The Audi Q7 remains an ever-important car. It marked a dramatic shift for the marque from Ingolstadt as it began a journey to both broaden its appeal and promote its brand.
As the first SUV Audi had ever offered, the expectations were high, as were the stakes at the time. Alongside the R8 supercar that followed shortly after, both represented entries into new segments that were to either make or break the brand.
The Q7’s debut in 2005 saw it slot into the SUV segment directly against its two main rivals – BMW with the X5, and Mercedes-Benz with the M-Class (now the GLE). Both had been playing in the then evolving segment for some time before Audi.
The first-generation ‘4L’ Q7 was a big success, with over 350,000 produced for numerous markets around the world. There were some absolute gems in that line-up, including a legendary V12 TDI model that’s become somewhat of a modern classic.
Fast-forward to 2020, we’re now halfway through the life of the second-generation ‘4M’ Q7. So, it seems fitting that also this year we saw the new midlife model, or facelift, introduced to our market.
There are two variants on offer, a 45 TDI and a 50 TDI. Audi claims that the 50 TDI S line apparently constitutes a third variant, but in all reality it’s just an option pack that has been trivially split apart to bulk out the range. The model range remains pared back, which comes much to the delight of this writer, who is all for simplicity in certain model lines. Adding complexity doesn’t always make things better.
That makes our test car, the 2020 Audi Q7 50 TDI S line, the peak of the regular Audi Q7 range if you consider that the SQ7 sits within the S family of sports variants. This version kicks off from $119,900 before on roads, with its 3.0-litre V6 engine producing 210kW of power and a decent 600Nm of torque. The latter is on offer from 2250–3250rpm.
All of that is first transferred through a torque-converter-equipped eight-speed auto, and then Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel-drive system. Interestingly, with the facelift comes the addition of a 'mild hybrid' system across the range. That means every Q7 now features BAS, or battery alternator starter technology. This technology sounds complex, but we’ll break it down in order to better understand it, before finding whether it truly made a difference on the test.
It employs a network of clever 48-volt infrastructure to harness usually wasted energy under braking, storing it within a compact lithium-ion battery. It then redeploys said stored energy via an electric motor that’s sitting where the engine’s alternator usually would. It is placed here as it uses a belt to pass on stored power.
Consider it a highly fancy replacement for a regular alternator that now assists the crankshaft, instead of just leeching from it. By using this pre-existing belt system, the new electric motor generates enough power to enable the engine to shut off while coasting at speeds above 55km/h.
Now the quick engineering lesson is over, the question is, does it make a difference? While on test, less than first expected.
The engine requires particular circumstances in order for it to shut down and electrically coast as promised. It mostly takes advantage of slight declines, where a lift of the throttle pedal is required. It'll also do this on billiard-table-flat surfaces if you're trying to wash off speed due to a speed-zone change, for example.
The vehicle must also be in efficiency mode for this technology to work, as in all others it remains switched off. It’s a smart system that remains clever despite not operating as much as expected, as it doesn’t interfere with the driving experience.
Consider that a bonus. As we all know, some efficiency tech has the power to stick out like a sore thumb and interfere with the task that is driving. Namely, crude stop-start systems. The type that is often implemented on smaller-displacement engines.
I never once found myself figuring out how to switch it off or circumnavigate around it by adjusting my driving style. If anything, my criticisms solely revolve around the fact it’ll need a beefier electric motor and larger battery in order to be more useful than it is currently.
Even as it remains, seldom applying its trickery to reduce fuel consumption without causing a fuss, it seems nonsensical to find a reason to not have it equipped to such a stellar driveline.
The V6 turbo diesel is quiet, refined, and punchy. It remains remarkable how clatter-free modern Audi diesels are. Its torquey nature means it’ll tow up to 3.5 tonnes, too, as will the rest of the range for that matter. This makes the Q7 great for those who plan to equip theirs with a towbar.
The transmission is almost as good, but remains the weakest link in the engine, chassis and transmission chain. Its response to kickdown is rather latent, as is its general response when on the roll, for that matter.
The driveline isn’t lazy once power is being distributed. That fact alone points a finger at a rather sleepy or generally lethargic automatic likely to be the cause of the effect. Despite those odd qualms it shifts up under load quickly, and like all torque-converter-equipped ’boxes it persists in being beautifully smooth in every scenario.
On test, the Q7 returned 8.2 litres per 100km travelled versus an official combined claim of 6.8L/100km. Not a bad result given the majority of roads selected were not conducive to the BAS mild-hybrid system operating at its best.
As mentioned before, the ride and handling package is a strong part of the three key areas that make up the driving feel. I’d go as far to say it endows the big 2240kg Q7 with an irregular amount of deftness for its weight. It remains remarkably resistant to lateral force. This point appears more noticeable as it defies your expectation. You wait for its mass to shift across to the outside edge of the car and corrupt the inner wheel’s position and placement, but that just doesn’t happen.
Somehow, it manages its heft. There’s some solid torsional rigidity going on here, alongside well-sorted air suspension, which both create the strong fundamentals required for such ability.
Fundamentals that go on to make it feel deft, as first mentioned. It was quite a pleasure to punt the Q7 around the rural areas that make up the Southern Highlands of New South Wales; a place often littered with horse trailers and farm equipment on the back of trailers.
Audi Q7 territory, basically.
Through the faster stuff and along fifty-zones with dated, blemished road surfaces, it remained composed and comfortable. Ramping up the air suspension through dynamic mode sees compliance and ride quality deteriorate slightly, but not enough to warrant concern.
I can see why our editor enjoyed his time with the Audi SQ7 – if this rather simple in comparison 50 TDI version remains so composed, it must only get better from here on in.
Within the cabin, it’s clear where Audi’s focus was applied. Gone is the switchgear, and in place of it the twin-screen infotainment system lifted straight from the subjectively more stylistic Q8.
Well, there are three screens if you include the instrument cluster. Directly in front is a 12.3-inch screen where you’d traditionally find dials, and in the centre areas, up top, a 10.1-inch item, and below is a debuting 8.6-inch touch panel. The system also features wireless Apple CarPlay for the first time in the Q7 range, which works excellently.
It also looks well executed, with the lower touch panel only having a thin layer of material separating its screen component from its surface. This creates the illusion of the display looking like it's printed on the surface or supremely high-tech, depending on how you perceive it.
Another equally high-tech part of this system is the introduction of clever acoustic haptics. In typical Audi fashion, however, it’s more the execution of the technology, rather than the technology itself, which sets it apart from similar tech found elsewhere.
The effort needed by your finger in order to select something on the screen is pretty much identical to the effort needed to operate the physical switches. The ‘click’ sound the screen makes, via the aforementioned acoustic haptics, is also consistent with the physical buttons found around the cabin.
These two points of execution truly make it a step above every else’s efforts to date. All of the switchgear is so consistent in operation, regardless of whether it’s a real button or a touchscreen acting like one. This blurring of the lines does wonders to give it a real sense of quality.
As expected, the rest of the cabin is super spacious and large. The S line sports seats are comfortable, but that comes as no surprise.
What does, however, is the fact that you first see a large centre console, but open it to only be greeted with a space shallow enough to fit two phones stacked on top of each other, alongside USB ports and a wireless charging pad. A bit disappointing, but then again, there remains a glovebox and large door pockets to fill with purposeless things.
The second row is as sizeable, as expected, and is configured with three individual seats. Gone are the days of the middle child forever whingeing about copping a rubbish, half-sized middle seat. In the Q7, everyone gets a fair slice of the cake. All three seats feature ISOFIX points and slide fore and aft, meaning they can all have their cake and eat it too, it seems.
The third row, however, is where the seven-seat Audi overdelivers instead of meeting expectations.
With the driver’s front seat, rear-right passenger seat and third-row seat all set to cater for my long-legged six-foot frame, I still found myself comfortable in all three locations. The Q7 splits the difference in size between all three seating areas almost perfectly. I spent 25 minutes residing in the third row and never once felt claustrophobic, nor that I lacked any forward or sideward vision.
That latter point is quite important when assessing the habitability of a third row, especially if those who are likely to claim occupancy of the rear of your Q7 are somewhat susceptible to motion sickness. There's a wonderfully huge glasshouse all round, with tall windows, and an epic full-length panoramic sunroof that comes as standard. The visibility from all areas is excellent, and remains so from even the third row.
Topping off the two extra seats is the addition of an extra two ISOFIX points, bringing the total to five in this car. That gives you a whole new realm of versatility when it comes to transporting people. Say you want to take your kids out with the old folks, but don’t want to pressure them into climbing into the back. No worries with the Q7, as you can mount your child seats in the third row, opening up the second for those who may be frailer or find it hard to clamber on back there.
These small points continue to further set the Audi Q7 apart from the pack.
Its boot space in seven-seat format is decent at 295L. If that means little to you, consider it having the same amount of space as a smaller hatchback. In five-seat mode, the figure rises to a solid 770L, and then all the way to 1955L with the second row also folded. That makes its maximum carrying capacity greater than the Volvo XC90, although the Volvo has the upper hand in terms of space when all seven seats are up.
All seats also fold flat in the Audi, which increases its usability when turned into a pure cargo vessel.
The highly tenable nature of the facelifted Audi Q7 is what makes it shine most. They’ll likely become the family school bus, an executive express between meetings, a Bunnings or IKEA monster hauler, as well as potentially being a classy option for date night.
What this car does exceptionally well is welcome one and welcome all, with much versatility to cater for everything a family could possibly want.
It goes on to do just that while remaining somewhat dynamic considering the size, weight and height, as well as being chock-full of gadgets.
Said gadgets are not gimmicks, but instead offer a glance at what vehicular human-machine interfaces and fuel-miser technology will likely look and feel like in the mainstream in not too long to come.