Have you noticed how mainstream car brands have been greying the lines between entry-level and luxury lately?
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, head down to your local Kia retailer and slide behind the wheel of a new Sorento SX+, or do the same with the latest Honda Pilot Touring, Toyota Highlander Limited, Mazda CX-9 Signature or most any top-line volume SUV. These will make you wonder if paying more for an expensive premium brand is the smart choice. However, the new 2017 Audi Q7 will silence such internal dialogue in a millisecond.
Whereas the old model caused me to question its worthiness against a number of better equipped albeit much lower priced, volume-branded “competitors,” the new 2017 version (starting at $65,200) has raised the bar within the entire luxury SUV segment. I doubt Range Rover will feel any pressure to improve its largest offering, and BMW’s X5 has long been up to snuff, but the recently tested Q7 3.0 TFSI quattro Technik ($73,500) was one of the most impressive crossover SUVs I’ve ever spent time in.
It was hard to improve on the Audi Q7’s styling, but the new model brings more drama to the frontal design with a bigger, broader version of Audi’s singleframe grille, revisions to its LED lighting elements front and rear, and sharper creases to all the body panels.
Inside, the previous interior mixed some extremely well-made components with others that were substandard, most noticeably hard plastics across the lower dash and glove box lid, less than ideal electronic interfaces, and some hollow-feeling switchgear that suffered further from poorly damped, wiggly action. All of that is immediately forgotten when stepping in the new 2017 Audi Q7.
Ahead of the driver is a fully configurable, high-resolution 12.3” TFT display that immediately modernizes the look of the primary controls. The graphics are crisp, clear, and colourful, while a steering wheel-mounted “VIEW” button decreases the size of both the tachometer and speedometer and instantly enlarges the multi-information display at centre, the latter replete with useful features and functions. The elegantly thin steering wheel spokes are filled with all the necessary switchgear to scroll through the information and access other features, much of which is duplicated in more detail on the power retractable, tablet-style 8.3” infotainment screen in the middle of the dashboard.
Audi previously incorporated its MultiMedia Interface (MMI) within the Q7’s instrument panel, so separating the infotainment screen frees up space for a cleaner design that’s now more horizontal than vertical, dispensing of the traditional “centre stack,” at least visually. In addition, the MMI’s lower console-mounted rotating dial controller has switched places with its completely redesigned and much more advanced gear selector, the latter now acting like a palm rest for the former, which is a smart idea being that most manual shifting duties are taken care of via steering wheel paddles. The new layout is simply better from an ergonomics standpoint.
The rotating dial is now joined by a couple of touch-sensitive toggles for navigation, phone, radio, and media, various quick-access buttons that recognize hand movements before actually being pressed, and a large touchpad with pinch, swipe, and finger gesture capability. The MMI operating system speed is much improved and its processes are easier to navigate through, while both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, which means that voice recognition works better and GPS navigation is more accurate.
What’s more, a 360-degree surround-view camera combines with front and rear parking sensors plus slightly shorter overall body length for reduced stress in confined areas. All cares seemed to dissipate when cranking up my tester’s impressively powerful 558W 19-speaker Bose 3D surround sound system. And to think there’s an even better Bang & Olufsen stereo available? Audi now owns this audiophile’s ears.
The quad-zone automatic climate control interface in the 2017 Audi Q7 (there’s another dual-zone HVAC panel in the back) is also mostly touch-sensitive and includes buttons for the 3-level heated/cooled seats at both sides, while just above is a nicely organized row of buttons for Audi Drive Select, turning off the auto stop/start system, powering the MMI screen into the dash, etc.
As mentioned earlier, the features described in this review are for the top-line Technik model. Other items I still have to tell you about include full LED headlights, proximity access with push-button ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, ambient interior lighting, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, perforated leather upholstery, 12-way power adjustable front seats with 4-way power lumbar, HD and satellite radio, a power liftgate, plenty of active and passive safety features, and much more. My loaded tester also included an array of optional packages and standalone features.
The Drive Select settings include Comfort, Dynamic (sport), Individual, and Off Road. The second one heightens all of the vehicle’s senses to perform with more flair. Keep in mind the new Audi Q7 already is one of the best-handling SUVs in its class. The ride gets a bit firmer albeit never harsh, while responses to steering input, throttle actuation, and paddle-prompted shifts are immediate and thoroughly satisfying. Somehow Audi has managed to make a very large 7-passenger SUV feel like a compact, yet it still delivers that solid, planted feel premium buyers like ― my tester’s 285/45R20 Goodyear Eagle Sport run-flat tires no doubt helped in this respect.
The combination of a 3.0L supercharged V6 (333 horsepower, 325 lb-ft of torque) with an 8-speed automatic transmission and quattro AWD is once again fully up to the task of pushing all of the Q7’s mass. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h is achieved in just 5.7 seconds. You can also thank engineers for using much more high-strength steel and other weight-saving components, which has eliminated 115 kilograms (253 lbs) for a total of 2,240 kilos (4,938 lbs).
To be clear, if you’ve previously read other accounts of a 320kg (705lb) weight reduction, it’s because the Canadian-spec model gets more standard equipment than the lighter base Euro variant. But like I told you a moment ago, the 2017 Audi Q7 feels a lot lighter than it should, taking to corners with newfound agility, yet always respectful of overly pampered behinds.
Comfort mode is best to enjoy all the refined smoothness Audi has built into the new Q7, plus it’s also where the brand’s eco features come into play more readily, including the auto stop/start system that shuts the engine down smoothly and brings it back to life with hardly any notice to aid the big Audi in its impressive 12.6L/100km city and 9.4L/100km highway fuel economy ratings. On that note, the Q7 is ultimately quiet whether the engine is temporarily stifled or running ― the increased sound-deadening materials and attention to isolation from outside influences produce incredible results.
As you might expect, the front two rows are roomy and Audi’s seats are wonderfully supportive. I actually made an effort to crawl into the third row to experience it first-hand. Granted, my 5’8” frame is hardly gargantuan, but as it turned out I fit in with room to spare, so critics saying the rear seats in the new Q7 are only good for kids should remain silent. I never felt claustrophobic either, much thanks to large rear quarter windows, plus a massive panoramic sunroof that comes close to reaching the rearmost area, although I probably wouldn’t want to spend an entire day back here.
Audi provides about 420 litres of cargo room behind the rear seats, which makes it similarly sized to the A4’s ultra-large trunk. Of course, you can lay the Q7’s two rear rows flat for 2,027 litres of life-hauling space ― garage sale Sundays have met their match. Lowering the third row can be accomplished via power switches located on a panel just behind the second-row seats or the cargo side walls, and if you slide those second-row seats all the way back before manually laying them flat, it all folds together like a perfectly symmetrical jigsaw puzzle (if there were such a thing) topped off by an ideally flat cargo floor.
Along with the supportive rear seats, dual-zone rear climate controls, and air vented through the backside of the front centre console as well as the B-pillars, it would be difficult to get more comfortable in the second row of any SUV this side of a Bentley Bentayga, so I wouldn’t call shotgun too quickly if I were you.
The only attribute that’s more important to 7-passenger SUV buyers than versatile comfort is safety, and in this respect all 2017 Audi Q7 models earn a best-possible Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS. Audi also achieved first place in Consumer Reports’ latest Report Card on Reliability and scored above average in J.D. Power’s most recent Vehicle Dependability Study.
Despite the vehicle’s overall goodness, it still faces a number of determined challengers in the midsize luxury SUV segment such as the award-winning new Volvo XC90. Having said that, I truly believe you won’t be disappointed in the slightest if you choose to drive home in the new 2017 Audi Q7. It boasts serious head-turning looks, superb craftsmanship, amazing skills on the road, lots of state-of-the-art features, impressive safety, and most likely high dependability ― an ideal combination to grab a much larger chunk of the premium SUV pie.