Audi’s first stab at the luxury SUV market has arrived rather late. Mercedes-Benz has already launched the follow-up to its first-generation ML and BMW’s X5 successor is also just around the corner. Does this mean the ship has sailed and that Audi has missed its chance? Judging by the immense interest in our Audi Q7 test vehicle, we suspect not. In fact, perhaps the delay has allowed Audi to study the market’s response to the first-generation examples of its German competitors more carefully and better hone its own product…
Size matters for the Audi Q7As we’ve already seen with the new Mercedes ML, and will again with the second-generation X5, size seems to matter in this segment. Of course, this is partly due to these vehicles’ popularity in America. The result is that the Audi Q7 is big. Very BIG. It stretches the tape measure to 5 085 mm and tips the scales at a hefty 2 295 kg. And yet Audi has managed the styling well because the Audi Q7 doesn’t look like a Big Mac on wheels. The front overhang is very short and characterised by that bluff, imposing chrome-rimmed Audi grille. The wheelarches are nicely accentuated and frame the standard 18-inch alloy wheels purposefully, while the slope of the windscreen and the relatively narrow side windows provide an element of sportiness. The Audi Q7 is a car that gets heads turning, and for many a luxury SUV shopper, that’s reason enough…
Quality and comfortThe big body and three metre-long wheelbase contribute to a very spacious cabin. In standard trim the Audi Q7 is a five-seater, in which case the boot capacity is a cavernous 775 L, while rear legroom is very impressive, too. For an extra ten grand or so Audi will add third-row seating, which seems like good value if you need to occasionally travel seven-up. Note, however, that those two rear seats are really only for small adults or kids.
Up front there is precious little to complain about as the Audi Q7 facia could easily have come from a large Audi sedan. The perceived quality is impeccable, with excellent fit and finish being evident all-round. Even the metallic surfaces feel convincing. Ergonomically speaking there are a few quirks (including an oddly positioned glove box release), but one gets used to this quickly. Besides, the things that really matter have been executed brilliantly.
The driver’s seat features a wide range of adjustability (electric) and the steering wheel is also adjustable for rake and reach. The seats themselves are nicely shaped and supportive, so there are no complaints in the comfort department. The standard features list is reasonable, including climate control, auto lights and wipers, cruise control and no fewer than eight airbags. Satellite navigation, however, remains an optional extra.
Diesel gruntGiven the vehicle’s size and weight, we were initially concerned that the brand’s 3,0-litre turbodiesel V6 might not quite be up to the task, but a short drive quickly laid to rest such fears. The Audi Q7 offers 500 Nm of torque from as low as 1 750 rpm, and it feels as if the majority of that grunt is already available from around 1 000 rpm, so the big Audi feels more responsive than you may think. In fact, a 0-100 km/h time of 9,1 seconds is perfectly acceptable for a vehicle of this calibre. More important than acceleration figures are the economy figures and its towing capability. The stated fuel consumption of 10,5 litres/100 km is actually not too difficult to improve on, provided it is driven by someone in a fuel-saving state of mind. And given the vehicle’s likely leisure application, the 3 500 kg tow rating is also impressive.
It is worth pointing out, however, that the Audi Q7 is probably even less off-road oriented than its already tar-biased rivals. Yes, it features quattro all-wheel drive, a diff-lock and hill-descent control, but in general these features are really there to boost its ability in slippery (European or American) conditions such as ice or snow. Keep this in mind and the Audi Q7 won’t disappoint – it feels very stable on the road (tarred or not), with the all-wheel drive system smoothly shifting power to where it is needed most. Of course, Audi’s electronic stability system is fitted, too.
Audi offers two suspension systems for the Audi Q7, standard fitment being a steel-sprung set-up. However, for some extra money, you can get an air-sprung system that can give you even more ground clearance when needed. As with most such systems, it struggles somewhat to deal smoothly with rippled road surfaces, so the standard steel suspension may actually be the wiser choice. That said, in general the Audi Q7 is a pleasure to drive on almost all surfaces. The cabin is vault-like in its isolation, and it provides the driver with that sense of superiority that most shopping in this segment crave so much.
Audi Q7 - VerdictThe Audi Q7 may be largely targeted at American families, but that doesn’t mean it won’t fit South African lifestyles too. Overall, the Audi Q7 is a finely executed luxury SUV that seems to be perfectly in tune with the requirements of the modern consumer. Is it better than the current X5? Yes, it is a more complete, more sophisticated vehicle of a higher quality. And what about the Mercedes ML? That’s a tougher one… The Mercedes may not offer third-row seating, but it’s a nimbler, less-imposing vehicle with superior off-road ability. You know what you really need…
- Build quality
- Eager engine
- Performance/economy mix
- Cabin space
- Third row only for kids
- Firm ride
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, turbodiesel
Power: 171 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 500 Nm @ 1 750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Top speed: 210 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,1 seconds
Fuel economy: 10,5 litres/100 km
- BMW X5 3,0d Steptronic: Can’t match the Audi Q7 for power and there is no seven-seat option. But that’s not the big Beemer’s only problem… An all-new model is not too far off…
- Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI Auto: Although the Mercedes doesn’t offer the option of seven-seat capability, the cabin is very spacious for five and their luggage. In its latest guise the ML is a nicely refined and high quality package that is not short of features and charm.
- Land Rover Discovery TDV6 SE: If you really need to occasionally transport seven in luxury, then the Disco is also a good option, though it is not as swift as the Audi Q7. The driving experience is more relaxed with the emphasis being on ride comfort. And off-road this model will run rings around the others.