Captains of industry, film stars and page 3 personalities take note. Audi is ready to launch the replacement for your beloved Q7. Yes, finally. I’ll get into real-world impressions in a bit, but going by Audi’s tall claims, this all-new Q7 should be quite different from the one you rolled onto the red carpet last Saturday. This one promises to be faster, quieter, more efficient, more luxurious and more engaging to drive. Not that you or fellow Q7 owners didn’t like the old one for what it was. Far from it. Demand for the original Q7 was so strong even a decade after launch, Audi was in no tearing hurry to bring out this new one.
In the months to come, you’ll read our comprehensive report of living with a Q7 over an epic 17,000km road journey from the Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany to India. But for now, here’s our first impression of Audi’s latest celeb-mobile right from verdant Maharashtra.
Before you proceed any further, have a good look at the photos. The new Q7 looks a bit smaller than what you remember of the original, right? Strictly going by the dimensions, it is. But the new Q7 doesn’t look smaller so much for its 37mm shorter length, 15mm narrower width and 3mm lower height as it does for its more chiselled form. Unlike the original, there are no volume-enhancing bloated surfaces here. Instead, the body is all tight skinning and crisp lines. The Q7’s new form has actually been the topic of many lunchtime debates at office and unfortunately, even seeing this Argus Brown example in the flesh didn’t help bring us to consensus. To some, the new Q7 appears lean and athletic, to others, it lacks the visual mass that was central to the previous Q7’s appeal. Think Ranbir Kapoor standing next to Dara Singh and you’ll get the difference.
Still, there’s no taking away from the fact that the Q7 looks sharp and very modern. Elements like the flat bonnet, single-frame grille and superbly detailed Matrix LED-equipped headlights, in particular, work really well together. Other things that leave an impression include the right-sized wheel arches and the belt line that elegantly splits up at the rear doors. The angular tail is neat in its own right but the rake of the rear windscreen is perhaps a touch more station wagon than SUV.
Interestingly, the new Q7’s body not only looks leaner but is actually leaner too. Audi claims to have shaved 71kg off the body alone by using a mix of materials. The Q7 is also the first model to be made on VW Group’s new MLB 2 platform, itself lighter than the old Q7’s chassis by a full 100kg. Model-to-model, Audi claims the new Q7 weighs a full 300kg less than its predecessor!
Where the Q7’s exteriors can divide opinion, its cabin is certain to draw praise from all quarters. It’s just that well executed. The centrepiece here is the low-set dashboard that is very luxury sedan-like in layout. It’s sleek and minimalist but also looks unique with faux vents that extend across its breadth. Quality of materials is uniformly excellent but more than anything else, it’s the attention to detail that impresses. For instance, if you merely feather the climate control toggles, you’ll realise they are actually touch sensitive! Even the smallest of buttons feel well built here. Speaking of which, you won’t find too many buttons here. There’s a toggle each for the radio, media, telephone and navigation functions, a dial to navigate through the menus and a touchpad to scribble inputs on; right-handed drivers will need some dexterity to master the last system though. All settings and info are displayed on a retractable 7-inch screen atop the dash but to be honest, it’s really something to just keep passengers in the loop. Drivers can solely look at their customisable all-digital instruments (Audi calls it ‘Virtual Cockpit’) to get all info and navigation instructions needed in brilliant clarity.
Those at the wheel have a lot else to like too. Such as how the low dash allows for a great view out or how all steering controls fall easy to hand. Those up front also get large and fully powered seats that score big for comfort. The many who’ll choose to be driven around in their Q7s will be more than content as well. The low floor means you elegantly walk into the cabin rather than step in to it, there’s a great deal of space to stretch out and though slightly lacking in thigh support, the well-cushioned seats are comfy too. Rear seat occupants also get a dedicated two-zone climate control and also have the options to adjust seat backrest angle and slide their seats back to maximise legroom. That said, a hard centre backrest and high centre tunnel mean the middle passenger is likely to feel like an unwanted guest here.
What does come as somewhat of a surprise is the last row. It’s a fair bit more spacious than the old Q7’s and that’s despite the new one’s shorter rear overhang. With the middle row seats extended some way forward, it’s possible for an adult to sit here for an intra-city commute. That’s if said adult is fine with the knees-up seating position and the general feeling of confinement in the back. Thankfully, access to the last row is quite good by established standards and there’s a lovely damped manner in which the middle row seats tumble forward. Like the previous Q7, the new car doesn’t get a full-size spare but a space saver as standard. And rather than under the boot floor, it’s placed vertically in the cabin itself. This not only rules out the use of one of the last row seats but also seriously compromises luggage space. For what it’s worth, the middle and last row seats do fold completely flat (the latter at the touch of a button) and the loading lip is wide and low.
The new Q7 comes powered by an updated version of the older model’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine and also carries forward its eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. And of course, there’s Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system too. The engine’s been made more efficient, quieter and more powerful. Peak power sees a jump to 245bhp from 241bhp and max torque is now a stronger 61kgm versus the older Q7’s 56kgm. All things being equal, the power and torque increments would have typically resulted in slightly better performance. But here, you get the additional benefit of the weight saving. Performance, as a result, is shockingly good. On a mildly damp surface, we managed a 0-100kph time of just 6.95 seconds and a sub-10 second time to 120kph. For the ‘standard’ version of a 5-metre-long, seven-seat luxury SUV, the numbers are just incredible. Just to put things in perspective, if you wanted such performance in the past, you’d need to opt for the 335bhp, 4.2-litre V8 diesel-powered Q7. See the performance table to know how close they are.
But it’s not only when you are driving at full throttle that the new Q7 and its powertrain feel special. Right from the time you prod the accelerator the first time, you’ll notice the big Audi feels more energetic, moves with more vigour and generally feels lighter on its feet than its predecessor did. There’s even greater urgency with the Drive Select system (it adjusts engine-gearbox responsiveness in addition to steering feedback and suspension settings) set to Dynamic. What’s more, the engine doesn’t make a song and dance about its newfound abilities. Refinement is superb and there’s rarely ever more than a cultured hum from the engine bay.
The gearbox that strives to keep engine revs as low as possible also deserves a mention here. What’s more, the gearbox also goes about its business with great fluidity, adjusts admirably well to sudden changes in throttle position and is responsive enough to tugs at the paddles. To really nitpick, I wish the gearbox didn’t shift up automatically at the mere sight of 4,600rpm, at least in ‘S’ mode. I also hope the gear lever that seems straight out of a luxury yacht is an option – it looks better than it is to use.
One of the highlights of the Q7 has got to be how easy it is to drive in traffic – rush hour in Pune felt surprisingly serene at the helm of the Q7. Visibility is great so you are not always fretting about where to place it, there’s a 360-degree camera for times when you are and there’s even Park Assist that will automatically steer the Q7 into a sizeable enough parking. Set to ‘Comfort’, the steering also feels nice and light. There are as many as six settings for the standard air suspension too but we did find ourselves shuffling between the options more than needed; there seems to be no way to completely arrest the body’s constant, if minute, up and down motion. The thing is the Q7 tends to get caught out by imperfections on our roads quite frequently and that’s a shame. Even on smooth stretches, the Q7 wallows and feels softer than it rightfully should. At highway speeds, you’ll be best off with the suspension set to ‘Dynamic’ rather than ‘Comfort’. Doing so, reduces, if not eliminates, the vertical movement. Still, straightline stability is brilliant which, along with the minimal engine, wind and road noise, allows the Q7 to mask speed incredibly well.
Gains have been made in dynamics too. On long sweeping corners, the steering offers reasonable feel though you’re always aware it’s artificially weighted. In tighter sections, the Q7 also feels generally readier to change direction, no doubt helped by the torque vectoring system on board. The Q7 is still not an engaging SUV to drive in the vein of the Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5 but typical buyers are unlikely to be too bothered.
Similarly, most owners will be happy with the knowledge that their Q7s can go off-road without ever needing to test its capabilities in the rough. Should traction ever become an issue, the Quattro system that typically splits torque 40:60 front to back, can allocate 70 percent of power to the front axle or 85 percent to the rear axle. Setting the suspension to ‘Off-Road’ also raises ride height by a handy 60mm and ground clearance to 235mm. In addition to these, there’s also the usual driver aids such as hill-start assist and hill descent control. And it always helps to know this is a Euro NCAP 5 star-rated car.
So, that’s the second-generation Audi Q7 for you. It’s an SUV that, in many areas, feels like it’s made a two generation leap over its illustrious predecessor. The superbly executed cabin, strong performance and high level of refinement lead the long list of reasons you should be interested in one. Of its few shortcomings, it’s the Q7’s unsettled ride that’s most notable. Then again, a less than perfect ride didn’t stop the original Q7 from finding space in every possible celebrity’s garage.
But this leads me to the question — will image-conscious Indian buyers fond of the old Q7’s bulky form readily take to the new one’s more refined shape? Well, that’s something we’ll know soon enough when it’s launched next month. What there’s no debate about is the fact that the new Q7 sets new benchmarks in the premium luxury SUV segment in several areas. Priced from Rs 72-77.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), it isnt be cheap but, packed with tech, it’s as modern and cutting edge as they come.