Versus the competiton:
The verdict: Redesigned for 2017, the Audi Q7 is a driver’s SUV that emphasizes performance over packaging.
Versus the competition: The Audi Q7 lacks the visual spectacle, plush ride or outright practicality of certain three-row luxury SUVs, but it’s a dynamic, if expensive, alternative.
The Audi Q7 comes in Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels, all with seven seats and all-wheel drive. A 2017 version goes on sale in early 2016 after skipping the 2016 model year. Compare the 2015 and 2017 Q7 here. I drove Premium Plus and Prestige versions.
Redesigned after a seeming eternity in its first generation, the new Q7 looks more wagonlike than its predecessor, whose body-heavy profile shared platforms with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne. (Audi and Porsche both are Volkswagen Group brands.) No longer a sibling of the other two, the 2017 Q7 rides a unique platform and looks less imposing overall — a result of taller glass, lower headlights and a squatter, six-sided grille.
Thanks to a lot more aluminum, which is lighter than steel, the Q7 is also about 250 to nearly 500 pounds lighter than its ponderous predecessor, depending which trim you compare. But at 4,938 pounds, the new Q7 is still heavy. (An all-wheel-drive 2016 Acura MDX is some 700 pounds lighter.)
Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and 19-inch alloy wheels are standard. Full-LED lights are optional, as are 20- and 21-inch rims.
The Audi Q7 boasts decent straight-line performance, and it shines on serious curves — no doubt to the dismay of any kids in back. The SUV’s sole drivetrain as of launch is a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 powertrain that’s good for 333 horsepower. After a moment of initial accelerator lag, it revs strongly and hard. Even with three adults on board, our test car had sufficient reserves to pass slower highway traffic and conquer steep uphill grades. Audi estimates the Q7 hits 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds, a time that rivals many compact sport sedans.
The Q7’s eight-speed automatic transmission is a plus, shifting smoothly and quickly enough to go unnoticed. In an age where gear-laden transmissions often obstruct performance, an eight-speed that keeps to itself is a good thing.
Like in so many cars, a dashboard button selects from a few modes that vary driving characteristics. The sportiest mode, Dynamic, cuts a lot of power-steering assist and introduces much sharper accelerator progression, though the initial lag persists. Still, if you barrel around hairpin turns in Dynamic mode, the Q7 excels. The steering is direct and lively, the chassis charges through corners with little body roll, and the tires — chunky Goodyear Eagle Sport P285/45R20 all-seasons on our test cars — have carlike grip. The brakes deliver fade-free stopping power all day long, and the transmission resists any untimely shifts heading into corners. Coming out of the corner, the engine’s broad torque curve (325 pounds-feet from 2,900 to 5,300 rpm) hustles the Q7 back up to speed even if you’re a gear too high.
We’ll need to test a Q7 on rougher roads to issue a final verdict on ride quality, but my early impression is that the SUV’s standard suspension with conventional steel springs is firm but livable. It’s not choppy, as the similarly configured 2016 Volvo XC90 can be. The Q7’s base 19-inch wheels have higher-profile tires (P255/55R19s), which could soften ride quality, as well.
Shoppers who want more ride comfort should consider the Q7’s optional adaptive air suspension, which eliminates some of the bounciness over rapid elevation changes and improves general isolation. It makes for a refined experience that complements the SUV’s overall quietness. For outright comfort, though, the XC90’s optional — and exceptional — air suspension has Audi beat.
If you want more comfort without stepping up to an air suspension, the Acura MDX, Buick Enclave and Infiniti QX60 all ride on the softer side.
Towing capacity is now 7,700 pounds when equipped with a $550 tow package, up 1,100 pounds versus the prior Q7. EPA-rated certification is still pending as of this writing, but Audi estimates the Q7 will get 21 mpg fuel economy in combined city/highway driving, with premium gas recommended but not required. That’s generally competitive with the segment, though if you don’t need all-wheel drive, a front-drive MDX gets as high as 23 mpg combined.
The Audi Q7’s layered dashboard is free of clutter, with a thin multimedia screen that motors out of the center. The only stylistic head-scratcher is a continuous band of air vents that span the passenger side — optionally functional to blow diffuse air, at least. Build quality is up to Audi snuff, with consistent graining down to foot level and sufficient padding in areas where your arms and elbows rest. It’s an area where a few other Audi models still cheap out.
Heated leather seats with powered front-seat adjustments are standard. Front-seat coolers and massagers are optional. The chairs have good adjustment range and a decent grade of leather, and you can swap it out for more-premium cowhide with an optional Luxury package that also wraps lower portions of the doors and center console in leather.
The second row has good seating height and headroom, though a large center floor hump limits footwell space. Legroom ranges from acceptable to good, depending on where you position the sliding second row. With those seats all the way back, the third row is essentially a technicality; second-row passengers will need to give up a few inches for anyone to really sit back there. Either way, third-row headroom is tight, and accessing the seat requires a two-step tumbling process for the second-row chairs that’s neither intuitive nor low-effort. Competitors such as the MDX and QX60 have tilt-and-slide third-row access, and the Buick Enclave’s captain’s chairs leave a center aisle. So while the Q7’s third row is standard, it’s a packaging afterthought.
A panoramic moonroof is standard. Three-zone automatic climate control is standard; available quad-zone climate gives the second row its own left/right zones.
Cabin storage is modest, with an open tray near the cupholders but a shallow center console. Open the standard power liftgate and the Audi Q7’s power-folding third row drops in a 50/50-split to create a flat load floor. The second row folds in a 35/30/35 split. Space behind the third row is a modest 14.8 cubic feet; if you drop all the seats, maximum volume totals 71.6 cubic feet. Those are competitive figures, but if you really need to load up the gear, the Enclave’s vast interior is superior: There’s a deep 23.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row that’s expandable to a maximum 115.2 cubic feet.
The new Audi Q7’s center screen (7 inches standard, 8.3 inches optional) augments a 7-inch display between the gauges, but technophiles will want Audi’s optional “virtual cockpit” — a 12.3-inch display that replaces the gauges altogether. Historically, simulated gauges have aged poorly because screen resolutions have continually improved in competing vehicles, but Audi’s virtual cockpit is quite high-res by today’s standards, and its functionality justifies the layout. The display can shrink and simplify the gauges to prioritize other displays, from multimedia sources to the navigation map. The map itself comes complete with Google Earth satellite imagery via the Q7’s subscription-based 4G LTE Wi-Fi service, and Audi says the images will remain — though they won’t update — even if you don’t pay the subscription after the free six-month period runs out.
You can switch up the virtual cockpit displays via steering-wheel controls or Audi’s MMI controller, which adds an optional touchpad with clickable areas for radio presets and menu shortcuts. The pad has pinch-and-swipe functionality for zooming and surfing, and the motions are seamless.
Still, not everything else works in a jiffy. Certain submenus have inconsistent load times that can last as long as several seconds. At one point, our test car showed a full satellite-image map in the virtual cockpit display but a missing map on the dashboard display, which went on for several minutes. Audi’s integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — systems designed for touch-screens — has clear limitations with the knob-based MMI approach. The finger pad doesn’t help: CarPlay’s Apple Maps ditches its pinch-and-swipe capabilities for old-school direction and zoom keys, but Audi officials were quick to blame the limited usability on Apple.
Bluetooth phone and audio streaming are standard. A midlevel Bose premium stereo is optional. The range-topping stereo, a Bang & Olufsen 3D surround-sound system, costs an eye-watering $5,000.
As of this writing, the Audi Q7 has yet to be crash-tested. A backup camera is standard. Audi’s standard Pre Sense City system provides collision warning and emergency braking from 6 to 50 mph if it senses any obstructions, including pedestrians. An optional Pre Sense Plus Package extends the threshold to 137 mph.
The accident avoidance systems go on: Adaptive cruise control, and an exit-warning system flashes a red light near the inside door handle if you begin to open it while sensors detect an approaching vehicle or cyclist. Other systems automatically hit the brakes if you try to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic or back into a lane of cross-traffic.
Every seating position in the second and third row has its own Latch anchors and top tethers. Side-impact torso airbags for the second row are optional. See a full list of safety features here.
The Audi Q7 has one thing in common with other three-row European luxury SUVs: It’s expensive. Including destination, a Q7 Premium starts around $56,000. The Premium Plus, which Audi expects to be the most popular trim, starts around $60,000. That’s in the neighborhood of average transaction prices for the XC90 and X5, but it’s a $10,000-plus climb versus Audi’s Japanese and American competition.
Prices only escalate from there. The Q7 Prestige runs just over $65,000, and if you throw in Bang & Olufsen audio, the extended-leather luxury package, the adaptive air suspension and more, the SUV can top out close to $90,000. Audi says it eventually will introduce a Q7 2.0T to round out the entry-level side, and it also plans to reprise its diesel V-6 once it resolves the current diesel crisis — which, as of this writing, is still a long way from being resolved.
Value is not a Q7 strength, at least for now. But luxury SUV shoppers don’t seem fazed by the European price premium. Shoppers have bought about as many BMW X5 SUVs as they have Acura MDXs, and the redesigned — and expensive — XC90 is now Volvo’s sales leader. The Q7 isn’t the dramatic must-drive redesign that Audi may have hoped for, but it’s a worthy option for family shoppers who like to drive.