Greetings from Switzerland, where Driven is attending the international media launch for the second-generation Audi Q7. We bring important news: the flagship Audi Q-model has been on a diet and been to finishing school.
The first-generation version, launched way back in 2005, certainly made an impression. It was the marque’s first SUV and sold more than half a million worldwide. So the original Q7 was a big deal for Audi, but it was also just plain big. The polarising styling only served to emphasis the extreme dimensions.
It’s a kinder, gentler world in 2015 — even for monster SUVs. The new Q7 has shed up to 325kg in weight and is now the lightest model in its class. That’s genuine weight loss rather than simply shrinkage: the new model is only 37mm shorter than the previous generation and is still over 5m long.
But it looks a lot more compact, don’t you think? Cleaner lines conspire to visually downsize the new Q7. The more traditional look and some clever packaging also liberate more interior space than the previous model.
The new Q7 is a far more sophisticated companion than before; positively high-tech, in fact. Audi claims that this new model has the widest range of driver-assistance systems available in any production car.
It has adaptive cruise control that will keep you the correct distance from the car in front, but also assist you with steering when you’re stuck in a traffic jam (at up to 65km/h). There’s lane assistance and a camera-based system that provides autonomous braking at urban speeds; it can recognise other vehicles and also pedestrians. The same hardware provides a turn-assist function: try to cross an intersection in front of oncoming traffic and the autonomous braking kicks in again.
There’s a cross-traffic alert system that will not only warn you if you’re about to back into approaching traffic — it will also stop the car if you fail to act. Each of the four doors has a sliver of red LED lighting that will flash if you attempt to open them when traffic is approaching.
All impressive stuff and demonstrated at length over a closed course, close to our launch base in Verbier.
Premium carmakers do have a knack of keeping the latest equipment on the options list; Audi is as good as any at putting dollar signs next to the truly desirable stuff. However, all of the above will be included as standard on the Q7 TDI when it’s launched in September, at an estimated price of $132,500. That represents a $10,000 premium over the outgoing TDI S-line, but still looks attractive in terms of the value added and a decade of design and engineering progress.
Rest assured, you will still be able to exercise your right to option. The Q7 can also be fitted with night vision, a thumping audio system that can simulate 3D sound with any music file, a 360-degree camera system and a full suite of self-parking features. Thus equipped, the Q7 can park itself forwards or backwards into a side-by-side space, parallel park and also assist you to exit. Notably, you don’t have to manually search for spaces — at urban speeds the system is always scanning and stores the best spots so it’s ready for your parking command.
One world-first driver-assistance feature won’t be available in New Zealand. Hitch a trailer or boat on the back and the Q7 can automatically steer it in reverse at the trajectory you choose on the in-car reversing camera screen. You can change angles on the fly using the Multi Media Interface (MMI) control dial, or simply click it to go straight.
Something incredibly difficult has suddenly become very easy in a Q7. But sadly, the trailer assist system is not for us: the Q7-specific towbar doesn’t meet New Zealand and Australian legislation around safety chain brackets. Our loss.
The Q7 will be launched with just one engine: a thoroughly redeveloped 3-litre V6 turbo diesel that makes 200kW/600Nm — a healthy 20kW/50Nm more than the outgoing model. The new engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and dramatically reduced kerb weight result in fuel economy improved by 28 per cent to 6.2 litres per 100km, yet with a 0-100km/h time slashed by 1.6 seconds to 6.3sec. In fact, the new V6 TDI is 0.1sec quicker to the open-road speed limit than the outgoing V8 TDI.
Towards the end of the year we’ll also see a lower-powered 160kW version of the V6 TDI.
The Q7 chassis is still engineered more towards elegant progress than outright sportiness. But it is capable of fluid cornering, thanks in part to a four-wheel steering system — a first for an all-wheel-drive SUV. In traditional fashion, the rear wheels steer in the opposite way to the front at low speed for greater manoeuvrability, then switch to the same way at higher speed for smoother cornering or lane-changing.
In normal driving the quattro system runs at a 40/60-per cent bias to the rear. In low-traction conditions up to 70 per cent of power can go to the front and up to 85 per cent to the rear — higher values than the outgoing model.
Audi is known for its high-quality interiors but the Q7 could well be the marque’s most stylish offering as well. The dashboard forms an arc around the driver and front-seat passenger and the switchgear embraces the current trend for cabin minimalism. The Q7 has a new-generation version of MMI, with a massive touchpad and the option of the Audi Virtual Cockpit — a fully digital dashboard already seen on the TT.
The MMI system is also now fully compatible with Android Auto and Apple Carplay.
The Q7 raises the game on rear-seat entertainment, with the option of Audi Tablets for the second row. These are bespoke units that run on an Android platform but are also linked to certain in-car systems. For example, a rear-seat occupant is able to look at the sat-nav map, select a destination and send it through to the driver at the front.
The cabin configuration is a good deal more practical than the previous model. The second row is now split 40/20/40 and the outside positions can be tumble-folded away to clear the way for access to the third row.
The new-generation Q7 certainly represents a change in direction for Audi’s flagship SUV. It’s understated from the outside, yet Audi seems to determined to outdo Volvo on the safety and comfort stakes.
There’s something else that looks set to bring Q7 together with the Volvo XC90 for an SUV battle royal: like the Swedish car, the Q7 will be available as a plug-in hybrid. Due in early 2016, the diesel-electric Q7 e-tron boasts a total system output of 275kW/700Nm, returns 1.7 litres per 100km and can drive emissions-free for up to 56km on a full charge.