Meet The Hot Iron: Audi Brings the Right Car at the Right Time to the Right Market
We first met the Audi Q7 10 years ago. Historians will note that it was Audi‘s first ever SUV. These days, SUVs account for 42 percent of Audi’s North American sales, and that percentage will grow. Still, 10 years is a long time on the vine for any vehicle, especially one that plays so squarely on the premium luxury side of the street. In January, the all-new Q7 (finally) hits dealer lots.
The Q7 is not perfect. But it is quite excellent. Most criticisms can be spun away.
Here’s the part Audi’s not going to like: The standard suspension feels better.
Let’s start with its looks. Unlike the first-generation Q7, the all-new 2017 version doesn’t resemble the stunning 2003 Pikes Peak quattro concept. Sure, the previous car looked like a baked potato from certain angles, but what a sexy spud. The new kiddie-hauler, built on Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform, features plenty of the jaw-dropping metal-bending skill we’ve come to expect from the VW Group since the seventh-gen Golf debuted. When you get a chance, examine the character line that begins at the headlight and flows into an arch over the front wheel, disappears into the front door, and re-emerges two-thirds of the way down the rear door before terminating into the taillight. Simply masterful, especially considering the doors are aluminum and the rest of the body is steel. Trouble is, unlike the last one, the new Q7 just doesn’t look good. Great details (like the “double arrow” headlights) yes, but overall? Plain Jane.
But hey, this is an Audi after all, and if the outside looks don’t wow you, the interior surely will. What an interior! The nicest change is Audi’s move away from red graphics to much more elegant and mature white lettering on the buttons. While the Q7 is fractionally narrower than the rig it replaces, you’d never know that from looking at the dashboard, which features a long row of rec-tangular air vents that trick you into thinking it’s wide. I can’t get enough of Audi’s virtual cockpit, the 12.3-inch TFT screen that replaces all the gauges just like in the new TT, R8, and A4. It’s big, bright, lovely to look at, and easy to use, and I predict many competing manufacturers will offer something quite similar, quite soon. Specifically the big, zoomable map, as well as the ability to shrink the speedometer and tachometer, freeing up valuable real estate. As has long been the case, Audi’s open-pore woodwork is the envy of most.
Speaking of valuable real estate: “Why are we even doing this?” my friend’s 9-year-old son said to me as I peered into the third row and noticed his knees were touching the back of the seat in front of him. His 7-year-old sister seemed to fit pretty much OK. I decided to toss some kids in the way back because I’d earlier tried to shoehorn in my 5-foot-11-inch self and literally could not fit. (I know what literally means.) The Q7’s middle row is cleverly split 35/30/35, and the two end chairs tumble forward to allow relatively easy access to that third row. But once I was sitting in the third row, I simply could not flip the seat back into place. My knee was in the way. Now, you can individually slide each middle seat forward a few inches, and it does make the third row tolerable for a 9-year-old. Adults? Still cramped, and now the second row is no bueno, too. Why didn’t they—or couldn’t they—stretch MLB Evo out another couple of inches? Dunno, but to me this is problematic. Kids eventually turn into teenagers, after all. All that said, with the seats pushed all the way back, the second row is quite commodious.
Audi chose to launch the Q7 by sending us auto journo types on an eight-hour romp through some of the most beautiful parts of California’s northern wine country. That’s Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino for you terroir geeks. First big impression is that the Q7 is calm and quiet. Audi did an amazing job tamping down road and more importantly tire noise. No easy feat, especially with the big optional wheels and tires. I had a chance to drive a few different Q7s, including one with standard steel springs and a couple of others with optional air suspension and all-wheel steering. Here’s the part Audi’s not going to like: The standard suspension feels better. True, the air suspension allows for 4.5 inches of ride height adjustment—from load to off-road—and the all-wheel steering cuts more than 3 feet out of the vehicle’s turning diameter. I’ll even allow that yes, having the rear wheels move in parallel (up to 2.5 degrees above 25 mph (40 km/h)) does make for defter handling and improved emergency safety reflexes. But I prefer the way the standard car drove. The steel springs were less bouncy, and as a result the Q7 felt better tied to the pavement.
We’re talking about 10 percent better than the air-sprung version, and either setup allows the Q7 to ride incredibly well for a 2.5-ton SUV. Well, in the case of the latter, 5,103 pounds (2,315 kg), as we were able to get a highly optioned Q7 to our test track. The last Q7 we tested—a 2011 Premium Plus TDI model with an eight-speed transmission—weighed in at 5,402 pounds (2,450 kg). The last gasoline-powered Q7 we ran numbers on had the old 3.6-liter V-6, a six-speed automatic transmission, and came in at 5,324 pounds (2,415 kg). Thanks to a whole bunch more aluminum, you can see for yourself that the 2017 Q7 is lighter than the car it replaces. But our scales don’t jibe with Audi’s claim that the new rig is 474 pounds (215 kg) lighter. Still, considering how much equipment and capability the second-gen Q7 has added, a couple hundred pounds (45 kg) less lard is a step in the right, light direction.
For now, the only engine available on the 2017 Q7 is the 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6 that Audi still annoyingly badges as 3.0T. Of course, Audi also said its diesels were clean. Speaking of which, you can’t get a TDI Q7 for now, and there’s no word on when you will be able to. All I could get out of Audi people was “when it’s ready.” A 2.0-liter, turbo gasoline version is coming—we assume it will be the same version of VW Group’s TFSI inline-four as is found in the A6. The Q7 is the platform mate of the Bentley Bentayga, so we know that the 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 would fit perfectly (hint: SQ7, coming eventually). The 3.0-liter V-6 makes 333 horsepower and stumps up 325 lb-ft of torque. All that forward thrust is good for a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds and a quarter-mile sprint of 14.3 seconds at 97.5 mph (157 km/h). It’s no R8, but those numbers smack the meatballs out of its natural rival, the 2016 Motor Trend SUV of the Year-winning Volvo XC90 (0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, quarter mile in 15.1 seconds at 90.4 mph (145 km/h) for the T6). The new Q7 can stop from 60 mph in 117 feet and complete our figure-eight test in 26.5 seconds. For comparison, the Volvo needs 113 feet and 26.8 seconds. Both tall wagons pull an average lateral grip of 0.85 g.
The Q7 is thick with safety aids. Aside from the usual suspects, such as the ability to detect objects in front of you (collision avoidance/auto braking) and rear cross traffic alert, you get slick new stuff such as traffic jam assist and turn assist. Traffic jam assist uses the radar cruise control and a high-mounted camera not only to keep up with traffic but also to stay in the lanes. You can even take your hands off the wheel for a few moments (say, to open a water bottle) and the Q7 won’t drift into a wall. In theory. In reality, I took a 450-mile (724-km) road trip using TJA most of the way, and it worked most of the time. On two occasions, however, the Q7 began forcibly applying the brakes for no perceptible reason. The lane keeping would work only intermittently, similar to how the same system worked on the new A4 I drove. Turn assist is a safety system that prevents you from turning into oncoming traffic. Weirdly, it’s only active if you put on your blinker. One would think that the person who doesn’t bother with a turn signal would be more prone to getting T-boned. Anyhow, Audi had an engineer demo turn assist to me. It worked two out of three times. Good, but not good enough. No manufacturer’s system is truly ready for prime time, though. I clearly remember a Mercedes-Benz S-Class trying hard to accelerate me into the back of a merging semi truck.
The Q7 is not perfect. But it is quite excellent. Most criticisms can be spun away: The third row is meant for children; traffic jam assist kept me out of at least one accident; the air suspension is intended for those that spend time in the mud. As for the looks, while I don’t find the new Q7 attractive, I have to admit it does look premium and worth the $55,750 USD base price. The Q7 is comfortable, luxurious, quiet, technically compelling, good enough to drive, and, most important, quite an appealing option in a lucrative and growing segment. Is the big Audi better than our 2016 SUV of the Year, the Volvo XC90? And what about the refreshed Mercedes GLS? Or the Range Rover Sport? Only timeâmeaning a future comparison testâwill tell. Until then, and regardless of the outcome, I fully expect the 2017 Audi Q7 to be another chapter in the ongoing Audi sales success story.
|2017 Audi Q7 3.0T Quattro|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$72,875|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.0L/333-hp/325-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5,103 lb (55/45%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||199.6 x 77.5 x 68.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.3 sec @ 97.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||117 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.5 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/25/21 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/135 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.91 lb/mile (est)|
2003 Audi Pikes Peak Quattro Concept
Audi is on track to sell more then 200,000 vehicles in the North America in 2015, and more than 80,000 of them SUVs. You can trace every sale back to a not so distant ancestor: the 2003 Pikes Peak quattro concept. First shown at the 2003 Detroit auto show, the Pikes Peak quattro was part of a trio of concepts that blueprinted Audi’s future. The Pikes Peak became the first-generation Q7, the Nuvolari concept became the lovely A5, and of course the Le Mans concept became Audi’s brand halo, the mighty R8.
Taken as a whole, the three represent the most comprehensive and well-sorted set of concept cars ever shown. In terms of impact, the R8 has done more to lift Audi in people’s minds than any other vehicle.
That’s one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, you build supercars. The A5 is little more than a design master flexing his or her design muscles. But in terms of stuffing euros into Ingolstadt’s coffers? No vehicle in Audi’s history can hold a candle to the cha-ching of the Q7 or the importance of the Pikes Peak concept.