AUDI Q7

A COMBINATION OF SPACE, PACE AND GRACE FROM INGOLSTADT’S MOST COMPLETE CAR TO DATE

TOBY HAGON

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

FINALIST Stage THREE

“THE AIR SUSPENSION ALLOWS IT TO COMPETE WITH $250K CARS FOR REFINEMENT AND SERENITY” NATHAN PONCHARD

U N D E R C U R R E N T S

The Q7 is the first large SUV from the Volkswagen Group to sit on the flexible MLB architecture.

Designed for a variety of sizes and applications running longitudinallymounted engines, MLB currently underpins new B9 Audi A4 and Bentley Bentayga large SUV. It’s also destined to underpin the next-gen Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg and 2018 Lamborghini Urus. ap moun the larg

T W E N T Y C A R O F T H E Y E A R S I X T E E N

Finalist

“IT’S BEYOND BRAND IN TERMS OF RIDE COMFORT AND STEERING” BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

RARELY does an SUV come along that makes such a mark on Car of the Year. The last was the Ford Territory, the eventual COTY winner, in 2004.

Audi’s Q7 is almost as significant in the way it advances what we’ve come to expect from SUVs. The dozens of SUVs that have appeared over the past decade since that original Q7 landed its sevenseat heft Down Under have been variations on a theme. They have been bolder, higher and harder riding, all with the aim of getting them to drive more like the passenger cars they’re replacing in driveways from Bondi to Broome.

But the second-generation Q7 – unfashionably late, but a vast leap over the original – resets the dynamic standards to which other luxury SUVs will now be measured.

It proves raising the centre of gravity It proves raising the centre of gravity by a few centimetres doesn’t have to compromise everything from cornering nous to ride quality.

The Q7 is cold, aluminium-infused proof a luxury SUV can (almost) drive like a passenger car while delivering on the interior flexibility and accoutrements expected of the family-friendly breed.

family-friendly breed.

Key to the Q7’s advances is its stellar weight-loss program, enough to see it wholeheartedly dispose of the unflattering ‘QE7’ nickname of its predecessor. Credit goes to the full aluminium body (saving 95kg) and lighter components; the single V6 turbo-diesel engine on offer for now (an e-tron hybrid arrives in 2016) weighs 20kg less, the exhaust another 19kg, while the front and rear suspension systems contribute 27kg and 40kg respectively.

The weight savings amount to 240kg, an impressive total representing about 10 percent of the Q7’s former bulk.

Some of that Jenny Craig-esque debulging is also attributable to smaller external dimensions; 2nd-gen Q7 is 30mm shorter and 14mm narrower.

Yet clever packaging has liberated more interior space, with up to 41mm more legroom and increases to headroom in all three rows.

The Q7 has genuine style and thoughtfulness in its cabin. Combining the customisable 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit with the retractable 8.3-inch colour screen makes for easy infotainment navigation.

When paired with elegant materials and a clean, functional layout it reasserts the luxury oozing from every pore. It is a lovely place to be.

The further aft the COTY judges ventured the more they appreciated the flexibility of those seats, too. The second row flips, slides and folds in a 40/20/40 configuration, while the pair of individual third row pews glide elegantly into the floor at the push of a button. The luggage cover also has a retractable net that can be clipped behind the front or middle-row seats to stop luggage surging forward.

Topping it off are the child-seat anchor points in the third row, increasing the positioning options when fitting child seats. However, those utilising the third row will want to practice locating the various levers to create the aperture.

Such is the hushed eloquence of the Q7’s cabin it was inevitably used as the multi-person transport when logistics required, reaffirming that those in the third row are treated with the same level of aural comfort and respect as those up front.

Indeed, the Q7 injects limousine luxury with sedan-like dynamics and levels of comfort until now not experienced in an SUV. Refinement is on another level for seven-seat SUVs, bringing genuine top-shelf noise suppression and an in-cabin serenity none have come close to. There wasn’t a COTY judge that exited the big Audi without praising its class-leading refinement.

That refinement – in judges’ eyes deemed

T E C H U N H I T C H E D

One of the most innovative features in the Q7 – trailer assist – isn’t offered in Australia. Allowing the driver to use the MMI control knob to steer and direct the trailer – letting the car determine what steering input to apply to keep it on the desired path – the system isn’t compatible with the towball and other hardware fitted to Australian cars. So for now it’s limited to European-delivered cars.

Audi Australia says it is working on adapting the trailer-assist system to our requirements, although no time frame has been set.

impressive at a price tag double the Q7’s $103,900 ask – helped comfortably advance the Audi through the 2016 COTY testing ranks.

Yet the long-awaited newcomer impressed from the second it hit the sodden Lang Lang proving ground on our first day of testing. That a car with the size and space of the Q7 can tackle corners with such surety and fluidity is testament to the engineering efforts beneath. It devours high-speed bends, sitting beautifully flat in the process. In the realm of two-tonne-plus seven-seat SUVs, the Q7 is relatively sporty.

The 3.0-litre V6 diesel is also a ripper; as adept at effortlessly shuffling the big body forward as it is at containing almost all nasty and unwanted diesel drone. The generous 600Nm torque peak arrives at 1500rpm, and even below that it’s thoroughly useful.

Teamed to the seamless eight-speed automatic, it makes for an impressive drivetrain well-suited to the relaxed nature of the car.

Fuel use wasn’t as impressive. While the 5.9 litres per 100km sticker is startling, the reality is less so. The Q7 used close to double that to complete the long COTY country loop, driven with spirited bursts, but with a lot less of the everyday stop-start that typically inflates fuel figures.

While the Q7 3.0 TDI is currently the only model available in Australia, we enlisted two examples for testing; one with standard steel coil springs, and one with the optional air suspension system.

Both cars rode on 19-inch Pirelli rubber, yet the two gave markedly different results, with the $4950 air-sprung option briskly deemed expensive, but worth it. It transforms a well-mannered, comfortable car into one with genuine talent and an ability to dilute the otherwise mildly gravelly ride that emerges at low speed on pockmarked bitumen. That it also recovers so adeptly from big high-speed dips and jolts reaffirms the Q7 as a dynamic expert; arguably Audi’s finest effort yet, and certainly its most convincing take on air suspension.

A rare dynamic hiccup was its dirt braking performance, while after some good ol’ COTY punishment, its brakes could become stinky and smokey following heavy applications.

Safety has also taken some significant steps with the Q7; the auto emergency braking has been calibrated to recognise oncoming traffic and apply the brakes if the driver plans to turn across oncoming cars. The rear radar used as part of the blind-spot warning system can also prepare the car prior to a rear-end collision.

Plus it’s used to warn of approaching cyclists when someone inside begins to open a door.

Throw in partial auto braking in reverse and it makes for an SUV that’s well and truly pushing the active-safety boundaries.

Of course, there’s a giant, diesel-slurping elephant in the COTY room when discussing Audi: are buyers really getting what’s printed on the brochure?

Audi and its parent Volkswagen have been front and centre for lying to customers regarding vehicle emissions for years, something that fuelled heated debate by the COTY crew.

The Q7 and this latest diesel engine – loosely related to the former V6 – have so far escaped the controversy. But the company’s tarnished reputation leaves a sour “what-next?” taste, and every judge took that into consideration.

In the end it was value that partly worked against the Q7. Yes, there’s core engineering beyond the sixfigure price, but more features – there’s loads of the cool stuff relegated to the options list – would help offset the inevitable sticker shock those looking at a BMW X5 or Volvo XC90 may experience.

Still, there’s little overlooked in Audi’s most convincing and complete car to date. The Audi Q7 sends a clear signal out to rivals that feel a generation behind it on the road. And, if SUVs continue to make leaps like this, a second COTYwinning SUV is inevitable.

BODY

Type 5-door wagon, 7 seats L/W/H 5052/1968/1741mm Wheelbase 2994mm Track (f/r) 1679/1691mm Boot capacity 770 litres Weight 2060kg

DRIVETRAIN

Layout front engine (north-south), AWD Engine 2967cc V6 turbo-diesel (200kW/600Nm) Transmission 8-speed automatic

CHASSIS

Brakes ventilated discs (f/r) Tyres 255/55R19 – 285/40R21 Spare tyre repair kit (or temporary spare in lieu of 3rd row seats) ADR81 fuel consumption 5.9L/100km CO2 emissions 153g/km Front airbags .

Side airbags .

Curtain airbags .

Knee airbag .

Collision mitigation .

Crash rating 5-star (Euro NCAP) Price $103,900 3-year retained value 60% Service interval 12 months/15,000km