The new-generation Audi Q7 is smaller on the outside but bigger on the inside. It's also pretty brilliant.
In the world of luxury car brands, leaving a big SUV unchanged over a long period of time is not unprecedented – and so the fact the second-generation 2016 Audi Q7 arrives nearly a decade after the first isn’t a shock.
Sure, it’s not as though the largest Audi SUV is nearing the lifecycle length of the Land Rover Defender (66 years) or Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen (36 years), but with nine years under its belt the existing model has had its day. And the brand claims the new model will be the “benchmark of its class”.
Still, sales of the current-generation Q7 have been trending upwards as the nation’s desire for high-riders gathers even more momentum, and large luxury SUVs remain surprisingly strong despite newer, smaller models hitting the scene with more regularity.
The new model clearly brings with it a rethought design language: it isn’t as macho looking anymore, which could be positive or negative – you can make your own mind up about that – but it’s also built upon new architecture that helps it drop plenty of weight, too (240 kilograms compared with the previous version, in fact).
Not only is it lighter, it’s also a bit smaller, which means it’s easier to park. It’s shorter in length and narrower than before, but a little taller with more headroom throughout, according to Audi’s measuring tape.
That said, it’s still similar in size to its main rivals – the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Lexus RX – while also close to the Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, the all-new Volvo XC90 and even the Audi Q7’s sister model, the Volkswagen Touareg.
And then there’s the revamped interior – we’ll get to that later.
The second-generation Audi Q7, then, could be considered the right car at the right time – but buyers will have only one model to choose from for at least the first six months of this version’s lifecycle before the German marque adds more variants in 2016 (the first-generation model was sold in three specifications for most of its lifecycle).
The car that will be sold here initially is the 3.0 TDI model, with this version packing a – you guessed it – 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine with 200kW of power (between 3250-4250rpm) and 600Nm of torque (from 1500-3000rpm). It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and there’s Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system with a self-locking centre differential.
It’s a very strong engine to offer as a sole powertrain option, not just in terms of power outputs, and in spite of the fact the Q7 can run from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds – which is faster than many hot hatches even though the Q7 still weighs in at 2135kg.
It pulls willingly and quietly (at least inside the cabin) from low revs, with only the slightest hint of turbo lag on take-off. Gearshifts are smooth and precise, too.
As is Audi’s way, there is a Drive Select system with multiple modes – Auto, Offroad, Comfort, Efficiency, Dynamic and the configurable Individual – all of which adjust the steering resistance, engine and gearbox response, and, in the case of cars fitted with the optional adaptive air suspension, the ride height and firmness of the damping.
Driving the Q7 in the Dynamic drive mode does make for an engaging experience as it firms up the damping for less body roll and the steering becomes weightier, but it also leads to gears being held longer during acceleration, missing the best part of the torque curve in the process.
We found Auto mode a great balance for highway driving, and Individual offered a nice combination of configurations. We didn't sample Offroad mode, though if the surface is slippery, the quattro system can split its torque between the front and rear wheels to allow more traction where it’s needed (in regular driving it splits delivery 40 per cent front/60 per cent rear, but can push up to 70 per cent to the front and up to 85 per cent to the rear).
That optional air suspension ($4950) felt a little too soft at times, leading the body of the car to shift from side to side over bad surfaces when in Comfort mode – and that’s where the Individual drive mode comes to the fore, as we found the Dynamic suspension setting to be entirely comfortable, albeit with a firmer edge.
The steering itself isn’t as involving as, say, a BMW X5, and there’s a lack of consistency in terms of resistance at higher speeds – but around town it is light and user-friendly.
For those who may take their Q7 on driving adventures where the destination is more of an afterthought compared with the journey, the optional four-wheel steering system ($2775) is a must. This system assists the big SUV in cornering with more agility at higher speeds and you can feel the back-end helping to pull the car around the corner. It also enhances the manoeuvrability of the big bus at town speeds, minimising the turning circle to be equivalent to something much smaller, like a Q3.
One of the most impressive things about the drive experience, however, was the quietness inside the cabin - it's refreshing to not have to raise your voice to carry out a conversation, particularly on the open road. Most people won’t cover thousands of country kilometres in their Q7s - many will have their duty as the suburban school bus or Saturday soccer team transporter - and for such use it will not disappoint.
The occupants won’t be disappointed, either, because inside there’s plenty of space – Audi says that’s one of the main reasons people buy a Q7 – despite the car being smaller in most directions than it was before.
Your 180-centimetre-tall correspondent found the space in both the second and third rows reasonable, provided the second row was adjusted to allow a little more legroom in the rearmost row.
There was a first-gen Q7 at the launch that allowed some comparisons, and not only has the space improved notably (head room, in particular), but access to the rear seats is better, too. There’s now a 35:30:35 split second-row seat that allows for flip-folding and a degree of walk-through access. The old car had a 60:40 split seat which only slid forwards, making for a clumsy clamber-over move.
What we did notice, though, was that the first-generation model had air vents in the third-row, where the new model doesn’t. According to Audi’s local team it could have something to do with extra wiring under the boot, because the back two seats are now raised or flattened using electric toggle switches rather than the previous manual lever system.
Speaking of the boot, there is more space than before. With all seven seats in use there’s 295 litres of capacity (enough for a couple of small suitcases and backpacks) while with five seats in use the load space increases to 770L. If you fold all five rear seats flat there’s 1955L of cargo capacity available, and the boot-lip is now much lower to the ground, so loading stuff in and out is easier (and there’s a hands-free boot opener, too).
For those who spend more time up front there is plenty to like, too, with the new cockpit offering exceptional presentation and finishes.
There are beautiful materials used throughout, including knurled metal switchgear and a new-generation Audi MMI touchpad that is now more sizeable, finished in glass rather than the old film, and has delicate haptic feedback. The gear selector has been designed so you can rest your wrist while you make selections on the touchpad, too.
That pad controls the quick (quad-core) pop-up 8.3-inch infotainment system, but there’s also a familiar rotary dial. The menu system has been revised with upgraded graphics, and controlling it remains a simple task.
The connectivity in the new Q7 is great, with dual USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and the optional Audi Connect system with Wi-Fi hotspot capability can now use a tethered smartphone rather than a SIM card.
And while the third-row seats miss out on airvents, there are extra vents across the dashboard that are said to allow 35 per cent more air in to the cabin.
The driver gets their own big screen, too, with the Audi Virtual Cockpit display – familiar from the TT – fitted as standard. The 12.3-inch display is controlled by buttons on the steering wheel, allowing the driver hands-on access to the media, navigation and car controls.
Audi is renowned for its generous cabin storage options, and the Q7 lives up to expectations. There are large door pockets front and rear with bottle holders, a pair of cup-holders in between the front seats and in the flip-down armrest in the second row, and the third-row also has a pair of cupholders.
Safety is a big talking point with the Q7, with eight airbags (dual front, front side, rear side and full length curtain) and a 360-degree camera offered as standard, along with front and rear parking sensors and Audi Pre Sense City, a camera-based forward collision warning system with automated braking.
Further standard safety items include rear cross-traffic alert, an exit warning system that can detect unseen cyclists or cars and warn the occupant by flashing a light in the door lining, and for when you’re driving there’s also standard blind-spot monitoring.
Audi also offers a level of automated driving as part of its $4075 Assistance Package, with an Active Lane assistance system that helps steer the car, and a traffic jam assistance system that uses adaptive cruise control and can mirror what the car in front does in terms of accelerating, braking and even light swerving to avoid obstacles. The standard car has an ordinary cruise control system.
The 2016 Audi Q7 is an impressive thing – and once its range is bolstered it will undoubtedly offer plenty of options for buyers who are after alternatives to the likes of the BMW X5 and upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLE. We look forward to seeing what Audi brings to the party.