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2020 Audi SQ8 stands out by fitting in

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2020 Audi SQ8

Six-figure performance crossovers like the 2020 Audi SQ8 don’t compromise. These crossbreeds promise the generous cargo room of an SUV with sports car handling and near-supercar acceleration. The SQ8 adds luxury car touches such as massaging seats and connected car technology that works better than Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

New for 2020 and delayed by the pandemic like the rest of humanity, the SQ8 is the understated performance crossover, unlike the Lamborghini Urus or Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat. Subtlety can be attractive. The SQ8 boasts a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 but it doesn’t thunder through the neighborhood; the fast roofline shoots the breeze without an ungainly coupe-like cut that trims rear head room; and the design lacks the hood scoops, racing stripes, and giant air intakes worn by other performance crossovers announcing their intention to the world. 

Lurking within that sophisticated if not sedate style is a blistering beast that looks just as at home taking the kids to church as it does praying to God while hitting 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Herein lies the challenge. The performance crossover premise holds that it’s more reasonable to shell out an extra $25,000 on one vehicle than to buy both an SUV and a sport sedan.

The SQ8 costs about $90,000 to the Q8’s $78,000, and my tester finished at more than $107,000. Damping that price-performance trade off was reality. My week-long loan was bookended by snowstorms totaling more than 20 inches and strung out between sub-zero temps that made me envy Han Solo’s carbonite tomb because he didn’t have to deal with wind chill.

2020 Audi SQ8

While these were suboptimal conditions to test the grip of 21-inch wheels on all-season tires (22-inch summer performance tires are a no-cost option) spun by up to 568 lb-ft of torque, I drove it in conditions many driver’s face when reality slaps the sunny face of idealism. 

The SQ8 comes with all-wheel drive that sends 60% of torque to the rear wheels. My tester had the optional $5,900 Sport package that includes an active anti-roll bar powered by a 48-volt battery—a system I didn’t really get to test. It also had a torque-vectoring rear differential I ended up testing for a different kind of grip than intended. 

One night, when new snow covered a sheet of ice on my suburban side streets, I goosed the throttle for a little kick on a curve. The stability control system braked the inside wheel and shuttled torque to the outside wheel, and the rear differential kicked in to prevent me from reliving my teen years. In the snow, the SQ8 was too stable, too good, and instilled confidence when I picked up the kids later as the snow deepened. The standard rear-axle steering also enabled more precision at low speeds for parking by effectively shortening the wheelbase. 

That’s not to say there wasn’t a chance for fun. Small paddle shifters helped modulate highway maneuvers, but the effortless 8-speed automatic did it fine by itself. On straight shot on-ramps in Dynamic mode, when the standard adaptive air suspension lowered, the SQ8 reared back on lift off like a rear-drive sports car, in part because of the 40/60 rear-axle bias of the all-wheel-drive system. 

2020 Audi SQ8

2020 Audi SQ8

2020 Audi SQ8

2020 Audi SQ8

2020 Audi SQ8

2020 Audi SQ8

The twin-turbo V-8 shrugged off the SQ8’s portly 5,324-pound weight as smoothly as our heroes escaping Jabba the Hut. When I found a patch of dry pavement and goosed it, the polite, composed 500-hp V-8 unbuttoned into a howl that overwhelmed the senses until I glanced at the speed on the head-up display.  

That display is part of the $5,500 Prestige trim package that includes driver-assistance features such as adaptive cruise control that can restart from a stop in traffic, but also maintains a reasonable distance at highway cruising. The system is simple to use and shares the load on longer trips with enough hands-free driving to let the driver stretch the arms. 

Comfort was never an issue in the SQ8, whereas some performance crossovers can ride stiff enough to reconsider long trips. In Comfort mode, the air suspension helped soak up road seams and relaxed the steering feedback. Mostly, the comfort came from front seats shod in quilted red leather. The tester had massaging front seats with controls concealed in a dial on the seat base. The massaging function could also be adjusted through the 8.6-inch center touchscreen that sits below the 10.1-inch touchscreen for media and navigation, but it was quicker to reach down and twist. 

2020 Audi SQ8

2020 Audi SQ8

The lower 8.6-inch touchscreen replaces traditional climate control bars but I’m not convinced it’s better. Haptic feedback provided button-like confirmation, and it was simple to adjust air direction from the sleek band of vents that headline the dashboard, but all that reflective gloss black got smudged and dials will always be quicker to blast the heat. 

Consider those nits picked, however, because Audi’s infotainment is the best on the market. Audi’s MMI navigation system is one of the few native systems I prefer over Apple CarPlay, with its crystal-clear Google Earth 3D display that can be carried over to the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. With roller dials and a view button on the steering wheel, it’s easy to use, and easier to configure what you want to see based on how you’re driving; watching the horsepower and torque power bars light up never gets old.

Despite all that performance and technology, I could fit my daughter’s goalie hockey bag in the cargo area without needing to put down the 60/40-split rear seats. No compromise.

The SQ8 doesn’t squeeze in a third row like the Audi Q7 and it doesn’t arc the roof to pretend to be a coupe. The integrated rear roof spoiler starts over the rear wheel, so the rear window sits at a 45-degree angle, but the lower half is roomy enough to hold 30.5 cubic feet of stinky gear or 60.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down. That’s about nine cubic feet less than the longer Q7.

If you want more performance in your crossover, there’s no question the SQ8 is worth the $20,000 upcharge. The question is how much performance you want because Audi has an even more extreme choice. The RS Q8 ratchets that V-8 to 591 hp, and cuts the 0-60 mph time to 3.7 seconds, but it adds another  $25,000 to the price of the SQ8. 

Given the variable nature of how we live and drive, the 2020 SQ8 delivers that no compromise combination of performance and utility without barking for attention.

Audi provided Motor Authority a week in the 2020 SQ8 to bring you this firsthand report. 

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Autos

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1, 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35, 2024 GMC Hummer EV SUV: This Week’s Top Photos

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2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Ford may have just launched an electric Mustang crossover but old-school muscle car fans have their own Mustang model to look forward to in 2021, and it’s wearing the Mach 1 badge. The car is a fantastic mash-up of GT350 and Bullitt parts, and we’ve got a full review up.

2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35

Another vehicle we tested this week was the 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLB35. This compact crossover has 302 hp, third-row seats, and loads of tech, and it’s quite reasonably priced at about $50,000.

2022 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

2022 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class

Another Mercedes in the headlines this week was the updated 2022 CLS-Class. The latest updates bring revised styling inside and out, plus some new technology, but sadly there’s no longer an AMG option for U.S. customers.

Pagani Zonda Revolucion road-car conversion - Photo credit: @tfjj/Lanzante

Pagani Zonda Revolucion road-car conversion – Photo credit: @tfjj/Lanzante

Pagani built just five examples of its Zonda Revolucion track special early last decade, and this week we learned that one of them has been made legal on the street. The conversion to a road car was handled by the folks at Lanzante, which has performed similar conversions in the past for track cars like the McLaren P1 GTR.

2024 GMC Hummer EV SUV

2024 GMC Hummer EV SUV

For fans of electric vehicles, GMC unveiled the 2024 Hummer EV SUV. The SUV shares its platform and powertrain with the Hummer EV pickup truck, but the wheelbase is shorter and the design has some strong H3 vibes. While the pickup starts production this fall, the SUV won’t show up until spring 2023.

2022 Toyota GR 86 and 2022 Subaru BRZ

2022 Toyota GR 86 and 2022 Subaru BRZ

Another new vehicle that made its debut this week was the 2022 Toyota 86. The second-generation sports coupe is once again a twin with the Subaru BRZ, and like the BRZ it gets a 2.4-liter flat-4, rear-wheel drive, and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions.

2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST

2021 Ford Explorer Enthusiast ST

You can now get the looks and performance of Ford’s Explorer ST for about $4,000 less. The Blue Oval this week revealed a new Explorer Enthusiast ST for the 2021 model year with the same 400-hp powertrain as the regular Explorer ST but minus some of the vehicle’s luxury items.

2022 Porsche Macan facelift spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

2022 Porsche Macan facelift spy shots – Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Porsche will keep the current Macan on sale when a new battery-electric version of the crossover arrives in 2022, but there will be some updates made to it. As our latest spy shots reveal, the current Macan will receive a few tweaks that will likely align its styling and tech with the forthcoming electric Macan.

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2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 Cabriolet drives a second wind

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2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

When the days were really short last winter, and the pre-vaccine despair had set in, I got some welcome relief in the form of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 Cabriolet. Call it naturopathy, but in the dark days before Pfizer and Moderna became vernacular, the Cabriolet came to play here in the Gulf of Mexico’s backyard, just in time for the lyrical 70-degree days that flagrantly defy winter.

The Cabriolet came just in time to give me a social-distancing second wind, and a second shot at the aborted summer of 2020. Here’s where it cured my seasonal blues—and where needed its own remedies.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: Mild-hybrid, served up purely smooth. 

A 362-hp mild-hybrid 3.0-liter turbo-6 and effortless 9-speed automatic powered this all-wheel-drive Cabriolet. I wasn’t convinced that the changeover in powertrains would do much for the E-Class, but the new inline engine family spreads torque as smoothly as speculoos, and its mild-hybrid system gives it effortless low-end power and excellent gas mileage for its size.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Miss: Back seat space is slim. 

We’d spend days in the Cabrio’s multi-adjustable cooled front seats; they’re fabulous. The back seat, not so much. Two adults slipped into the back seat of the Cabriolet, but neither wanted a repeat performance. Medium-size passengers will do fine for short sunset runs down the shore road, but for the three-hour round-trip to Costco, you’ll want to borrow a friend’s SUV.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: The look.

The mid-size Mercedes convertible and coupe have polished their shapes to near-perfection. (We’ve driven the Benz E450 Coupe up north; it looks good even in salt spray.) The E450 Cab fits in at the BBQ stand and the show-off spot in front of the club. Where it fits in best is the empty gulf-front drive where the only things keeping pace are rare birds and a gentle breeze. With a diamond-flecked grille, sharp LED eyebrows, and stylish AMG Line wheels, the E450 Cabriolet profiles in the only good and acceptable way.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe

Miss: Touchpads on steering wheel and screens on the dash.

Haters live among us and they say the E450’s touchscreens and steering-wheel touchpads are misses. They either too small or too inexpensive-looking or too sensitive or something else we heard but didn’t absorb. Sure, they may be flawed—but flaws aren’t always fatal. In my Cabriolet tester’s case, the Insignia-esque look of the displays was offset with open-pore wood and red-and-black leather.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet (E450 4Matic)

2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet (E450 4Matic)

Hit: “Hey, Mercedes.”

 The E450 doesn’t mind being a hollaback girl. Say “Hey, Mercedes” and it responds to a wealth of natural language commands that can change audio functions, find your favorite podcast, choose a new route around paralytic hurricane-induced traffic, and find a coffee spot with patio seating.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: Top-down details.

The power-folding roof can go away in under 20 seconds and at speeds of up to 30 mph, but the E450 Cabriolet also has sun-reflecting leather, the Airscarf neck-warming vents, and a wind deflector, all standard.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: In touch with safety.

The E450 Cabrio gets standard automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, a surround-view camera system, and automatic parking assistance. This one came also with a Driver Assistance Package with adaptive cruise control that reduces the speed for curves, traffic sign recognition that adjusts cruise control speed, active lane control, and automatic lane changes at the tap of the turn-signal stalk. The Benz systems have been some of the best since their introduction and their fluid and precise supplemental behavior lets drivers take a second away from the controls.

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 cabriolet

Hit: It’s well stocked.

The E450 comes standard with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, heated front seats, spectacular Burmester sound, and 18-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires. Spend up to the AMG Line trim if you want, but don’t miss out on the cooled multi-contour front seats or the high-wattage low-gloss wood trim. 

_______________________________________

2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic Cabriolet

Base price: $75,500, including destination

Price as tested: $86,320 including an AMG Line styling package, advanced safety gear, a head-up display, and cooled multi-contour front seats

Drivetrain: 362-hp mild-hybrid 3.0-liter turbo-6, 9-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined

The hits: Exceptional front-seat comfort, powertrain smoothness, top-down driving, sterling audio and voice recognition

The misses: Slim back-seat leg room, steering-wheel touchpad sensitivity

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Lime Rock Park has new ownership

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Lime Rock Park

One of America’s oldest and most revered road-racing courses, Lime Rock Park, located in the northwest corner of Connecticut, has been sold by Skip Barber to a group that includes former Airstream president Dicky Riegel, who will serve as the track’s new chief executive.

“Lime Rock has been one of my favorite places and my home track for over 40 years; the same is true for my partners, Charles (Mallory) and Bill (Rueckert), both of whom consider Lime Rock a home away from home,” Riegel is quoted in the announcement of the sale.

“All of us have deep roots in Connecticut and look forward to being active in the community and working collaboratively with the Town. To now be owners of this iconic and storied brand is a dream come true.”

Lime Rock Park

Skip Barber, the racing school founder who has owned the track for nearly 40 years, will remain part of the new ownership team, according to the announcement. He said the new ownership group brings “outstanding new vision and vitality to Lime Rock’s operations and to our local and regional community. They are the ideal stewards of the Park’s long and successful legacy.”

The race track, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a challenging 1.5-mile circuit founded in 1956 by Jim Vaill with design help from racer John Fitch and the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory and was the first track built using highway-safety principles. The first race was staged in April 1957.

A quirk of the track’s scheduling is a local ordinance that bans racing on Sundays, which enables the track to feature a schedule with Friday, Saturday, Monday holiday racing events with car shows on Sundays.

The track also is known for buildings designed by auto racer and architect Sam Posey.

For more information, visit Lime Rock Park’s website.

Andy Reid contributed to this article

This article, written by Larry Edsall, was originally published on ClassicCars.com, an editorial partner of Motor Authority.

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