IT HAS been a long time coming but the Audi Q7 has finally delivered the second generation of its large SUV, taking on rivals such as the BMW X5 and upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLE. By the way, it's a huge step up.
WHAT IS IT?
An all-new version of Audi's biggest, most expensive SUV. The Q7 was conceived in 2006 and has received facelifts in that time but has been forced to soldier on against far fresher rivals.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Audi unleashed the media on its new Audi Q7 in Switzerland and Wheels was there for the ride.
The two biggies are the Mercedes-Benz ML (soon to be GLE, with the arrival of a major update late in 2015) and sales-leading BMW X5. The upcoming new Volvo XC90 will also lob directly in Q7 territory. The Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg could also be on the cross-shopper's list.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
A huge leap over the outgoing Q7, especially in refinement and comfort. And while it has undergone a massive diet, it’s still a sizeable seven-seater with generous space and a hig- quality feel.
PROS: Supple ride on air suspension; diesel engine; refinement; elegant and functional interior
CONS: Storage up front; top-shelf price yet active safety still optional
THE WHEELS REVIEW
TO SAY it's been a long time between Q7 drinks is an understatement. It was 2006 that Audi's flagship SUV headed to the Aussie outback for an ambitious journey from Sydney to Broome, through the red centre.
Since then rivals from Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been replaced with completely fresh metal, the Audi only tweaked and touched-up. But Q7 take two is here, almost.
In this bigger-is-better world the Q7 has taken the opposite approach and shed 37 millimetres in length and 15mm in width. There was plenty to lose, and at 5052mm long and 1968mm wide Audi’s biggest Q car is still significantly longer and wider than the Mercedes ML (4803mm/1926mm) and BMW X5 (4886mm/1938mm).
It's also a featherweight compared with the outgoing model, shedding up to 325kg. It's a big car, then. Practical too, with Australian versions picking up the third row of seats that takes capacity to seven.
Even with those seats in place there's a modicum of boot space for some well-stocked soft bags; fold the seats with the press of a button and there's a vast, flat floor.
It's a spacious cabin and one that pampers adults in the middle row. That centre pew slides fore and aft to allow compromises for luggage or the sixth and seventh on board, while the 40/20/40 split-fold allows for any shape Ikea can muster.
Shame some hidey holes for phones and other gizmos are light-on, limited to the cupholders and a shallow tray - unless you delve into the broad covered console.
Initially the Q7 will arrive solely with a 200kW version of a heavily revised version of the familiar 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel. Power and torque have jumped 20kW and 50Nm respectively to a hearty 200kW and 600Nm.
Teamed to an eight-speed ZF auto - complete with plasticky paddle shifters on the back of the wheel (a rare drop in otherwise excellent tactility throughout) - it's a grunty combination, and one that typically gets the job done without the need to venture beyond D.
Snaking up the steep, narrow Swiss roads into nose-bleed territory does little to halt progress; having the full 600Nm on tap from 1500rpm makes light work of grades. While a feisty petrol V8 would be more fun, the V6 diesel is beautifully suited to the Q7’s demeanour.
However, a little enthusiasm comprehensively kicks the claimed (and class-leading) 5.9 litres per 100km fuel use over the craggy hills. We saw almost double that on a spirited alpine route, but it settled into single digits during more gentle operation.
But it's the refinement that's the headline act in the Q7. The engine is deceptively smooth and hushed, right down to the subtle stop-start system. Other noises are well contained, too; there's no suspension clunking and little wind noise.
The ride completes the cushy, comfortable theme. Our car was running on optional 21-inch wheels with Goodyear rubber mated to optional air suspension, yet it was plush and supple, dealing ably with small city bumps or more strenuous mid-corner lumps.
Vigilant Aussie councils will do a better job than their Swiss counterparts when it comes to mismatched bitumen, potholes and sub-standard maintenance, but it’s difficult to imagine the Q7 getting overly flustered.
At the same time there's enough dynamic nous to pique the interest of those more into the journey than the destination. Excellent high-speed stability and a relaxed, confident nature is reasserted with impressive cornering grip.
Fire enthusiastically into a hairpin and it ultimately push its nose wide as the Goodyears fight to redirect two tonnes. But the optional four-wheel steering system helps nudge the tail around if you’re below 40km/h (it also reduces the turning circle by one metre; above 40km/h the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts for added high speed stability).
None of this comes cheap. Think $103,900. Then again it's well appointed, with sat-nav, leather, tri-zone air, digital radio and 19s. But options quickly add up, and it would be good to see thinks like auto emergency braking fitted standard. The air suspension adds $4950 to the sticker, too, while fancy removable tablets for those in the rear are just shy of $3k a side. Ouch.
Thankfully the utterly convincing luxury should soothe just about any bill shock.
Model: Audi Q7 3.0 TDI
Engine: 2967cc turbo V6 diesel
Max power: 200kW @ 3250-4250rpm
Max torque: 600Nm @ 1500-3000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Kerb weight: 2060kg
On sale: September