Audi Q7

Second-gen SUV a long time coming but a huge step up

TOBY HAGON

TO SAY itís been a long time between Q7 drinks is an understatement; the first generation was released back in 2006.

VERSEAS released back in 2006.

Since then, rivals from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and BMW have been replaced with completely fresh metal, while the Audi has only been tweaked and freshly tinselled. But Q7 take two is here, almost.

In a bigger-is-better world, the Q7 has taken the opposite approach, shedding 37mm in length, 15mm in width and 325kg of heft. But itís still longer and wider than an X5 or M-Class.

Even with the third row of seats in place, thereís boot space for some well-stocked soft bags; fold the seats with the press of a button and thereís a vast, flat floor. That centre pew slides fore and aft, allowing extra space for luggage or third-row passengers, while the 40/20/40 split-fold allows for any shape Ikea can muster. Itís a little shy of oddments space for phones and other gizmos unless you delve into the broad covered console.

Initially the Q7 will arrive solely with a heavily revised version of Audiís 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 automatic Ė complete with plasticky paddle shifts that spoil the Q7ís otherwise excellent tactility throughout Ė itís a grunty combination, and one that typically gets the job done without the need to venture beyond Drive.

The full 600Nm is on tap from 1500rpm, making light work of grades. However, a little loud-pedal enthusiasm comprehensively kicks the claimed (and class-leading) 5.9L/100km fuel economy figure over our alpine test route.

We saw almost double that, but it settled into single digits during more gentle operation.

The headline act of the new Q7, however, is its refinement.

The engine is deceptively smooth and hushed, right down to the subtle idle-stop system. The ride completes the cushy, comfortable theme.

Our car was wearing optional 21-inch wheels with Goodyear rubber, mated to optional air suspension, yet it was plush and supple. The air set-up handled the mismatched bitumen, potholes and sub-standard maintenance of the Swiss mountain route without getting overly flustered.

At the same time, thereís 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 combine nicely with impressive cornering grip. Fire enthusiastically into a hairpin and the Q7ís nose ultimately pushes wide as the Goodyears fight to redirect two tonnes. But the optional four-wheel-steering system helps nudge the tail around if youíre 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 techology comes cheap: think $103,900. Then again, the Q7 is 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 things 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 each side. Ouch.

Thankfully, the Q7ís utterly convincing luxury should soothe just about any bill shock.

PLUS & MINUS

Storage up front; top-shelf price yet active safety still optional Air suspension ride; diesel engine; refinement; elegant interior

01 SCREEN GRAB

Audi has joined the tablet race with the Q7. Apple and Android units were deemed unsuitable for both temperature resistance and safety issues due to potential screen breakages in a crash. So Audi developed its own removable ones.

02 TRAILER HITCH

Q7 can tow up to 2500kg, but Aussie buyers miss out on the Trailer Manoeuvre Assist system, which steers itself when reversing, allowing the driver to use an on-screen pointer to aim the trailer as software calculates the carís counter-steering.

03 SHARE OPTIONS

The Q7 chassis (it sits on the VW MLB platform) will form the basis of future Volkswagen Group SUVs, although nextgeneration Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg will get a shorter wheelbase than the Audiís generous 2992mm.

Gas canned

AUDI is sticking to a diesel-only engine range for Australia.

The 3.0 TDI is the only Q7 model confirmed so far, but a lesser-powered version of the same engine (160kW versus 200kW) is likely.

A diesel-electric Q7 e-tron is also due for a 2016 launch, while the mooted SQ7, possibly with a V8 diesel, is under development.

The supercharged V6 petrol is a no-go for Oz, though, due to lacklustre demand for big petrolpowered SUVs.

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