A big softie AT A GLANCE
On the giant side of large, Audi’s second-gen SUV combines class and comforts
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 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.