Audi makes gorgeous cars such as the TT, R8 and A5. It also makes sedans of different ‘shoe sizes’ says car critic Doug DeMuro, though there is a timeless factor about Audi saloons. I’m just worried about where Audi is heading with its SUVs, looking at how big daddy Q7 is supposed to set the tone.
It’s challenging to mold large body masses into something attractive, but Volvo has done it with the XC90 (two generations), Porsche with the Cayenne (on second try) and Land Rover on a consistent basis. Trouble is, the new Q7 looks too much like the previous one, and the last one didn’t really set the world alight. The only element that’s clearly distinguishable at a glance is the meatier, more angular grille. Okay, the lines are crisper next to the old car, but the difference is far too subtle. For a model that took a decade to be replaced, this has to constitute a spurned opportunity.
The Q7 is longer, wider and casts a larger footprint than any of its immediate peers from Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, yet it registers just over two tonnes at 2030kg, which is around 100kg less than its German compatriots, over 300kg less than the Volvo XC90 T8 (understandably so given that the Swede is a plug-in hybrid) and over 500kg less than a Land Rover Discovery 3.0-litre V6 that also seats seven. The generous application of aluminium, high tensile steel along with new construction methods have resulted in body that’s appreciably lighter and more rigid, and that’s very clever of Audi. Sadly, no one really picks an SUV over others because it weighs less.
3. The Q7 has impeccable quality inside
This might sound like a broken record, but there’s a reason why reviews tend to sing praises of Audi interiors. Touching and feeling the quality that resides within the Q7 interior is a deeply impressive experience. Other luxury brands may offer softer cowhide or more complex surfaces, but few can match Audi’s level of consistency and attention to detail. So whether it’s the muted thump of a door shutting, tactile clicks from its knurled rotary knobs, or just how tidy the fonts look on the instrument cluster, Audi has every facet of interior quality nicked.
While the Q7 misses some active safety features (e.g. active cruise control, collision avoidance, etc.) competitors are offering, it makes up for the shortfall with the ultra-cool Virtual Cockpit display and nifty powered controls for the third row, so there’s no lack of tech on show. But given the kind of audience it’s supposed to attract, the Q7 might be better served as a flagship SUV with a bit more warmth and colour in its trim instead of the usual subdued fare of aluminium and grey leather.
Sometimes it matters not whether the cylinder configuration is in-line or Vee, or if induction is supercharged or turbocharged, or if the transmission has seven or nine speeds. Ultimately, it’s the execution and the resulting perception of the user that counts, not the academic argument. The directly injected 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that lurks under the aluminium bonnet of Q7 is the kind of mechanical accomplishment that gives German engineering its reputation. It’s always velvety smooth, effortlessly responsive and aurally pleasing whether you’re ambling along in a jam or bombing down the highway. No doubt, the excellent eight-speed ZF automatic plays a strong supporting role, but taken as a whole, this particular Quattro powertrain is near faultless.
You’d expect the Q7’s ‘low’ kerb weight and properly hooked up drivetrain to pay dividends when it gets rolling. It does, but the big Audi has one other party trick – its air suspension. Every large SUV should ditch their metal springs have this as standard because it alters what can reasonably be expected from a vehicle that weighs two tonnes and measures over five metres in length. From where the driver is sitting, the Q7 steers like a smaller Q5, yet it rides and resists roll like a lower slung A8 limo. The sensation may be unnaturally good for such a large SUV, but it’s one that’s highly conducive for the occasional bout of spirited driving.
The Audi Q7 is probably the best built and puts forth a strong case as the best-driving SUV in its class, but it’ll count for nought if Audi Malaysia doesn’t latch on to the incentives dished out by the government and commence some form of local assembly soon. At RM589,900, the Q7 is already costlier to acquire than a similarly powered BMW X5 xDrive35i (RM573,800) and the Mercedes-Benz GLE400 (RM568,888), and substantially more than the tax-exempted plug-in hybrids of the Volvo XC90 T8 (RM403,888) and the BMW X5 xDrive40e (RM388,800). So while ‘less is more’ pans out rather nicely for the Audi Q7, are you willing to pay more for ‘less’?