2017 Audi Q7 emphasizes performance over packaging

SEVEN SEATS AND READY TO ROLL: For 2017, Audi finally revamps the Q7, its luxury SUV, and seeks to challenge Volvo’s XC90 and BMW’s X5.
SEVEN SEATS AND READY TO ROLL: For 2017, Audi finally revamps the Q7, its luxury SUV, and seeks to challenge Volvo’s XC90 and BMW’s X5. –Audi

Redesigned after a seeming eternity in its first generation, the new Audi Q7 looks more wagon-like than its predecessor, whose body-heavy profile shared platforms with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne. (Audi and Porsche are both Volkswagen Group brands.) No longer a corporate sibling of the other two, the 2017 Q7 rides a unique platform and looks less imposing overall, a result of taller glass, lower headlights, and a squatter, six-sided grille.

Thanks to a lot more aluminum, which is lighter than steel, the Q7 is also anywhere from about 250 to nearly 500 pounds lighter than its ponderous predecessor, depending which trim you compare. But at 4,938 pounds, the new Q7 is still heavy. (An all-wheel-drive 2016 Acura MDX is some 700 pounds lighter.)

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The Q7 boasts decent straight-line performance, and it shines on serious curves, no doubt to the dismay of any kids in back. The SUV’s sole drivetrain as of launch is a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 that’s good for 333 horsepower, and after a moment of initial accelerator lag, it revs strongly and hard. Even with three adults aboard, our test car had sufficient reserves to pass slower highway traffic and conquer steep uphill grades. Audi estimates the Q7 hits 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds, a time that rivals many compact sport sedans.

The Q7’s eight-speed automatic transmission is a plus, shifting smoothly and quickly enough to go unnoticed. I’ll take it. In an age where gear-laden transmissions often obstruct performance, an eight-speed that keeps to itself is a good thing.

INTERIOR BLING: As usual, Audi knows how to fashion a high-end interior, this one with comfortable seats and quality audio. —Audi

Like in so many cars, a dashboard button selects among a few modes that vary driving characteristics. The sportiest mode, Dynamic, cuts a lot of power-steering assist and introduces much sharper accelerator progression, though the initial lag persists. Still, if you barrel around hairpin turns in Dynamic mode, the Q7 excels. The steering is direct and lively; the chassis charges through corners with little body roll, and the tires have carlike grip.

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Shoppers who want more ride comfort should consider the Q7’s optional adaptive air suspension, which eliminates some of the bounciness over rapid elevation changes and improves general isolation. It makes for a refined experience that complements the SUV’s overall quietness, but for outright comfort, the XC90’s optional—and exceptional—air suspension has Audi beat.

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The Q7’s layered dashboard is free of clutter, with a thin multimedia screen that motors out of the center. The only stylistic head-scratcher is a continuous band of air vents that span the passenger side—functional ones, at least. Build quality is up to Audi snuff, with consistent graining down to

level and sufficient padding in areas where your arms and elbows rest. It’s an area where a few other Audi models still cheap out.

Heated leather seats with power front adjusters are standard. Front-seat coolers and massagers are optional. The chairs have good adjustment range and a decent grade of leather, and you can swap it out for premium cowhide with an optional Luxury Package that also wraps lower portions of the doors and center console in leather.

The second row has good seating height and headroom, though a large center floor hump limits footwell space. Legroom ranges from acceptable to good, depending on where you position the sliding second row. With the seats all the way back, the third row is essentially a technicality; second-row passengers will need to give up a few inches for anyone to really sit back there. Third-row headroom is tight regardless, and accessing the seat requires a two-step tumbling process for the second-row chairs that’s neither intuitive nor low-effort. Competitors like the MDX and QX60 have better third-row access, and the Buick Enclave’s captain’s chairs leave a center aisle. The Q7’s standard third row is a packaging afterthought.

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The Q7’s 8.3-inch center screen augments a 7-inch display between the gauges, but technophiles will want Audi’s optional “virtual cockpit’’—a 12.3-inch display that replaces the gauges altogether. Historically, simulated gauges have aged poorly because screen resolutions have continually improved in competing vehicles, but Audi’s virtual cockpit is quite high-res for today’s standards, and its functionality justifies the layout. The display can shrink and simplify the gauges to prioritize other displays, from multimedia sources to the navigation map.

The Q7 has one thing in common with other three-row European luxury SUVs: It’s expensive. Including a destination fee, a Q7 Premium starts around $56,000. The Premium Plus, which Audi expects to be the most popular trim, starts around $60,000. That’s in the neighborhood of average transaction prices for the XC90 and X5, but it’s a $10,000-plus climb versus Audi’s Japanese and Detroit competition.

Prices only escalate from there. The Q7 Prestige runs just over $65,000, and if you throw in Bang & Olufsen audio, the extended-leather luxury package, the adaptive air suspension and more, the SUV can top out close to $90,000. Audi says it will eventually introduce a Q7 2.0T to round out the entry-level side, and it also plans to reprise its diesel V-6 once it resolves the current diesel crisis, which, as of this writing, is still a long way off.

Value is not a Q7 strength, at least for now. But luxury SUV shoppers don’t seem fazed by the European price premium. Shoppers have bought about as many BMW X5s as they have Acura MDX SUVs, and the redesigned and expensive XC90 is now Volvo’s sales leader. The Q7 isn’t the dramatic must-drive redesign that Audi may have hoped for, but it’s a worthy option for family shoppers who like to drive.

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