The second generation Audi Q7 large luxury SUV represents a huge step forward over its predecessor. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Audi's Q7 seven-seat luxury SUV has always made a big impact. This second generation model is lighter, cleverer and smarter than its predecessor, with clean diesel technology driving impressive standards of efficiency. As a result, if you really want a car of this kind, you may well find yourself really wanting this one.
The launch of the original Audi Q7 back in 2006 was one of those moments that remains etched in the memory. When we first clapped eyes on the thing, it was like a friend showing you a spectacularly ungainly baby. "Well, he's certainly a bonny lad. What a bruiser," you felt like saying. Let's just say the Q7 wasn't about to win many beauty contests. We ran one for a while and grew to respect its build quality, practicality and ruggedness, but weren't so keen on the 4.2-litre V8's prodigious fuel thirst.
In replacing the Q7, Audi have gone somewhere few manufacturers dare to go. They've made the car quite radically smaller. More than a foot has been lopped off the length of the Q7 and it's also a bit narrower and lower to boot. That seems a bit of a strange action in a sector where sheer presence counts for a great deal, but in doing so, Audi has also subjected the Q7 to the most radical weight loss plan we've seen in a production car.
Ever wondered why there was no S or RS version of the first generation Q7? Because it would have been like trying to turbocharge a continental plate. The thing was so big and lumbering that encouraging drivers to make it go faster would have been a recipe for disaster. The latest car doesn't go down that road either, but with all that weight excised from the chassis, it's a far nimbler thing. That tells in Audi's engine selection too. Most customers choose one of the efficient turbocharged 3.0-litre TDI units, these developing either 231PS in the 45 TDI or 286PS in the 50 TDI. The alternative is the flagship SQ7 model that uses a 4.0-litre V8 TDI diesel.
The 3.0 TDI diesel's going to be the one getting the most play with UK buyers and it's a good 'un. Most choose the base 231PS 45 TDI variant which has 500Nm of torque, which gives this Q7 enough about it to be able to mix it with the class best. In fact, 7.3 seconds to 62mph wouldn't be bad for a mildly hot hatch. The Q7 rides on a steel springs as standard, although buyers can opt for air suspension. Another interesting option is a rear wheel steer function. At lower speeds, it counter steers the rear wheels for better manoeuvrability, while at higher speeds it steers them by up to five degrees in the same direction as the fronts to improve handling agility. All very Porsche 911 Turbo.
Design and Build
The Q7's styling theme is evolutionary, although the car seems to sit low on its springs, almost like a beefed up Audi super-estate than a typical SUV, an impression compounded by the aggressively raked windscreen. The chassis on which the Q7 sits is also used by the current Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg luxury SUVs, plus the Lamborghini Urus and the Bentley Bentayga. An increased reliance on aluminium has shed weight, with 100kg coming out of the suspension, 71kg out of the body and a massive 24kg from the doors alone.
Despite being 370mm shorter, Audi has only reduced the wheelbase of this MK2 model Q7 by 10mm, so the amount of room available for passengers is still vast. In fact, Audi claims an extra 21mm of kneeroom in the second row. Even the third row gets decent space, with 24mm more headroom and an additional 20mm of shoulder width over what the first generation version could provide. This third row of seats are dubbed 'Group 3 child seats,' and are electrically operated, popping up from the boot floor at the flick of a switch. With all seven seats occupied, you get 295-litres of boot space. In five-seat mode there's even more room; fully 890-litres to the tonneau cover. The instrument binnacle features Audi's clever 1440 x 550 pixel Virtual Cockpit where you can configure the fascia display as a giant screen in a number of modes.
Market and Model
You'll want a decent specification from a luxury SUV requiring a £55,000-£80,000 budget - and this Q7 doesn't disappoint. Included as standard is a fully revised two-zone air conditioning system. The operating concept uses fewer buttons and controls. Animated symbols in the display, the TFT display and the capacitive toggle switches allow intuitive operation of the air conditioning.
There's a whole host of clever options available for the car, but we particularly liked the optional Audi tablets for the rear seats. One (or optionally two) Audi tablets with 10.1 inch screens serve as rear seat monitors. They're connected to the 'MMI navigation plus' system via WiFi, thus gaining access to the radio, media, navigation and car functions of the Audi Q7. Rear seat passengers can surf the Internet via the WiFi connection. Android-based, the system gives access to the huge number of applications, games, movies, music and eBooks in the Google Play Store. At the end of the trip, the Audi tablet can be removed from its mount and used offline or on any external WiFi network. It features a full HD camera, 32 GB of internal storage and an additional Bluetooth and NFC interface for connecting headphones, for example.
Cost of Ownership
Improving the aerodynamics, stripping all that weight out of the car and fitting even cleaner Euro6-compliant engines has had a big impact on overall efficiency. Both the 45 TDI and the 50 TDI versions manage up to 41.5mpg on the combined cycle and up to 178g/km of CO2. We'll also cover residual values which, as usual with this Ingolstadt brand, are predicted to be impressive, reflective of the unsurpassed build quality on offer here. In development of this car, Audi even left a Q7 parked in the Namibian desert for six months - just to see what would happen to it in the blistering sun. It's that kind of attention to detail that creates such an appetite for Q7s in the used market, independent experts CAP Monitor reckoning that over the usual three year/60,000 mile period, a diesel version like this one will cling on to around 45% of its original asking price. Not bad for a big luxury SUV and better than you'd get from the BMW and Mercedes alternatives in this class. CAP also reckon that low depreciation will combine with the fuel and CO2 savings here to create an impressive overall running cost figure - predicted to be 58.62ppm for the pokier diesel version.
This second generation Q7 has proved to be a significant improvement on the MK1 model, thanks to smarter packaging, a bigger passenger cell and efficiency measures that are night and day compared to its Panzer-like predecessor. Even the shape has subtly morphed into something more estate car-like.
As a result, this Audi has turned from a blunt implement to one of the sharpest vehicles in its sector. We can't help but have a sneaking admiration for what Audi has done here.