Audi Q7

Extra-large SUV trims down and smartens up

ALEX INWOOD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

CUT it any way you want; 240kg is a lot of fat.

Itís the weight of a big motorcycle, or a pair of fully grown pandas. Itís also how much Audi has also how much Audi has sliced off its new Q7.

The second generation of Ingolstadtís XXL SUV is not only lighter, but both smaller (on the outside) and bigger (on the inside), and bristles with more on-board computing power than the Starship Enterprise.

Throw in improved dynamics, a 21 percent fuel-efficiency improvement and class-leading levels of refinement, and Audiís flagship SUV has quite a lot to crow about as it takes the fight to Volvoís fresh XC90, Benzís updated GLE and BMWís driver-focused X5.

The Q7 is the first car to be built on the VW Groupís MLB Evo platform (which will be shared by the new A4, the next Porsche Cayenne and the Bentley Bentayga) and boasts a weightsaving aluminium-intensive body with a smaller footprint; itís 37mm shorter and 15mm narrower, though 12mm taller.

The sole engine choice at launch is a 200kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, and itís a peach; whisper quiet, dripping with torque and happy to rev. It also makes the big Q7 weirdly fast. Try 100km/h in 6.5sec, which is quick enough to embarrass a hot hatch.

Itís how the Q7 delivers its prodigious pace thatís so disarming. Where a hot hatch leaps off the line, the Q7 never feels hurried. Instead it surges forward with a refined yet relentless ferocity. Shifts from the new eight-speed auto are seamless and fast, making the response to flattening the throttle a revelation. Itís like a two-tonne tortoise effortlessly destroying Usain Bolt over 100 metres.

Mercifully, Audi has resisted the urge to use this performance as an excuse to make the Q7 sporty (that job belongs to the rumoured SQ7). As rapid as it is, the Q7 remains a big SUV thatís relaxed and luxurious.

The ride on standard 19-inch wheels and optional ($4950) air suspension is excellent in Comfort mode, and the car is impressively agile in Dynamic, which drops the ride height and firms up the adaptive damping.

The new cabin is one of Audiís best, and not just for its beautiful materials, improved space and high-tech digital dash (nicked from the new TT). Even with the turbo-diesel ticking over, shutting the door is akin to locking yourself in a room full of meditating monks. Itís that quiet.

Itís clever, too. The second-row seating is split into three sections (35/30/35), with each individually adjustable fore-and-aft. Thirdrow access is a breeze, thanks to a two-stage fold-and-flip system.

The third-row seats are erected electrically and offer enough space and comfort for occasional adult use.

Then thereís the Q7ís glut of technology. Option all the assistance systems and the Q7 is Audiís most advanced production car ever. Semi-autonomous tech means it can steer, brake and accelerate on its own in city traffic, park itself, warn you of approaching cars and even prevent the driver from turning into the path of an oncoming vehicle at intersections. There are also clever Matrix LED headlights that shine around oncoming cars, but theyíre a $5100 option.

In fact, nothing about the Q7 is cheap; its $103,900 sticker is a $13,400 jump over the car it replaces. But itís a price worth paying. The new Q7 is not only brainier, safer and more efficient, itís also better to drive and it has one of the most comfortable, hightech and luxurious interiors in its class. Cut that any way you want.

PLUS & MINUS

Busier ride on 21s; no third-row air vents; some tech doesnít work in Oz Ride; interior quality and comfort; high-tech toys; diesel performance Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Audi Q7 3.0 TDI quattro 2967cc V6 (90į), dohc, 24v, TD 200kW @ 3250-4250rpm 600Nm @ 1500-3000rpm 8-speed automatic 2060kg 6.5sec (claimed) 5.9L/100km $103,900 September

01 GETTING WARM

One of the niftiest options is Night Vision Assistant, which uses a long-range infrared camera to detect people and animals and highlights them on the virtual cockpit. The system can detect lifeforms 100m away.

02 EXTENSIVE, EXPENSIVE

Tick a few choice options and you can quickly add the price of a regular family car to the Q7ís $103,900 tag. The most outrageous option is a $14,850 Bang & Olufsen sound system.

03 NO AIR APPARENT

Lack of vents for third-row passengers is unfortunate. Then thereís the question of where to store the bulky luggage cover when the third row is in use.

Built to scale

HOW did Audi manage to shave 240kg from the Q7?

Letís break it down for you.

The biggest single saving comes from the new body structure. Thanks to a mix of high- and ultra high-strength steel and an increased use of aluminium for the doors, tailgate and bonnet, itís 95kg lighter. Aluminium now makes up 41 percent of the Q7ís structure.

A further 67kg was lifted from the redesigned multi-link suspension system; the engine and exhaust are 29kg lighter combined, and 19kg was trimmed from the seats.

And the Aussie-spec Q7s arenít even the weight-watcher heroes because American-spec cars are 350kg lighter.

However, they donít include the third-row seats we get as standard.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW X5 xDrive 30d $100,900

THE X5ís dynamics are a notch above the Q7ís, but the Bimmer canít match it for ride or third-row comfort. Lifeless steering is another chink in the BMWís armour, but excellent handling and a perky diesel make it the driverís choice.

Volvo XC90 Inscription D5

$96,950 BEAUTIFULLY appointed inside and out, the new XC90 matches the Q7 for safety and interior tech. Itís faster and more frugal than the car it replaces, but its 165kW/470Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel canít match the Q7 V6ís tower of power.