The facelifted 2020 Audi Q7 will arrive in Oz in the first half of next year, seemingly with a more defined purpose than the originator did when it arrived as Ingolstadt’s sole, diesel-only large SUV in 2016.
More recently, a couple of weeks prior to this here drive of the Q7 makeover in Kerry, Ireland, we got to punt the newest heap-topper, the 320kW/900Nm SQ8 sport-performance amalgamation. And that's considering if and what Audi Sport might concoct…
This revised Q7 before you is perhaps more makeover than mere facelift. And if only because the maker is keen to position it as more of an all-terrain prospect.
It has, Audi explains, “off-road looks” where the nose, tail and rocker panel changes, plus a contrasting Anthracite textured finish in areas such as the wheel arches. It's a design trick intent on visually raising the newly fettled form – in new beige or brown paintwork shades, if you wish – high off the tarmac.
Or dirt. Opt for air suspension over the standard steel springs and ride can adaptively lift 60mm (or drop 30mm) for up to 245mm of maximum ground clearance, with the system also adding Allroad and Off-Road drive modes as well as hill descent control.
Aesthetically and functionally, then, it's more than a mere sheep in billy goat clothing.
But any expanded off-roadability seems a sideshow to the broadly expanded tech filtered through from elsewhere in Audi’s ranges: the fully digital user interface with haptic touchscreen trickled down from the limos, minted with Virtual Cockpit and dash design lifted from the Q8, as well as all of the clever connectivity including so-called Car-to-X smarts, cloud-based Amazon voice service Alexa, Wi-Fi hotspot, Google Earth navigation, and other neat clever-dickery.
There's more. Be it standard or optional, four-wheel steering and 48-volt electric infrastructure for active anti-roll stabilisation and the clever stop-start coasting mode (to save fuel) are on the equipment menu. However, the only truly unique-to-Q7 feature is the elaborate – deep breath – HD Matrix LED Headlights with Audi Laser Light facial jewelry.
Of course, it remains to be seen which goodies make it Down Under and at what extra outlay, but what’s definite is that the two offered diesel engines get 10kW hikes in output, now 170kW (500Nm) and 210kW (600Nm) respectively for the 45TDI and confirmed-for-Oz 50TDI variant.
And there’s a fair chance a new flagship 55TFSI engine, at 250kW and 500Nm, will bring petrol power to the big Audi locally.
We sampled the 45TDI and 55TFSI at the famed Ring of Kerry coastal route, Ireland’s answer to our own Great Ocean Road. It’s a thrill ride of sorts, not because of temptation for bloody-minded pace, but because much of the 179km circuit’s slithering roadway seems literally narrower than the Q7’s near-2m girth.
It’s tight: so narrow in parts that it’s recommended cars touring the landscape do so clockwise, while the myriad tourist coaches frequenting the area must travel anticlockwise to alleviate gridlock. In a broad-shouldered seven-seater, the risk of losing a wing mirror is compounded somewhat by the fact we’re in German-spec left-hook Audis on the correct (left) side of the road.
The Q7 is, though, ostensibly no larger in its new-look form: same width and wheelbase, if an extra 11mm of academic length you don’t notice from behind the wheel. More conspicuous is the interior's asymmetric Q8-style dash fascia treatment, with its cosier, more ‘hemmed in’ occupancy in the first row.
It orientates the central stack towards the driver – perhaps selfishly – though the dual-touchscreen arrangement brings a cleaner, more upmarket vibe, even if usability is a little more involved and distracting than it was with the now defunct infotainment dial controller.
I put it to one Audi designer that this new touchscreen-only format, seemingly rolling out across all ranges, is more distracting for the driver. He responded that, well, most of the actual driver-oriented adjustments can be made through the wheel/Virtual Cockpit/head-up display combination, making it completely reasonable. Fair enough. And besides, he said, cabin clean-ups with haptic tablet-like interfaces is the way all German luxury carmakers are going...
The Valcona and ‘cricket’ leather seating is comfortable up front, and downright luxurious in row two, if mostly because the latter is so roomy. There's tremendous legroom, a tiny tailshaft hump in the floor, extensive seat adjustment and superb four-zone – so dual rear zone – climate control. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I spent half of the assessment time in Ireland riding in the back seat.
Not row three, though: it’s decent in dimensions for a seven-seater, but no place for my 175cm frame for a hundred kays or so of claustrophobic Irish back roads. On the topic, convertible luggage space remains unchanged: a large 865L as a five-seater; a humongous 2050L as a surrogate two-seater van.
The 170kW ‘45’ 3.0-litre oiler six offers usable energy to lug 2.3-plus-tonnes of metal, glass and rubber around, though response is only really alert enough for even balanced driving with the V6/eight-speed transmission powertrain combination set to Sport mode. In Comfort, Auto or Efficiency, there’s an uncomfortable pause prior to all 500Nm clocking on from 1750rpm, while acceleration, even two-up, is more leisurely than assertive.
Sure, 0–100km/h in 7.3sec isn’t bad, though this basic diesel tangibly lacks the 40kW and 100Nm benefit that makes the 50TDI eight-tenths swifter. I'd wager the high-spec oiler would feel noticeably more feisty once loaded to the roof-lining with bods and goods.
Then there's the petrol Q7. And, my, doesn't that 250kW 3.0-litre V6 alter the complexion of the family-hauling experience. Sure, the 55TFSI all-alloy biturbo six only matches the base diesel for torque (500Nm), yet its thrust is crisp and energetic, and it feels – two-up with no luggage at least – about as swift as its rapid 5.9sec 0–100km/h claim.
The petrol's all-round drivability, though, is perhaps more impressive: linear and obedient to respond more incrementally to your right foot than the diesels. It’s a satisfying powertrain combination, if to the inevitable detriment of consumption, though none of the Q7s came with any official figure.
On air suspension, the Q7 wafts along a lumpy road, its huge 285mm-wide 20-inch tyres – 18s through 22s are offered in Europe – that neither thump annoyingly nor transmit fidgety vibration through the cabin. There’s some effort, right down to the acoustic glass glazing, to cut environmental noise, and there’s a quiet and dignified serenity when cruising about.
Both the adaptive damping and fancy 48-volt active roll stabilisation act via a central control unit, and in Comfort or Auto the body does tend to float and dip a bit, with more ride focus than body control. It's tough to gauge the anti-roll smarts – it’s foolhardy at best to hook an SUV this large through Ring of Kerry’s impossibly narrow bends.
But there’s a decent degree of control through the wheel, and ample power and progression in the brakes. It’s an easy machine to drive, even from the wrong side of the right side of the roadway.
Our test cars fit both City Assist and Tour Assist packages, conspiring for a dizzying array of safety and convenience features together, including some limited semi-autonomous driving functionality given suitable situations somewhere other than a tight Irish coastal road. In fact, our German minders are nervous enough to ensure lane keeping is deactivated after every pit stop.
The all-wheel steering, though, was a godsend. Its five degrees of low-speed counter-steering doesn't sound much, but add the quicker front rack – 2.4 turns, up from 2.9 – and this option makes for a much easier device to U-turn and park.
So, while our Q7 never once put a tyre wrong, the jury is out as to whether any of its elaborate smarts bring much benefit to the table without sampling them in a less challenging environment. Ditto its off-roading chops: parking up in a turnout for coffee was about as beaten a track as we saw on launch.
Newfound off-roading schtick or not, the Q7 remains an exceptionally fine family hauler. And while the techy in-cabin window dressing might attract buyers to the breed, it’s really the quality in core spaciousness and comfort that measures its goodness and underpins its genuine luxury vibe.
While it’s too early for Aussie spec and pricing, the current low- and high-spec TDIs have remained a little under and over the $100K mark for quite some time, and it’s fair to presume the update won’t shift pricepoints much higher.
But it’s the new 55TFSI, a strong “maybe” for local showrooms, that makes for the enticing new Q7 spin. The petrol version would logically face off against the brand-spanking Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 (from $116K) and BMW X5 40i (from $120K) as seven-seater versions if we’re crystal-balling on price.