Australia's appetite for large luxury SUVs is at an all-time high, but the 2016 Audi Q7 enters a segment filled with excellent and new contenders - so how does it go?
The new Audi Q7 comes almost a decade after the original model went on sale in 2006. Although this new version does away with its predecessor’s rather droopy look, it again wears familiar Audi styling. Truly, it's almost as if Audi designers took the design file of an A3 hatch and clicked 'expand'.
But, while it looks rather bland on the outside, the interior is typically Audi - which is to say, one of the best in its class.
From the seats, to the roof lining, all the way through to the central infotainment system, climate control vents and all their associated switchgear, as well as the full LED instrument cluster, the Q7 – in this writer’s opinion – is a match for the BMW X5 and Range Rover Sport in offering the chicest interior in this class.
Unlike, say, the new Mercedes-Benz GLE (replacement for the ML), which is overcome by too many buttons and not much else, the Q7 is a case in point of how to create a smart, sophisticated, functional and yet still classy and premium interior without compromise.
Our test car was the 3.0 TDI Quattro tiptronic, which for now is the only offering in Audi Australia's new Q7 range. The six-cylinder diesel produces a reasonable 200kW of power and 600Nm of torque. The engine is coupled to an all-wheel drive system that operates via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Overall, the drivetrain is nothing spectacularly new, however it does offer a very reasonable amount of torque to get it going and, during our extensive testing both with the whole family (of five) on board and without, it never felt laggy or underpowered in suburbia or on the highway.
Gearshifts were smooth both at low and high speeds and the high torque output meant hills and heavy loads proved little challenge. Nonetheless, it did suffer from one of the worst stop-start systems we've come across, whereby it would take an infuriatingly long time for the engine to restart after it had turned itself off to save fuel. We've experienced this feature in other Audis but never before had it been annoying.
Audi claims fuel economy figures of 5.9 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres, however you’re likely to run into the 7s on normal use and potentially even higher if you frequent high traffic areas. Even so, it’s not too bad for a car that weighs over two tonnes.
The Q7 is priced from $103,900, however, as is typical with Audi (and other German brands), the car you actually want will have you ticking boxes faster than a donkey voter, so you’ll most likely end up spending tens of thousands more than you’d planned on options. In our case, the Q7 test car tested here was equipped with $25,950 worth of options (full breakdown below).
Some of these options are, for lack of a better word, over-priced. Such as the $2400 for metallic paint or $4075 for the active safety features (active cruise control and lane assistance) that are standard in a $50,000 Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Ignoring that for the moment, the Q7 as a family friendly SUV is an excellent choice. It offers seven seats and still enough boot space to make it usable for large families.
We fit two ISOFIX child seats in the second row (which bolted in very conveniently thanks to Audi’s removable ISOFIX covers that allow a deeper connection to the seat without damaging the upholstery) and had no trouble fitting an average sized adult in between.
Meanwhile, the boot took a full size pram, three suitcases and still had room to spare. Of course, this won’t be the case with the third row up, but even so, it’s still good enough for most situations.
Going for the $4950 option of air suspension is almost a must, for it provides unrivalled levels of bump absorption so desperately needed for Australia’s pothole-infested roads. We haven’t had a chance to drive a Q7 without the option, but considering how well it rode with, we would highly advise the box be ticked.
With suspension set to Comfort, our two boys slept happily in the back seat as we traversed the old and bumpy roads of Bondi. The quietness of the cabin is also worth noting, as Audi has somehow managed to keep most of the road and engine noise out of the cabin at speeds below 50km/h.
Incidentally, you will find yourself switching out of Comfort mode, or leaving it on Auto to allow the car to decide, for it becomes a little floaty when you start to pick up speed. Either way, it’s ideal to have the option of having a cushy ride when needed and then switch back to a more dynamics-focused setting when you want to get somewhere fast.
Our biggest gripe with the Q7 was the active safety features, which were so over-the-top aggressive (even when they were set to be less intrusive than default) that it made driving the large SUV on a highway a bit of a chore. The Q7’s lane assistance system would consistently turn the steering wheel to keep itself in the lane when we came anywhere near white lines.
If you let go of the steering wheel on a well-marked highway – which we wouldn’t recommend at any time when driving – Audi’s computers will basically drive the car for you for a good few seconds, which is enough to stop a potentially catastrophic accident if you get distracted by the little ones in the back seat.
It’s a great system and one which we would love to recommend - considering it also comes with active cruise control - but for the majority of the time, when you’re paying full attention, it can be rather irritating and turning it off requires far too many sub-menu interactions on Audi’s pop-up screen (update: there's a quick turn off button on the steering wheel).
Speaking of which, the haptic feedback (letting you know your finger movement on the touchpad is recognised) makes using Audi’s new infotainment system, linked to a retractable 8.3-inch centre screen, a rather nice experience. Somehow, it does feel as though that screen could stand to be bigger, considering how far back it sits in the dash, but now we are just splitting hairs.
We synched and tested a smartphone (iPhone 6S Plus), both for Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming and found the car’s connectivity system impeccable. The full colour digital display now in place of the instrument cluster is also very useful, as it can display all the necessary navigation or audio information almost exactly where you need it (where's the head up display, Audi? That feature is now standard on a new BMW X1!)
Overall, the new Audi Q7 sits somewhere between a Range Rover Sport and a BMW X5, in that it provides great comfort for passengers with reasonable levels of dynamic capability. It’s perhaps best suited to those with two or three kids that will make regular use of the third row and value space, comfort and practicality over anything else.