A big softie AT A GLANCE

On the gi­ant side of large, Audi’s se­cond-gen SUV com­bines class and com­forts

The Advertiser - Motoring - - THE TICK -

MY bat­ting or­der for top-end SUVs has just changed.

Un­til now, I would have taken a Mercedes-Benz GLS for a test in­nings, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo for big bash im­pact, then set­tled on a Range Rover Sport as the best allrounder.

But this week I’m into the se­cond-gen­er­a­tion Audi Q7 and I’m bowled over.

It’s on the gi­ant side of big, yet in­cred­i­bly re­fined and com­fort­able. And it can dash to 100km/h in just 6.5 sec­onds, tow 3.5 tonnes and — with­out a car­a­van — run at a com­mend­able 5.9L/100km.

There is a lot to like in the Q7 and it’s also been given some spe­cial treat­ment to en­sure that it feels smaller and more nim­ble than the orig­i­nal Q7, dubbed the QE7, which vir­tu­ally needed tugs for park­ing.

Much of the im­prove­ment is the work by Volk­swa­gen Group (this is not the time or place to be talk­ing again about emis­sions cheat­ing) on plat­form shar­ing on its var­i­ous mod­els. We’ve al­ready seen the Golf ’s un­der­pin­nings spun into nearly two dozen other mod­els, from the Pas­sat to the Skoda Fabia, and now it’s hap­pen­ing on the full-sized SUVs.

The Q7 is com­ing first and we’ll also see a Volk­swa­gen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne built from the same gi­ant shelf of parts.

This ap­proach means Audi can pick up more shared en­gi­neer­ing work below the skin, then add its classy trim­ming and sus­pen­sion tun­ing to cre­ate the styling and feel you ex­pect from a pres­tige brand.

I ex­pect much from the Q7. The test 3.0 turbo diesel has a start­ing price of $103,900 — a bunch of bucks for any SUV.

This takes the base price out of range of a Benz GLE or BMW X3, into the up­per reaches. The ter­ri­tory will get more rar­efied with the ar­rival of the Bent­ley Ben­tayga — if you’ve got more than $500,000 — and oth­ers to fol­low in­clud­ing a Maserati and a Lam­borgh­ini.

The ba­sics of the Q7 pretty much carry over, from the turbo diesel V6 to the seven-seater cabin that’s big enough to fit a rolled up a queen-sized mat­tress into the lug­gage space. I know be­cause I did it with a QE7 and for this test I’ve eas­ily fit­ted three full-sized bikes into the back of the new Q7.

Un­like a lot of other sev­enseater SUVS, among them the newly ar­rived Land Rover Dis­cov­ery Sport, the third-row spots are not just for tod­dlers.

There is real space and com­fort and you can even fold and un­fold the pair from just in­side the doors, in­stead of hav­ing to work through the rear hatch.

Four-zone air­con means you can do more tweak­ing when you have more peo­ple on board.

The equip­ment in the Q7 re­flects the price and Audi’s lat­est tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing the “vir­tual dash” that al­lows you to pri­ori­tise the dis­play. So the driver can have big gauges, wide-screen sat­nav dis­play or nu­mer­ous com­bi­na­tions, right in front of the eyes.

The fin­ish­ing work is ex­cel­lent al­though I won­der about the dash top, which — de­spite be­ing soft-touch rub­bery plas­tic — looks like some­thing a lot cheaper. The con­trols feel good, the stitch­ing on the leather shows real class and the doors shut with a Ger­manic thunk and not a cheapie clang.

As a drive, the Q7 is sur­pris­ingly good and I ad­mit again that I’m not a fan of SUVs — I’d much pre­fer some­thing like the BMW 3 Se­ries Tour­ing wagon that re­cently got a wellde­served tick.

Not an easy park, the Q7 has cam­eras, radar, light steer­ing and a com­mand­ing con­trol po­si­tion, what means you can get the job done if you re­lax and take your time.

The ride com­fort is very good and the cabin is very quiet at all speeds on all sur­faces.

The stop­ping power in the brakes and the cor­ner­ing grip and bal­ance are com­mend­able.

The en­gine is strong yet quiet and the gear­box is smooth and ef­fec­tive, with pad­dleshifters to as­sist on twisty roads and un­ex­pected cor­ners.

Some of Audi’s safety gear is in­tru­sive.

The ac­tive steer­ing wants to keep me away from white lines and any sort of gen­tle cor­ner­ing path. I loathe this and the steer­ing’s over-heavy ar­ti­fi­cial feel — and de­ac­ti­vate as soon as I can get Audi Aus­tralia to talk me through the process.

It’s a five-star ANCAP safety win­ner in any case, which means it’s a car I can con­fi­dently rec­om­mend to fam­i­lies.

There are sev­eral other new SUVs tested re­cently and I ponder how the Q7 mea­sures up against — and above — them.

It re­in­forces my be­lief that the up­dated Mercedes GLE is quite un­der­done in the sus­pen­sion, that the Range Rover Sport is bril­liantly sporty but not as good for fam­i­lies, and that Volvo has done a top job on its XC90. The new Swedish wagon comes clos­est to the qual­ity feel of the Audi and what it loses on cabin space and driv­ing feel it picks up again on pric­ing.

THE TICK

The bot­tom line for the Q7 is sim­ple. It’s a very, very good car that I’d hap­pily rec­om­mend. It’s one of the few SUVs that’s so good it has to get The Tick, with a big smile.

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