It’s a match made in heaven: a premium brand famous for four-wheel drive vehicles and a vehicle sector where being premium and four-wheel drive is a huge advantage.
Using the A6 Allroad as a stop-gap, Audi will admit that it has been bashfully slow in getting such an obviously ideal relationship going. It’s a staggering eight years later with an SUV than Mercedes-Benz, while also being behind BMW, Lexus, Land Rover (obviously), Volkswagen, Volvo, Jeep and even Porsche.
At least it is here now in the shape of the Q7 and Audi seems to be trying to atone for its tardiness by being bigger and better than everybody else. It has taken the basic skeleton of the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, but bolted on its own quattro system, suspension, body and interior.
As a result, the Q7 is monstrous. At more than five metres long, nearly two metres wide and 1.7 metres high, it dwarfs most European SUVs. But it is not just in cold, hard statistics – it’s in the attitude, too.
Once upon a time Audi was a byword for discretion, a brand for drivers who wanted quality that was inconspicuous. The Q7 is the polar opposite to that subtle approach – aggressive, in-your-face, unapologetic. This is a not an SUV for somebody grappling with the guilt of driving such a vehicle. You will get noticed.
That’s mainly thanks to the vast selection of slatted grilles across the front and the sharp menacing headlights. Things are little less confrontational further back the car, with the gently curving roofline and softer rear, but the overall feeling is of strength and power, which is no bad place for an SUV to start.
Inside, everything is supersized Audi. The dash would be familiar to anybody used to the A6, which means excellent quality materials, the wonderfully clear MMI system and those droopy-eyed dial cowlings, all spread across a much wider canvas.
Basic spec is excellent and illustrates just how keen Audi is to take the fight to the competition. Adaptive air suspension, seven seats, cruise control, parking sensors, two-zone climate control and multi-function steering wheel are some of the highlights. The air suspension allows the same range of modes as other Audis, but adds off-road, which raises the body by 25mm.
On the road prices start at £37,285 for the 3.0 TDI, with the SE £2,500 more and the S line – already the most popular of the pre-ordered cars – a further £3,400.
The 4.2-litre costs from £47,680 for the SE. Audi claims these prices undercut the opposition, and alongside the good spec levels, it is true it seems a very competitive proposition. Having three rows of seats as standard is a good thing – it keeps residuals high because if there are lots of five-seat versions on the used market, prices of seven-seaters get pulled down to their level.
Audi expects to sell 5,000 Q7s in a full year – a modest number given it is half of total BMW X5 sales – with the vast majority being diesel.
As a result Audi UK, which has a pretty keen eye on the wholelife cost proposition, is the only national subsidiary to offer seven (or six, if you would prefer two larger captain’s chairs in the second row) seats as standard to ensure ultra-competitive leasing costs.
That’s reflected in strong residual values of up to 50% after three years/60,000 miles for the diesels, according to CAP, which puts it up there, or indeed slightly higher in RV performance terms than the likes of BMW and Porsche, which is quite a feat.
However, getting good residuals for the Q7 might well be easier than getting into the third row of seats. I may be no Bambi in build or agility but I’m not Shrek either, and getting into the back, through the tiny aperture created by moving the second row forward was very awkward indeed.
Once in, there is barely any legroom either, which means these seats are strictly for the kids. Or one of the seven dwarfs, to continue the cartoon theme.
Behind the wheel
Audi headed for Arizona to launch the Q7, which suggests some extreme testing of the car in the heat and rough terrain of the desert. In fact it couldn’t be further from the truth, with zealous cops policing 25-45mph speed limits much of the time, and a gentle gravel track the limit of the off-road section.
However, despite the anodyne test route, I managed to discover the following: the ride of the Q7 is extremely firm, although the air suspension set to ‘comfort’ helps a little.
In fact, such is its stiffness, you do wonder just how it will manage off-road, should one ever find itself in such a situation. It will be a task for it once it hits these shores. Cars like this might not do lots of off-road driving, but the ability to get to a shoot or tug a horsebox out of a field has yet to be proven.
On the road though, the Q7 handles fabulously well. In fact, for its size it is mind-bending. Turn hard and late into a corner and it just tucks its nose in and bolts for the exit. Random swerves don’t unsettle the suspension and send it into a pitch or roll. Stamp on the brakes mid-bend and it just squats and continues its course.
The steering is also decently weighty and feelsome, bearing in mind the amount of assistance it needs, while the brakes are a little grabby, but are very strong. As an overall package the Q7 handles at least as well as an A8, and that’s some feat. If you have to do an emergency manoeuvre in an SUV, hope you’re in one of these.
As for the engines, there’s really only one choice. Although the 4.2-litre V8 petrol is adequate and smooth, the 3.0-litre diesel is fantastic. Its torque pulls this big car along at a good lick (feeling even faster than the petrol) and is quiet and more economical. At nearly £8,000 less than the V8, the diesel is the one to have.
It always seemed that Audi and an SUV would be one matchmaker Cilla Black would be proud of – and so it’s proved. While its aggressive looks may not please everyone, its specification, size, performance and sheer quality mean the sector has a major new heavyweight contender.
|Model:||3.0 TDI||4.2 FSI|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||230/4,000||343/6,800|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||369/1,750||325/3,500|
|Max speed (mph):||134||154|
|0-62 mph (secs):||9.1||7.4|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||26.9||20.8|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||282||326|