The Audi Q7, in its first generation, started the bandwagon of a luxury SUV with 7 seats. While Mercedes retorted strongly with the GL-Class and BMW added a couple of extra seats to the X5, the Q7 was already filling coffers for Audi. So, much so that the Q7 was in service for more than a decade, doing more field time than the average German (bug three) car’s product life cycle, which is 4-5 years.
Even in India, the Q7 is synonymous with Bollywood personalities, industrialists, businessmen and politicians, and can be single-handedly credited for Audi India’s happy days. Well, the Q7 that started it all has now been phased out, and in comes a leaner and more fastidious one, brand new in every possible way. We take Audi’s second generation of one of its most successful cars for a weekend spin, and see how it measures.
Audi says that the new Q7 has lost up to 325 kilograms of weight over its predecessor, the equivalent of a grand piano. To understand how this major weight loss occurred, we must dig a little deeper to find out its roots.
The new Audi Q7 is based on Volkswagen Group’s new MLB 2 platform, also called the MLBevo. It’s the second generation of the ‘Dieselgate’ scarred automotive conglomerate’s modular platforms, which allow for varied vehicular applications, regardless of model, drive-train, vehicle size or brand. In fact, the only non-variable elements in these cost-effective platforms are the pedal box, firewall, and front wheel placement, as well as the windscreen rake angle.
It’s also interesting to note that MLBevo’s derivatives also underpins the all-new Audi A4 (B9), as well as the posh new Bentley Bentayga, methodically accommodating a myriad variety of drive-trains and body styles – ranging from a 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder engine with a FWD layout in the entry-level executive saloon/estate, to the thumping W12, 6-liter engine with AWD in the ultra-luxury SUV. MBLevo will also underpin the upcoming, next-generation Audi A8 (D5), due in 2017.
Back to the Q7, the new platform, apart from being less complex than before, is also more than 100 kilograms lighter. That, with the 71 kilograms saved in the new, aluminum intensive body shell, along with other lightened components, account for the new Q7’s drastic weight loss.
The loss in weight is also accompanied by a more athletic appearance. The all-new Q7 looks noticeably leaner, with tauter surfaces and sharper lines, most of them horizontal, in line with Audi’s new styling philosophy. However, though fresh and contemporary, it has lost a bit of that commanding road presence that the earlier Q7 gave off. We find out how.
Let’s start with the headlamps, as Audi can be largely credited with starting the trend of giving a vehicle its unique visual signature within the headlamps courtesy LED technology. While the old Q7 presented a scary, LED lit juggernaut’s image in your hatchback’s rear view mirrors, the new one doesn’t. All illuminating elements are now crammed inside the pleasantly shaped, larger headlamp clusters, which feature optional Audi Matrix LED technology, offered for the first time in a Q model, along with double arrow- shaped daytime-running lights.
The new grille is a redesigned, 3D-hexagonal single-framed job, Audi’s new face for their SUVs. Horizontal slats with some detailing on them replace the vertical slats on the earlier Q7’s grille, while the front bumper has large, chrome trimmed air inlets on either side, which also host two radars each; to catch and feed real time data to the various driver assistance and safety systems on board.
The sides are characterized by tauter contouring and sharper lines, as mentioned before, while inset moldings in contrast color and material with the quattro logo give structure to the lower door areas. The wheel arches receive subtle trim in contrast color, with the circular flares stuck in a well chamfered rise from the tautened bodywork. The glass area on the side is bordered with chrome, and the Q7 gets a front quarter window that’s exactly the same one found on the Bentley Bentayga.
The rear end gets large, rectangular tail lamps with LED illumination, and like its predecessor, the tail lamps are integrated with the tail gate. Dual exhaust tips, again rectangular in shape, are hosted in a rear scuff plate. The reverse lamps are integrated with the reflector strips, while the Q7 gets Audi’s new-found engine nomenclature (45 Tdi). The tidy new looks and marginal decrease in size won’t win too many stares now, especially in this shade of rocky grey our test car came draped in.
Interior & Technology
Despite having slightly more compact exterior dimensions than the previous model, the interior of the new Q7 has actually increased in size – Audi says it is the most spacious in its segment, and we’ll take their word for it.
Gone is the bulky dashboard of the previous model, which has been replaced with a more minimalistic dashboard that’s decidedly classier and understated, perfectly in sync with the similarly flavored exteriors. Every part of the new dashboard has soft, mostly horizontal lines that flow together, while being tastefully trimmed in a choice of materials that include wood and brushed aluminium. Optional leather packages and trim options are also on the offing.
Thankfully, everything still hasn’t given way to touch controls, as there are beautifully knurled, tactile little knobs and retro themed buttons for the essential controls, like the climate control system settings. A broad continuous air vent strip runs across the front of the dashboard. In case you’re wondering, it does spew air in a controlled fashion, cutting work short for the 4-zone air conditioning system.
The 4-spoke steering wheel has shrunk from the previous generation, is classily trimmed in leather and wood, and feels terrific to hold. Of course, it has all the buttons for telephony and audio controls, along with controls for Audi’s new trick – the Virtual Cockpit, optional on the new Q7.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit debuted on the 2015 TT, and is essentially a fully digital, 12.3‑inch TFT display, luminous with high-resolution graphics in place of a conventional instrument cluster. It integrates navigation, media, vehicle settings and instrumentation information in one, customizable space, allowing for less driver distraction. The display has two modes – classic view and infotainment mode, while the whole Virtual Cockpit is supplemented by a slick head-up display.
The displays for the outside temperature, time, mileage as well as warning and information symbols have a fixed position along the bottom edge of the cockpit in both modes. A click on the View button on the steering wheel zaps the dials to shrink, expanding the central space – so the navigation or media screen dominate the instrument pack. It’s pretty dramatic, and also means widescreen mapping is brought to life right in your line of sight (you can also cycle through stereo options, phone, trip computer etc).
The display differs, depending on which option the driver selects. Whilst in classic view mode the circular instrument dials, i.e. the speedometer and rev counter, are more dominant, “infotainment mode” displays additional functions such as the navigation system, telephone, Audi connect and media more prominently.
Thumb the starter, and out pops a 8.3-inch MMI screen from the dashboard, which features updated graphics for the menu and sub-menus, that can be accessed by a large, touchpad on the central tunnel, apart from a central knob and two toggle switches. The screen also displays a coalesced or stitched feed from the various cameras placed all around the vehicle, resulting in an all encompassing view of the vehicle surroundings from the top. It also displays the feed from the primary front and rear cameras, replete with guides for a hassle free parking experience.
The new touchpad with haptic feedback can be used to write individual letters, pinch and zoom, and assign favorites for everything from destinations to radio presets at the top. The central control knob is still there for scrolling through menus, but it’s all been minimized down with a set of toggles on each side. Soft buttons for the Menu and Back control are placed ahead of the knob.
Everything works like a breeze, and responses are sharp and precise. We struggled a tad to delete characters entered through the touch pad, but a perfectly horizontal swipe does the trick. The system even responds to simple voice commands, and can also integrate your smart phone through USB or Bluetooth via Audi connect. Contacts can be accessed, calls can be connected, and even the phone’s navigation system can overdrive the car’s, via steering mounted controls and the Virtual Cockpit.
It’s easy to find the desired driving position in the new Q7, with the sumptuous, leather trimmed front seats getting 3-way electrical adjustability. There is more than enough room on all sides, and the view of the road is fairly commanding. The front seats offer numerous options of contour along with heating, massage and air conditioning functions.
Seat back adjustment for the second row of seats is standard, but all of it has to done manually. The second row also lets users individually adjust the seats up to 110 mm longitudinally, and they can accept three child seats. Headroom and legroom are class leading, with more than enough space to spare in every direction possible. Comfort, including terrific lumbar support is right up there to make eminent personalities feel at home.
The optional third seat row has a standard power folding feature, which can either be controlled via buttons in the boot, or buttons placed near the third row footwall. Access to the third row is by flipping the second row seat backs all the way down, which is a bit of a struggle. Once seated, the third row is fairly comfortable even for adults. Third row occupants get individual lap belts and a cup holder at their disposal.
However, the space saver spare wheel nestled in the boot space prevents the right seat backrest of the third row to be popped up. Getting the spare wheel off requires some serious muscle though, as one has to unscrew it from its metal mounting point and then it has to be unclothed from its canvas cover. The space saver is a Vredestein unit, measuring 195/65-20.
In a five-seater setup, the basic configuration of the luggage compartment boasts a volume of 890 liters, and this can be increased up to 2,075 liters. A power tailgate is standard, and gesture control is available as an option in conjunction with the convenience key. The new Q7 also comes with cool function that lowers the rear section of the car in case one needs to load some heavy luggage in. Audi branded boot straps ensure that your expensive suitcases and bags aren’t thrown about unceremoniously when the Q7 hits a rough patch.
When it is dark, optional, very fine light conductors trace the contours of the dashboard, resulting in a lounge like ambience. Other features include a panaromic sunroof, and Audi’s autonomous parking feature, which takes into account the vehicle surroundings and parks the car by itself, taking over steering, brake and accelerator functions.
Engine and performance
Performance is very nippy, especially when one dials in the size and the 2080 kg kerb weight. Compared to its predecessor, the new Q7 3.0 TDI is noticeably quicker, with the engine emanating a mildly sporty, distant hum. Refinement is off the charts, and the Q7 masks all outside noise with remarkable proficiency.
An 8-speed, dual clutch automatic transmission does the donkey work, shifting cogs with Teutonic proficiency. Gear changes are quick and precise, with no perceptible lag whatsoever. It is even at your command lest you want so, with the paddles behind the steering wheel letting for manual shifts. A flick on one of those is responded by a tick in the silent cabin, and an almost instantaneous gear change. We’ve come to know that these VW Group transmissions are remarkably clinical.
The loss of weight sees the new Q7 be a lot more nimble on its feet. Steering inputs are more reactive, and the lighter car performs lane changing maneuvers with more alacrity. Corners are gracefully taken for a high riding vehicle, with reduced body roll than before. Apart from weight loss, this new found athleticism can be further credited to the lowered center of gravity, which has dipped by 50 millimeters, primarily by installing the engine lower, along with the all-wheel steering system. The latter, integrated with the five-link rear suspension innocuously makes the big SUV dynamically well behaved and more stable.
Ride quality is particularly nice, and Mr. Bachchan can quietly sip his coffee at the back without spilling it, in his own climate controlled zone, with the warm flavored reading lights being one touch away from a comfortable snooze. The redesigned air suspension system soaks up small bumps and irregularities with panache, especially in Comfort mode. Things become slightly aggressive as the driver turns the beautifully knurled knob to Dynamic.
As is the case with every modern Audi, the new Q7 also features multiple Drive Select modes – Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, and Individual including off road/allroad and lift modes. In Auto, the new Q7 wafts along effortlessly, engineering out all the drive-train and suspension ramblings to a mere whisper. Dynamic lets some of the action through the fingers, palms, feet and bottom, as the transmission, steering wheel, throttle response and suspension tauten up to offer a slightly hard-edged driving character.
Dynamic mode allows for ever perkier performance, especially in manual mode. It’s kind of fun, wringing the gears out, and feeling the 2-ton SUV surge ahead with remarkable rapidity. However, ride quality isn’t the best in Dynamic, as the air suspension becomes stiffer to account for athletic on-road behavior. Individual mode let you to customize each of the aforementioned parameters individually, allowing for multiple possibilities and what suits the driver best.
Exclusive to the Q7 is the ‘Off-road’ mode, that bumps up the ride height from 175 to 235mm, prepares the Quattro-AWD system to make the most out of the available traction, and also activates driver aids such as hill-start assist and hill descent control. Although no mountain goat, this mode lets the Q7 go up and down small inclines, negotiate medium size rocks, gravel and even fjord a small stream if need be. We cannot verify the latter, because Maharasthra had a rather lull monsoon this year, but we can testify the rest.
Still, it’s not what posh family haulers are supposed to be doing, and its mild prowess off the road only come as a reassurance to the owners who’ll hardly ever take it to a farm. What stops it from slinging mud and climbing hills is only the lack of off-road tires, locking differentials and the long rear overhang. The new Q7 uses non-perforated, steel disc brakes all around, aided with, of course, ABS and other braking software. Although the Q7 stops on a dime when speeds are low, high speed braking left a little less to be desired.
At INR 72 lakh, the new Audi Q7 is a lot of money. But that also reflects its capability as an understated, high-mileage; comfortable road car that doesn’t mind its feet getting dirty if the need arises. Its station wagon like looks may have lost the commanding road presence of its predecessor, but skin deep, it’s a more capable machine. It has an extremely potent engine that can be efficient, yet make the Q7 chug along at brisk speeds.
In the quest for reaching the altars of precision engineering though, the new Audi Q7 comes across as a little robotic and clock like. It drives effortlessly, bombards your senses with technology, constantly concentrates on comforting you and goes about its business without any fuss. So one starts to find things grey after a while, but that must be the shade of brilliance and that is what the new Audi Q7 is in a lot of ways, brilliant!
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