If there’s something clearly pathological about my attraction to vast, luxury SUVs despite having neither the family nor the lifestyle to demand them, I can probably take solace in the fact that a large chunk of America feels the same way. Audi‘s 2017 Q7 will do nothing to dissuade either them or I, redesigned from the ground up from its strong-selling predecessor and making a pitch as the most technologically advanced SUV this side of a considerably more expensive Tesla Model X.
Although it’s physically the same size as the old Q7, the tauter lines and crisper bodywork leave the new Q7 looking smaller and lither on the road.
Most importantly, it’s significantly lighter than the outgoing SUV, with a lower center of gravity: Audi says up to 700 pounds has been shed, though that depends on how much tech and options you load it up with.
Some of the gadgetry errs on the gimmicky side – I love the color-adjustable LED lighting running in pinstripes through the dashboard, but I’m not entirely sure it could ever be considered necessary – but the core technology package holds up to just about any other car on the road.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit driver display remains one of the best upgrades to traditional instrumentation out there, only recently overshadowed by Porsche’s more recent counterpart in the new Panamera.
There’s a pleasing mixture of physical buttons and controls along with the scroll wheel and touchpad combo to navigate its menus, but most of the features are also accessible via buttons and dials on the steering wheel. I’m all for design that prioritizes keeping your hands on the controls.
Unlike the latest TT and R8, Virtual Cockpit in the Q7 is accompanied by a second display atop the dashboard.
There’s a pleasing solidity to everything: Audi sweats the small stuff. The switchgear is either smooth little nuggets of brushed aluminum or dense, quality-feeling plastic. Touch the HVAC toggles and the relevant setting expands in the display strip above, previewing your options even before you adjust them.
Under the hood, there’s a 3.0-liter supercharged engine paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The Q7 is good for 333 HP and 325 lb-ft. of torque, and it doesn’t shy from delivering them: throttle response is surprisingly eager for a big SUV, while the tiptronic gearbox slips down a ratio or two with alacrity, a pleasingly aggressive exhaust note growling out from the rear.
Adaptive air suspension is an option, part of a $4k upgrade with four-wheel steering. It adds a choice of five ride heights to the usual settings of Dynamic, Comfort, Individual, Allroad, Off-Road, and Auto drive modes. It feels stable and confident, the steering erring on the light side, though I didn’t make it out into uncharted territory.
What I did, though, is push it more than you might its category-mates. Switch Drive Select into Sport and the Q7 hunkers down on its air suspension. No, it’s not a racing SUV – the “Sports” in the name is still more about how many surfboards you could fit in its 14.8 cubic feet trunk (71.6 cubic feet with the seats down), or little league players in its second and third rows – but it can hold its own in the twisting stuff in a way that many rivals struggle to match. Body roll is noticeably absent, and with the transmission in “S” it’ll hold its revs all the way up to the 6,000 rpm redline.
That’s probably not the best way to hit the highest economy numbers, mind. In general use – with, yes, a few more aggressive stretches of driving on roads to suit – I saw 20 mpg. Audi and the EPA claim 21 mpg combined, or 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Unfortunately, the hybrid version of the Q7 – which I tested in European form – is yet to reach the US. It donates its useful “lift off the gas” indicator to the 3.0T car, but the plug-in electrified SUV has other talents, like being able to look to road conditions on the mapped route ahead and tweak the cruise control and EV settings automatically.
In the end, were I in the market for a vast, luxury SUV, I’d be torn between the new Q7 and Volvo’s XC90. The Swede has a charm of its own, is handsome, and can already be had in hybrid form; not for nothing did it win North American Truck of the Year 2016.
Still, in reply the Audi offers its superlative build quality, smooth yet powerful drivetrain, comfortable accommodation, and lavish tech levels.
That’s a rich recipe indeed, though it comes at a premium on the forecourt: though this particular Q7 starts out at $54,800, factor in the $9.5k Prestige Package with its fancier 20-inch wheels, Bose surround sound, head-up display, navigation and Audi connect, and other niceties, plus the $4k for four-wheel steering and air suspension, $2.4k for the driver assistance tech including adaptive cruise control and lane-assist, the $500 for a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, and – with a few other add-ons – you’re looking at almost $73,000.
You needn’t stop there, either. There’s a Bang & Olufsen audio system on the options sheet, along with massage seats, night vision, power-closing doors, and more.
Do you need all that? No, not really, though it’ll take some serious restraint in the dealership to not walk out with a deep, burning hole in your pocket. Even more conservatively spec’d, the Q7 ticks all the essentials: the standard steel suspension is impressively compliant, as are the power leather seats you get as standard, the parking assistant, tri-zone HVAC, and various active and passive safety systems.
All in all, whether you’ve cash to burn or more modest means – relatively speaking, of course – the 2017 Q7 ticks all the right boxes. More engaging to drive than a big seven-seater has any right to be, with enough technology to put NASA to shame, it’s the luxury SUV to beat.