Traditionally, a fast SUV means at least 8 cylinders and big displacement. No longer. Today 2.5 tonne of metal and rubber can dash to 100km/h as quick as a sports car without firing a single spark or burning a drop of fuel. The all electric Tesla Model X is now the world’s fastest SUV. But is this enough to put a dent on internal combustion? To find out we pit the electric crossover against a “traditional” performance SUV, the Audi SQ7.
First, the figures: the Audi SQ7 is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 churning out 320kW/900Nm, enough to propel the seven-seater from 0 to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds. The Tesla Model X P100D’s twin electric motors – one at each axle – combine to produce 397kW/967Nm along with supercar slaying acceleration to 100km/h of just 3.1 seconds.
But figures are just figures. Just as important is the experience from behind the wheel. The SQ7, unlike most other SUVs, is diesel-powered, but not as you know it. The engine’s two variable-vane turbochargers sit inside the V8’s 90-degree vee for a compact design and optimum response. Operating in series to produce a maximum of 2.4 bar boost, they are supported by an electric compressor that acts like a supercharger to drive the turbochargers at low revs when exhaust gas pressure is insufficient. The compressor wheel can spin up to 75,000rpm in less than a quarter of a second, essentially eliminating turbo lag.
The result is a gigantum 900Nm of torque available from a sleepy 1,000rpm through to 3,250rpm. As synthetic as it feels, it’s the most un-diesel like diesel engine we have come across, with power delivery akin to a normally aspirated engine and throttle response comparable to an electric powertrain. Paired to a crisp eight-speed automatic transmission, it pulls hard right from the get go and all the way to the 5,000rpm cut off, with virtually no dead spot in the rev range.
There’s no denying noise is a big part of the driving experience in a high performance car and in this space the SQ7 triumphs the Model X with an engine-exhaust note combo that is nothing short of dramatic. It’s all civilised under 2,000rpm but wind it up above that and the majestic roar from eight firing cylinders is simply a symphony to the ears. Like the way it revs, the soundtrack gives away little if not nothing at all that it is a diesel. There’s none of those clatter and swooshy induction rush that you normally hear from a highly boosted diesel unit. Instead, inside and out, it sounds pretty much just like an atmospheric petrol V8 – smooth, rich and meaty.
The range-topping Model X P100D, which as its name denotes, comes equipped with a 100kWh battery pack. Powered by dual electric motors – a 375kW motor driving the rear axle and a smaller 193kW unit propelling the front axle – the P100D essentially gets all-wheel drive. Combined the two motors produce a potent 397kW, accompanied by a colossal 967Nm of torque.
At this point, you should forget about anything you have experienced in the past, including Ferrari’s and Porsche’s, because the way the Tesla launches off the line is simply Ludicrous – the exact name given to its Performance driving mode. Appropriately. With each stomp of the right pedal, the P100D pins you back to your seat like a launched roller coaster. It’s savage, to say the least, and outrageous is an understatement. To put it into perspective, the P100D demolishes the century sprint quicker than the Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan and Mercedes-AMG GT. And the Tesla is a 2.5 tonne family SUV!
The quarter mile run (400m) is also nothing short of impressive. We’re talking 11.8 seconds, on par with the mighty Nissan GT-R. Then there’s the insane passing speed, too. 72km/h to 104km/h in just 1.4 seconds.
The reason for this stupendous acceleration is simple – instant torque. This means all 967Nm of torque is dropped on the axles as soon as you flatten the throttle, no delay. It’s the characteristic of electric motor, you get the full whack of torque right from the get go. If the SQ7’s power delivery was great, the Model X is at a totally new level.
While the SQ7 delivers truly immersive aural sensation in its dash to license-losing speeds, the Model X is the complete opposite. Because it’s all electric, the Tesla is eerily tranquil all the time, with just the whine of the electric motors piercing through the silence during hard acceleration. The flip side of this is next level refinement. Devoid of mechanical disturbance, the Tesla delivers a much smoother and quieter ride than the already polished Audi. Wind and road noise is remarkably well suppressed, though the optional 22-inch rollers fitted to our test car do spin up slightly more road noise than smaller wheels.
Both cars are all-wheel drive, with the SQ7 equipped with the company’s quattro system and the Model X P100D armed with twin motor-driven axles. But the Audi has one more party trick – an electromechanical stabilisation system. In the simplest terms, the front and rear anti-roll bars are twisted against each other by two electric motors during sporty driving to ensure tight body control, whereas they are decoupled while cruising over bumpy roads for maximum ride comfort. This active roll stabilisation system is part of the optional $13,500 Dynamic Package (fitted to our test car), which also includes an all-wheel steering system and the quattro self-locking centre differential on the rear axle.
Working with the standard variable height air suspension and adaptive dampers, the setup endows the large Audi with superb grip and sure-footedness around the bends. It’s no sports car like and its heft is still a constant companion, but there’s very little body roll and change of direction is as neat and swift as you can get in a high riding SUV.
Some 130kg heavier than the SQ7, the Model X matches the Audi for confidence-inspiring handling and foolproof all-wheel drive traction. Smart designs result in a 49:51 front:rear weight distribution, which aids big time in responses. The placement of battery packs in between the axles and underneath the passenger compartment also means centre of gravity is kept as low as possible. In corners, the Tesla feels neutral and a lot lighter than it actually is. Like the Audi, there’s mild understeer when you get close to its limits but it’s easily managed by just backing off a little. Because of its heft, mid-corner bumps are barely an issue.
There’s adequate weight from both car’s steering wheel, but it’s the Audi that feels more connected, more pure in this company. The pedals in the SQ7 also offer more feel and progression than the Model X’s. The German also edges the American in terms of ride comfort, delivering a smoother ride on urban roads, on which the Model X exhibits a tad more low speed fussiness.
Like all Audi’s, the SQ7’s interior is a very cossetting place to be in. It’s more conventional than the Model X, with a classy and premium ambiance lifted by generous application of brushed aluminium inserts around cabin, complemented with high gloss trim pieces.
The ambient lighting is composed of thin light tubes and LED light strips embedded around the cabin. While those of its rivals are customisable between just three or four colours, the ones in the SQ7 offer a full colour palette with 30 shades. And boy do they look cool at night.
Typical of Audi, build quality is top notch. Most surfaces are soft to the touch and panels have almost perfect fitment.
Step inside the Model X and the first thing you would notice is the vast windscreen, claimed to be the world’s largest in a production car. The cabin has more light penetration and a greater sense of space than the Audi, with better forward visibility, though the opposite is true rearward due to the raised rear deck and small sloping rear windscreen. The space age interior radiates a unique vibe of luxury that is very cool, very Silicon Valley.
Central to the cabin is the huge 17-inch centre touch screen which looks like a sized-up iPad. Everything is controlled through this screen, including the sunroof, headlights and the release for the boot. The instrument panel is made up of another digital display and serves up various driving information. But because there is no engine, there are no dials. Instead, the display presents real-time graphical projection of what’s around the car – line markings on the road and other vehicles – using data gathered from the car’s sensors and cameras. Elsewhere, figured Ash Wood trim divides the dash and finds its way onto the doors, while black leather seats and light headliner further elevate premium cabin ambience.
Jumping into the Model X from the SQ7 is like travelling through a time machine and arriving ten years into the future. Despite fit and finish isn’t anywhere near the level of precision of its Teutonic counterpart, the Tesla’s cabin is still a great to place to be in.
The Audi comes standard with seven seats while third row is optional in the Tesla. Both cars have ample of space in the front, with second rows that are comfortable and supportive enough for three adults. The Model X goes one step further by offering individually adjustable seats for the second row which are wider with greater side bolstering. While the second row seats can be folded flat in the SQ7 to liberate more cargo capacity, the ones in the Model X are fixed, resulting in less usable cargo space. The Tesla, however, makes up for it with a second smaller boot in the front.
Depending on how you drive, the P100D is capable of up to 550km in range from a single charge, which can take anywhere between 50 minutes (at a Tesla Supercharger station) to 4 hours (at any destination charger) to charge from empty. Doing the maths using today’s electricity tariff, the Tesla’s “fuel consumption” figure is about 2L/100km, which is pretty astonishing for a fast-SUV.
In comparison, the SQ7 chewed 9.6L/100km in our test, against a claimed average of 7.2L/100km. Filling up the Audi takes seconds instead of minutes or hours, and your travel is not restricted by the availability of charging points.
There you have it. Two of the world’s fastest SUVs derived from vastly different approach to automotive engineering. The Tesla Model X is a supercomputer on wheels in which pack the latest tech straight out of Silicon Valley. There’s no doubting its missile-like acceleration is unmatched by even a blistering crossover like the Audi SQ7. And its well played out tech-performance combo extends to those seriously cool gull wing rear doors, a space-age cockpit with that mega center touchscreen and a genuinely usable Autopilot semi-autonomous driving feature. But these are things that need to be weight up against an exuberant price tag, fixed second row seats and freedom of travel limited by the availability of charging stations.
In the opposing camp, the more conventional and less expensive Audi SQ7 pays as much emphasis on comfort and practicality as it is on performance and dynamics. It rides better and feels more intrigue to drive. It’s not as ballistic to 100km/h as the Tesla but still damn bloody quick and while there are fewer cool gadgets to play with it offers more cabin space from pillar to pillar. Then there’s the advantage of not having to worry about charging points, especially for those who often embark on long family road trips.
So, it all boils down to individual requirements and preferences as well as how much you dig an EV. For us though, as complete of a hi-po SUV as the SQ7 is, the super-quick and futuristic Model X P100D has not failed to present a sense of occasion and coolness every time we get behind the wheel. And it’s the one we’d pick when reaching for the keys.
Audi SQ7 Rating: 4.0/5.0
Tesla Model X P100D Rating: 4.2/5.0
2017 Audi SQ7 pricing and specification
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||From $153,616|
As tested: $177,616*
Metallic Paint – $2,250
Matrix LED Headlights – $2,200
21″ Audi Sport 5-twin spoke wheels – $4,000
Valcona leather with diamond pattern stitching – $2,050
Dynamic Package (quattro sport differential, all-wheel steering, electromechanical active roll stabilisation)– $13,500
|Warranty:||3 years/unlimited km|
|Service Interval:||15,000km/12 months|
|Country of origin:||Germany, manufactured in Slovakia|
|Engine:||4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel with electric compressor, 320kW @ 5,000rpm, 900Nm @ 1,000rpm-3,250rpm|
|0 – 100km/h (seconds)||Claimed: 4.9; Tested: 4.9|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||7.2 (claimed); 9.6 (tested)|
|Body:||5-door, 7-seat, SUV|
|Safety:||5-star ANCAP, 8 airbags, reverse camera, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, hill-start assist, lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, DSC, TCS, ABS, EBD, EBA|
|Dimensions: L/W/H/W-B (mm):||5,069/1,968/1,741/2,996|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||2,405|
2017 Tesla Model X P100D price and specification
|Price:||Excl. on-roads: $211,200;|
Total price on-road as tested: $332,561*
*Fitted options include:
Metallic paint – $1,500
22″ Onyx Black Wheels – $8,400
Black/Light Headliner – $5,000
Seven Seat – $6,000
High Amperage Charger Upgrade – $2,300
Enhanced Autopilot – $7,600
Full Self-Driving Capability – $4,600
Premium Upgrades Package – $6,900
Ultra High Fidelity Sound – $3,800
Subzero Weather Package – $1,500
Towing Package – $1,150
|Warranty:||8-year unlimited km battery and drive|
|Country of origin:||United States|
|Drive:||Electric motors (dual): 193kW front, 375kW rear; 375kW total output (397kW in Ludicrous mode), 967Nm|
|Range (full charge)||565km|
|0 – 100km/h (seconds)||Claimed: 3.1; Tested: 3.2|
|Body:||5-door SUV; 5/7 seats|
|Safety:||8 airbags, ABS, TCS, automatic collision avoidance, Enhanced Autopilot, rear view camera|
|Dimensions: L/W/H/W-B (mm):||5,052/1,999/1,684/2,965|
|Kerb Weight||2,537 kg|
Tesla Model X P100D vs Audi SQ7