through its suspension and chassis, with substantially firmer bushings, stiffer anti-roll bars, and revised damper tuning. These upgrades mitigate body roll, the SQ8 remaining impressively flat around corners no matter how hard we pushed. The standard air springs deftly soak up midcorner bumps, keeping the SQ8 stable. Handling also improves thanks to a 1.4-inch wider track that sits under bulging fender flares, making this the only non-RS Audi to sport a widebody look.
The combination of optional 22-inch wheels shod in summer tires and a ride tuned for spirited driving, however, means the occasional harsh impact jolts the cabin. Comfort mode keeps the suspension fairly compliant around town, but this isn't the smoothest-riding luxury SUV. For those in search of a middle ground between this and the regular Q8 e-tron, the SQ8's standard 20-inch wheels and all-season rubber should soften the ride (and boost efficiency) at the expense of some handling prowess.
Crucially, considering the SQ8's mass, the brakes are strong, with six-piston calipers and 15.7-inch rotors up front and single-piston calipers with 13.8-inch rotors in the rear. Pedal feel is firm and consistent, smoothly blending regeneration and friction while putting some competitors' squishy, inconsistent stoppers to shame. However, the three regenerative braking modes do not allow for full one-pedal driving, which would've been welcome when we returned to L.A.'s clogged streets.
In addition to a new name, the 2024 SQ8 e-tron picks up a bigger battery, trading the old 86.5-kWh unit for a new 106.0-kWh pack. Improved battery chemistry and more efficient packaging allows Audi to fit that bigger battery into the same-size compartment. EPA-estimated range for the Sportback rises from 212 miles to 253. When fitted with 22-inch wheels and summer tires, as our example was, range drops to 218 miles, but that's still a substantial increase over the 185-mile rating from a similarly equipped 2023 e-tron S Sportback.
The SQ8 e-tron's revised aerodynamics not only contribute to its longer range but also improve the SUV's looks. The front bumper's new curtains direct air around the front wheels, while spoilers underneath help mitigate turbulence from the wheels. A sleeker grille incorporates active shutters, while the flat underbody is adorned with golf-ball-style dimples that improve aerodynamic efficiency further. Thanks in part to its newfound slipperiness, the SQ8 e-tron is incredibly silent inside, even as an unusual Los Angeles rainstorm pelted the steel and aluminum bodywork. Minimal wind noise creeps into the cabin at highway speeds, that serenity only pausing briefly for the occasional suspension thump over broken pavement.
The cabin is largely the same as the outgoing e-tron S, with a mix of leather and suede accented by brushed silver brightwork. The rear seat is spacious, and despite the sloping roofline of the Sportback model we drove, headroom didn't feel compromised. The climate controls live in a secondary screen, and while we prefer physical controls for some functions, Audi's display is crisp, well laid out, and intuitive.
The 2024 SQ8 e-tron doesn't represent a massive overhaul for Audi's largest EV, but the automaker honed the electric crossover into a more usable daily driver while maintaining its sporting character. The SQ8 may not be cheap, but the surprising sprightliness and dynamic connection afforded by its tri-motor setup leaves us excited for the future of electric performance cars.
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