MULHOUSE, France – Tucked into the northeast corner of France, between the Swiss and German borders, the Alsace region is a popular destination for “cyclotourism” and part of the EuroVelo route network.
With the world’s largest collection of Bugattis in nearby Mulhouse, you’d think the Vosges switchbacks would be a mecca for exotic sports cars too, but nope – the only traffic we encountered on the route wore spandex. It was nearly as painful to see them labouring up the mountain – bikes rocking to and fro, legs pumping furiously– as it was crawling along behind until we could finally overtake.
“Quel dommage,” you’re probably thinking, “you’re stuck with a big old diesel SUV instead of one of those Bugattis formidables.”
Ah, but dropping the hammer, we rocketed past those two-wheelers with the panache of a Grand Sport Vitesse. Six-hundred-and-sixty-five pound feet of torque delivers as slick an “au revoir” as any of Ettore’s fancy sports coupés – with room for four passengers and a week’s luggage.
The latest of Audi’s sports utility vehicles to undergo the “S” treatment, the SQ7 is what happens when you take the largest vehicle in the Ingolstadt, Germany-based automaker’s portfolio, and run it through an extreme performance makeover.
It’s not as though the Q7 has until now, led a rather sedate existence – the top-spec model in its debut year featured a massive V12 diesel power plant. But this is the first time Audi’s range-topping SUV will also receive the S-Line’s dynamic handling modifications as well as a boost in power.
Upon a closer look, there are a few subtle cues that this isn’t just a run-of-the-mill Q7. The SQ7 boasts subtle badging, an aluminum outlined grill, and functional vents on the front fascia. In behind, there’s a sporty rear diffuser with quad tailpipes.
The cabin is typical of what we’ve come to expect from Audi – top-notch craftsmanship using high-quality materials. There’s deep, cushy, quilted leather bucket seats, Alcantara, real wood, carbon-fibre inlays and aluminum trim. As the range-topping model in Audi’s SUV lineup, the SQ7 comes standard with the superb 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system and the “Virtual Cockpit”, featuring a fully customizable 12.3-inch cockpit display.
It’s a high-tech environment, with a Wi-Fi hotspot, 32-colour-palette LED ambient lighting, voice command, MMI all-in-touch with handwriting recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Audi pre-sense collision avoidance. New “Traffic Jam” technology uses radar-based adaptive cruise control to monitor braking and acceleration in stop-and-go traffic – and can also look after steering, hands-free, for up to 30 seconds.
With the optional third row, there’s room for up to seven passengers. Trunk space is 235 L, which increases to 705 L with the third row down flat, and up to 1,190 when you drop the middle row.
Ten things you need to know: 2017 Audi SQ7
It might be ludicrous to think of something with these dimensions in terms of handling and performance, but the SQ7 makes you forget you’re in a large 2,270 kg SUV.
Standard quattro all-wheel drive, and available sports suspension, S-tuned adaptive air suspension, an electronic sway bar, four-wheel steering and torque vectoring rear sport differential all sound highly complex (and expensive) but in this case the end result is a large vehicle that handles like a sports car. But it’s the stonking great gobs of instantly available torque that slam you back in your seat while simultaneously sending your sunglasses flying.