Audi has launched a new base model Q7, with a 160kW 3.0 TDI engine. Priced at just under 100 grand, it's a new entry point to the brand for buyers on a tighter budget.
There’s no doubt the 2016 Audi Q7 is already a successful model for the German brand. Sales of large SUVs in Australia are booming and the Q7 continues to do well for Audi in Australia (733 sales so far in 2016, against 234 in the same period 2015).
With a starting price over six figures though ($103,900), even Audi has been forced to admit the Q7 is out of the reach of many potential buyers.
That six figure starting price has led the company to this new model. The 160kW 3.0 TDI variant, which has a starting price of $96,300 plus the usual on-road costs and now offers Audi fans a more affordable entry into the large SUV ranks as well as those needing seven-seat functionality. That drop to just over 96 grand might not seem like much to a lot of you, but scraping in under 100 grand makes a big difference to a lot of potential luxury SUV buyers.
The question is then, whether a ‘cheaper’ Q7 with less mechanical tech and less power as standard can still deliver on the appeal of its more highly equipped and more powerful brethren.
We’ve tested the 200kW 3.0 TDI Audi Q7 recently, and the two main talking points with this new, more sharply priced model are the standard steel spring suspension, and the less powerful turbo diesel engine.
Audi claims potential Q7 buyers who are on more of a budget, are happy to forgo standard equipment like Audi Virtual Cockpit for example, in order to access a cheaper vehicle. Audi still offers plenty of options packages for buyers with deeper pockets, but the launch vehicles we tested didn’t even have the optional adaptive suspension, so we got a solid impression of what the Q7 buyer on a budget will get.
First then, the engine. The good news is that there will be no normal driving instance where the 160kW tune will ever feel like it’s lacking in power. We tested the new Q7 over most driving requirements except heavy stop start traffic, and the only time we even thought about the benefit of a little more grunt was roll-on overtaking on country roads. It was the only time we could ever feel the heft of the Q7 (down 240kg from the old model). Everywhere else, we struggled to come up with a reason why you’d need the 200kW tune. That doesn’t mean you won’t want it - just that you don’t need it.
The 160kW engine is incredibly quiet right from start up and almost inaudible at idle. Even with a gaggle of Q7s sitting together idling, there’s no perceptible diesel chatter. Under load, like when you accelerate hard from a standstill, the Q7 doesn’t chug smoke, rattle or make any of the ugly noises we used to associate with diesel engines. It’s very much a refined all-round package.
Acceleration is smooth also, aided by the exceptional eight-speed tiptronic automatic, which slices through the gears with precision regardless of how close to redline you’re working the engine. The pair work seamlessly together and highlight the benefit of a refined package like this when you’re going to spend longer periods behind the wheel.
Another benefit you’ll notice over the longer term is the fuel efficiency of this combination. The ADR claim is 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw an indicated 7.8L/100km after two days of driving. That’s impressive for a vehicle of this bulk, especially one that can carry seven occupants in comfort. Audi reminds us that this is the first iteration of the Q7 with electromechanical power steering, and it’s a beautifully weighted system at any speed. You won’t feel like really hooking the Q7 into corners too often, but on the rare occasions that you might, the system delivers precision and feedback in equal measure. It delivers a near perfect compromise between low speed resistance and higher speed accuracy to always feel reassuring.
The next issue to consider is the standard steel spring suspension. Much has been made of late about the benefits of optional air suspension across a range of makes and models. It follows, then, that standard steel springs simply aren't as good anymore, let alone as capable. At the corners of the new Q7 though, the steel springs do an excellent job of delivering a mix of excellent ride comfort and handling ability. Sure, the 160kW Q7 might be even better with adaptive air suspension, but it’s absolutely fine with the standard kit.
Around town, you’ll never feel like the Q7 is too harsh. Even over bumpy, uneven country roads, we found the ride comfort to be commendable. If you’ve got a chunkier budget to play with, go for the adaptive suspension, but don’t think that you’ll be missing too much if you can’t afford the more exotic option. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the steel springs in this platform.
Perhaps the Q7’s strongest feature is the way it shrinks around you the more you drive it. There’s little doubt the Q7 is an imposing SUV in a external sense. It’s long and wide and takes up much of the lane when you’re on tighter road networks. It doesn’t feel unwieldy though. We found manoeuvring quite easy through regional towns, and you’re never worried about placing it in more confined situations. The clear reverse camera and parking sensors obviously assist in low-speed work too.
In the cabin, there’s all the comfort and luxury we’ve noted in previous Q7 tests. The insulation is fantastic, with barely any road or wind noise entering the cabin even at 110km/h and the engine note is almost non-existent at speed as well. The longer the drive, the more you’ll appreciate the quiet and calm in the cabin.
The driving position is excellent, the seats beautifully trimmed and comfortable, and the Audi ergonomic strong points remain as well. This base model misses out on Audi’s quite brilliant virtual cockpit, but that’s something most buyers on a budget won’t even miss. The satellite navigation screen is crisp, the controls easy to master and the sat nav system itself, which we used extensively, is just as easy to follow.
Audi’s MMI system works quickly and reliably and the Bluetooth connection is solid for both phone and audio playback ability. The large touchpad looks like it takes up a lot of valuable console real estate because of its size, but it works well.
So, does the Q7 deliver on the promise Audi has hoped it will? Definitely. It’s easy to argue that 90 odd grand isn’t exactly cheap, but large luxury SUVs aren’t cheap regardless which badge they’re wearing. What Audi wanted to do was present an option for potential Q7 buyers who couldn’t quite stretch to the previous base model. The German company has done that. Crucially, you won’t feel like you're missing anything either.
The driving experience, the sense of luxury and comfort, and the all-round feeling of build quality and longevity that Audi has become synonymous with, remains. The Q7 is every bit the large luxury SUV and if you’re in the market for a seven-seater that can tackle all kinds of family tasks, the new 160kW Q7 remains right at the pointy end of the field.