Weight and See: Dropping Pounds has Elevated the Q7's Status. Better Queue Up Now
In our First Drive of the second-generation Audi Q7, technical director Frank Markus globetrotted to southwest Africa to participate in final development testing in the harsh environs of the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei sand dunes. Pavement? Not exactly. But there were plenty of gravel-strewn roads connecting the seemingly endless swaths of dirt and sand. As Markus noted, “Drives of this nature are useless for assessing things such as wind and road noise or on-road handling.”
On the bright side, he was able to assess the following: The Q7’s new MLB Evo platform, which will be shared with myriad VW Group vehicles, including the upcoming Bentley Bentayga SUV and next generations of the Audi A8, Porsche Cayenne, and VW Touareg, is extremely rigid, resulting in a quiet, squeak-free cabin; the dynamics are nimbler and more athletic thanks to a weight loss of more than 600 pounds; and the optional “virtual cockpit” driver information display is as super-duper cool as it is über-high-def vivid.
Lucky for me, our Second Drive of the Q7 was situated in the breathtaking scenery of Verbier, Switzerland, among the towering Swiss Alps. Dirt and sand? Nope and nope. Just lots of smooth black asphalt zigzagging up and down epic, snowcapped peaks. Audi‘s array of Slovenia-built Q7s offered a choice of 3.0-liter V-6 engines — a 333-hp, 325-lb-ft, supercharged gas variant or a 272-hp, 443-lb-ft turbodiesel — both mated to an eight-speed automatic and standard Quattro all-wheel drive.
I grabbed the key to the 3.0-liter TFSI gas version first, the projected volume-seller in the U.S. when the Q7 goes on sale in January as a 2017 model. My initial impressions? Besides that the Q7’s cowl was pleasingly low, its interior decidedly upscale and handsome, and its ergonomics superb, I was impressed with the quietness of the cabin, even with the engine racing at full throttle. Only on the highway was there a faint whisper of wind noise around the side mirrors. Speaking of full throttle, the supercharged six offers up more than enough pop to make the Q7 feel sporty. In fact, Audi says the Q7 TFSI, with its massive weight loss, accelerates from 0-62 mph in 6.1 seconds, meaning the sprint to 60 will fall in the 5s. Think you need a V-8? Think again. Better yet, fuel economy is said to be around 25 percent improved, thanks to enhanced engine refinement, a lower 0.33 coefficient of drag (down from 0.37), and, of course, the reduction of overall mass.
Naturally, dropping the pounds ups the fun factor, as well. Traversing Verbier’s twisty alpine roads was an entertaining, enjoyable experience in the Q7, a feeling not often associated with hustling a large, three-row crossover up and down a mountain. The steering is light, direct, and accurate, though feel isn’t quite up to Porsche Cayenne standards. That said, our tester’s optional all-wheel steering, which turns the rear wheels a few degrees in the same (high speeds) or opposite (low speeds) direction as the fronts, made short work of both tight hairpins and fast sweepers. Equally impressive were the brakes, whose 14.8-inch front discs (squeezed by six-piston aluminum calipers) and 13.8-inch rear discs proved both powerful and fade-free — these no doubt play a role in towing capacity going up from 6,600 to 7,700 pounds. Overall, the Q7, with its supple yet planted ride and carlike dynamics, feels less like a big SUV and more like a jacked-up A6 Avant.
At 198.9 inches long, 77.5 inches wide, and 68.5 inches tall and riding on a 117.9-inch wheelbase, the Q7 measures 1.4 inches shorter, 0.6 inch narrower, and 0.1 inch taller than its predecessor, and the wheelbase gets shrunk 0.3 inch. Magic packaging means interior dimensions, including knee, shoulder, and headroom, have all gone up. Entering and exiting the third row is now easier because the outboard second-row seats niftily tumble and fold, but it still requires some contortion, and adults will continue to feel cramped in seats six and seven. Ground clearance rises from 8.1 inches to up to 9.6 (with the optional air suspension; a steel-spring suspension is standard), making the new Q more appealing to those who venture off the beaten path. (To that end, hill descent control is now standard, as well.) Still, despite the modest decreases in most dimensions, the 2017 Q appears significantly smaller than its forebear. Not only does it feel like a jacked-up A6 Avant, it resembles one, too. Which leads me to my one subjective complaint: The conservative styling lacks the brawn and presence of the original.
Not lacking? The revised 3.0-liter TDI, whose 272 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque make it feel gutsier off the line and nearly as quick as the TFSI. (Audi claims the diesel will romp from 0-62 in 6.3 seconds.) And those accustomed to diesels that peter out in the midrange will be pleasantly surprised with this TDI — it eagerly spins to redline, pulling hard all the way. Throw in that this 3.0-liter might be the quietest TDI to date, and the reasons to choose gas over diesel are dwindling.
In terms of driver-assistance technology, Audi claims the new Q7 is the most advanced vehicle in its segment. I had the opportunity to experience a few of the latest and greatest systems, and I found each to be effective and user friendly. Of note were the pre-sense city system (uses a windshield-mounted camera at speeds up to 52.8 mph to detect vehicles or pedestrians, warning the driver and even fully decelerating the vehicle to minimize or avoid a collision), active cruise control with Stop&Go and traffic jam assist (allows for radar-assisted cruise control at speeds up to 155.3 mph and hands-free motoring in congestion at speeds up to 40.4 mph), predictive efficiency assistant (uses ACC, nav, and road-sign recognition to automatically adjust vehicle speed to topography and speed limits), collision avoidance assist (pairs the radar and camera systems to detect an obstacle and then reroute the vehicle, adding torque assist to the steering), and turn assist (prevents the vehicle from turning into oncoming traffic when the left-turn signal is activated). Should these advanced systems still not prevent a collision, rest assured that the Q7 comes with up to eight airbags, and Audi predicts its flagship SUV will earn a Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS.
Indeed, it’s better to be safe than sorry. With that in mind, best get your name on a Q7 waitlist ASAP.