As the first-ever ground-up revamp of its nine-year-old large SUV, the second-generation Audi Q7 is a big deal for Audi. Add the segment’s seismic popularity, it’s of little surprise the four-ring marque left no nut unscrewed building what is, for the most part, a big stride forward in family-swallowing mobility.
What’s new? The gen-two Q7 is a wholesale ground-up redesign, with a fresh look, a more spacious interior, a more compact exterior size, a significant kerb weight reduction, improved efficiencies, a complete revision under the skin, evolved powertrains and a broad array of bells and whistles - including many Audi firsts – to whet SUV buying appetites.
Globally, the breadth of specification available is dizzying. Australia, however, will get just one variant come September launch, cherry picked to suit local tastes – specifically, to past sales trends of the outgoing gen-one range. We’ll get no petrol engines and no five-seater options.
At $103,900, the Q7 3.0 TDI quattro gets a ‘high-power’ 200kW version of the three-litre turbocharged V6, with revisions over the outgoing diesel extensive enough to have lifted power 20kW, raise torque 50Nm (now 600Nm), reduce combined consumption by almost two litres per 100 kilometres (now 5.9L/100kms) and gain Euro 6 compliance.
Audi Australia will consider a cut-priced 160kW/500Nm TDI diesel, feasibly pitched against BMW X5 25d and Mercedes-Benz ML 250, if buyer demand dictates. The only other Q7 all-but-confirmed for future local release, late 2016, will be the mighty TDI e-tron quattro plug-in diesel-electric hybrid, boasting a stunning set of credentials: 275kW/700Nm ‘combined system’ outputs, 1.7L/100km combined consumption, 56km all-electric range, 1410km total range and 6.0sec 0-100km/h acceleration.
A variety of 200kW TDI Q7s were available at the international launch in the Swiss Alps. None were in base Australian spec (see below) but, fortuitously, among the five- and seven-seaters available to test, most cost optional niceties to be offered in Oz – essential or frivolous – were available to sample.
The added fruit of S line ‘exterior’ styling and ‘sport’ enhancement (seats, air suspension) packages, 21-inch wheels and four-wheel steering, brought a sense of purpose to our first Q7 test car. The effect, though, is mostly visual, toughening up the frankly polarizing ‘boxy’ exterior styling that is nicely proportioned in the flesh and, Audi admits, is in part aimed at swooning North American tastes.
Negotiating Sion’s backroads and stretching its legs on flat Swiss motorways, what’s immediately apparent is how smooth, quiet, refined and comfortable the whole package is. Those traits were enduring throughout the two-day launch and the backbone of the new Q7’s positive virtues.
Even on 21s (19s are standard) and the firmer S line suspension tune, the ride is sanguine and the body control slightly floaty in ‘comfort’ damper mode - in its firmest ‘dynamic’ mode it remains unflappably pleasant. These are, however, mostly finely manicured roads, rather than Australia’s often third-world urban byways.
While lacking much character, the diesel V6 is quiet and workmanlike in its urgency, hardly a powerhouse, yet offering ample energy to shift roughly two tonnes of vorsprung durch technik without sweat. The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth, intuitive and, well, familiar – being a ZF-sourced unit widely adopted in premium all-wheel-drive SUVs, that’s of little surprise.
The Q7 is reasonably brisk – it comes with a 6.3sec 0-100km/h claim – though, importantly, it can get out of its own way when entering from a side street, overtaking or lunging for gaps in traffic on the move. It isn’t, though, the most responsive powertrain when suddenly called to arms, particularly in comfort drive mode, yet all-round flexibility is ample for most driving situations.
Kerb weight has been reduced considerably – up to 325 kilos of saving due in part to its 41-percent aluminium body construction – though, at over two tonnes in seven-seat TDI form, it’s still a hefty device. And while the Q7 is more compact in exterior dimensions, crucially, it’s only marginally so in width – it still feels as wieldy a device as its competitors on narrower roads.
Climbing twisty Alpine passes is more call of duty than call of the wild for a large comfort-focused SUV, even one S line fettled. But in appraising on-road surety, innate safety and braking power, and as a measure of powertrain gusto, it’s a handy test the Q7 passes effortlessly. The steering strikes a nice balance of lightness and engagement, but it’s the hairpins on the run up to Vernier’s ski resorts where the four-wheel steering shines, offering fine manoeuvrability. At low speed (below 40km/h), the rear wheels steer counter to the fronts, a benefit, particularly parking, that reduces the Q7’s turning circle by a metre.
If there’s one gripe with the driving experience, it’s that, again, there’s lag between throttle input and forward progress out of corners, though one amended by engaging dynamic engine and transmission modes.
Our second test is a proper seven-seater, optioned with the highest of three available leather packs featuring Valcona hide. It also features the standard comfort seat design – an 18-way electric and pneumatic style can be optioned – which, on balance, is a much better, more relaxed fit to Q7 than the sportier S line pews.
Audi claims best-in-class interior room and the sense of front row space is exacerbated by the improved headroom and the horizontally split dash fascia trim, which integrates the air-con vents. While the design has changed, the execution – fit and finish, materials – are typical, familiar Audi fare. Nothing broken nor requiring fixing then.
The new-for-Q7 Virtual Pilot concept – simplicity in driver interface, a minimalist controls approach – that represents a leap in cabin design in TT works to a more questionable degree in the large SUV. The second ‘passenger’ screen adds fanfare and information saturation, and the console and dash aren’t lacking for switches and buttons. Virtual pilot as applied here isn’t as clean or intuitive as in its sportscar stable mate. There are some neat updates, though, such as the MMI all-in touch, allowing tablet-like pinch-zoom and scrolling from the console interface.
The second row accommodation transforms from generously roomy to stretch limo-like in legroom when the nifty 35:30:35 split rear seats are adjusted (fore-aft) to rearmost positions. Each ‘split’ backrest can be adjusted for rake, too, and both measures of head and shoulder room feel a match to any premium rival. In supple top-spec Valcona, it feels properly opulent.
Four-zone air-con, 12V outlets and door bins large enough for 1.5-litre bottles are the extent of standard row two conveniences. While only available some time after Q7’s September launch, a cool Audi tablet rear passenger entertainment system will be offered. Android-based, Wi-Fi enabled and incorporating HD cameras (handy for Skyping), it provides a vast array of media and infotainment via 10.1-inch screens mounted in the first row seat backs.
The double-folding function to access the third row is a little cumbersome, requiring two hands and elbow grease. It’s not as convenient as, say, Honda’s nifty Magic Seats.
It’s ungraceful clambering into the tight third row, which is 50:50 split fold, electrically operated via buttons in the rear cargo area and stows the seats flat to form the cargo area floor. There’s no luggage space penalty in the seven-seater: its 890 litres (third row stowed) and whopping 2075 litres (both rear rows stowed) match the five seater. Third seating row up, there’s a still handy 295 litres of luggage space. A powered tailgate is standard in Oz, and though the load level is five centimetres lower than the old Q7 it’s still quite highly-set.
At around 180cm, my frame is a little cramped in the small third row seats, my head touching the roof lining. It’s serviceable, though hardly comfortable, for adults on short trips. There are ISOFIX child seat points in all five rear seat positions and - ahem - particularly prolific parents can fit up to six child seats in total, though Aussie front row airbag legislation reduces the count to five in local vehicles.
The Australian Q7 get a high level of standard equipment, including 19-inch wheels, Virtual Cockpit (an option overseas), 360-degree camera, park assist, side assist, xenon plus headlights, electric front seats with driver’s side memory, mid-spec Cricket leather trim and MMI Navigation plus that includes a retractable eight-inch front screen and digital radio. Local base suspension specification is a steel- rather than air-sprung design.
Meanwhile the exhaustive options list features items such as head up display ($3400), LED headlights with dynamic indicators ($2800), all-wheel steering ($2770), 21-inch wheels ($4950), Audi Smart tablet ($2850) and top-line Bang & Olufsen ‘3D’ audio ($14,850) and can spiral the well-appointed Q7 well north of the $103,900 entry point.
Packed in, though, are a host of safety and assistance features, including eight airbags, front and rear parking sensors, ‘active’ safety bonnet, high-beam assist, night vision assist and hill descent control. New to Q7 are cross traffic alert, pre sense city, exit warning, collision avoidance assist, turn assist and even a warning system to indicate approaching cyclists when opening doors.
The system Audi likes to sing about, though, is traffic jam assist, which combines a gamut of driver aid functions together to provide a close approximation of low-speed autonomous driving. It’s not entirely convincing, though, as it only operates in favourable road and weather conditions and only allows momentary loss of driver contact with the steering wheel.
Also, the fact that the Q7’s myriad assist systems seem duty bound to bing, chime or display warnings to the driver for the slightest indiscretion can be tiresome.
Audi really has moved the game of hauling families around in comfort and safety well and truly on. The new Q7 is a smarter, finer and fitter SUV than its long-serving predecessor. It avoids overt sporting pretensions and leverages comfort and refinement, and is all the better for it.