YOUNTVILLE, California — In the decade since the Audi Q7 was first launched, luxury crossovers have changed significantly. Buyers expect more style, technology, and performance than ever before, and the Q7 faces increasingly stiff competition from Germany, Japan, and even Sweden, whence the new Volvo XC90 has emerged as a tough contender in the packed segment. The task for the all-new 2017 Audi Q7 is a tough one then, as it must leapfrog its competition if it wants a shot at the lucrative market for three-row luxury crossovers.
Quite literally a clean-sheet approach, the 2017 Audi Q7 is based on the Volkswagen Group’s new MLBevo platform, a version of which is also employed by the Bentley Bentayga. The new Q7 is slightly shorter in length and height — and slightly narrower — than the model it replaces, but the most important change is its rigorous diet. Audi claims total weight loss compared to the old Q7 TDI and S Line is 474 pounds, with the new Q7 tipping the scales at an impressively light 4,938 pounds. (It’s worth noting, however, that the entry-level 2015 Q7 3.0T weighed only 5,192 pounds.) Weight has come off everywhere, in part thanks to the fact that 42 percent of the crossover is now made from aluminum. “If you’re a vehicle dynamics engineer, the lighter the car, the better,” says Audi head of vehicle dynamics Victor Underberg.
Wrapped around the light new chassis, you’ll find that the style of the 2017 Audi Q7’s bodywork takes a bigger step forward than we’ve seen in some other recent Audi designs (the 2017 Audi A4, for instance). This is a car that really must be seen in person, as light plays off the ultra-sharp body creases. Almost imperceptible humps above each wheel highlight the vehicle’s all-wheel-drive capability. And brushed-metal blades at the lower edges of each door are intended to visually lower the Q7, giving it an appearance that is more station wagon than crossover. “One of our major goals was to give it [the Q7] a more sophisticated, decisive look,” explains Audi designer Edwin Ollefers.
Smart, straightforward technology
The company has also gone for a very sophisticated look inside, where the 2017 Audi Q7 adopts sleek new screens and switches to manage everything from its climate controls to its many active-safety technologies. Although some rivals have wholeheartedly endorsed touchscreens, Audi still appreciates that physical controls work better for many functions. A row of buttons on the center stack operates the climate system, for instance, with knurled-metal temperature knobs and heated-seat buttons that click nicely when pushed.
The coolest feature yet is one already seen on the R8 and TT sports cars. Called Virtual Cockpit, this must-have option replaces the traditional instrument cluster with a 12.3-inch color screen that’s operated by a scroll wheel and two context switches. While there is a traditional mode with virtually replicated analog gauges, we prefer the view that minimizes those dials in favor of a giant satellite-imagery map of our route. You can also use the system to toggle through music tracks or presets, make phone calls, or call up information from the trip computer without taking your hands off the steering wheel.
Because the 2017 Audi Q7 is a more family-oriented vehicle than the R8 and TT, it also has a secondary infotainment screen mounted atop the dashboard and controlled by a touchpad on the center console — the idea being that your passenger might want to take control. It’s positioned ahead of the electric shifter so you can rest your wrist upon the shifter when using the touchpad, and allows for pinch-to-zoom capability on maps and “writing” letters when inputting navigation addresses.
The remainder of the Q7’s interior is a smart application of modern Audi style. An extremely low cowl allows for a great view forward. Finely grained plastics and metal trim pieces, along with supple leather seats, produce a genuine sense of luxury. We especially like the thin, 0.8-mm pipes of light that define the door panels and center console. There are 30 possible colors for the light pipes and 30 more for the ambient downlighting in the foot wells, giving owners a total of 900 different light-show possibilities.
The lone letdown is the third row of seats, which as in many three-row crossovers is not meant for adults. Kids will be fine, but we could sit in the third row only with the second row slid as far forward as possible, and even then the low seat had us in an uncomfortable knees-up squat with head brushing against the headliner. Most of the time, we’d recommend using the standard power-fold function to lower the third row and free up some cargo space. Notably, however, all five rear-seat positions in the Q7 have LATCH anchors for child seats.
The diet pays off
As soon as we hit the winding roads around the Napa Valley, it’s apparent the Q7’s diet has paid off. The 2017 Audi Q7 has the light, delicate feel of a much smaller Audi, a stark difference from the ponderous outgoing model. We start out driving a fully loaded Q7 with air suspension and rear-wheel steering, the latter of which can articulate the rear wheels 5 degrees to tighten your cornering arc. In Comfort mode, the Q7 glides over road imperfections. Swapping to Dynamic mode lowers the suspension slightly and firms up the car’s response, and this helps to keep body roll in check when we round sweeping bends without significantly affecting ride comfort. The air suspension can also be raised for all-road and off-road modes, and can “kneel” at the command of a trunk-mounted button for easier loading of cargo.
The powertrain strikes the same sort of just-right effect as the ride/handling balance. With a long-travel throttle and gentle tip-in, it’s easy to pull away smoothly with the 3.0-liter supercharged V-6. As we’ve learned from experiencing it in other Audi models, the TFSI engine is a powerhouse with a wide power band that pulls non-stop from idle to redline. In this application, it’s also nearly silent unless you’re really standing on the throttle. The V-6 pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission that is totally unremarkable, a huge compliment given how often we gripe about constantly shifting multispeed transmissions. The Q7’s standard all-wheel drive operates with a 40/60 front-rear split and can send as much as 85 percent of the power to the rear wheels if necessary.
Watch out, fun ahead
In addition to being extremely quiet and comfortable, the 2017 Audi Q7 is a surprising amount of fun. You won’t be scorching around every hairpin with the all-season tires squealing — although chassis engineer Underberg says the Q7 can lap the Nürburgring in less than 10 minutes — yet neither will you be miserable while tearing up and down winding routes like we found within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean. With well-weighted steering, a reassuringly firm brake pedal, and well-damped body motions, no road is a chore in the Audi.
Switching into a 2017 Audi Q7 with the standard coil-spring suspension isn’t a letdown compared to the air suspension model. It strikes a nice balance between the secure, controlled handling and plush ride of the air suspension’s Dynamic and Comfort modes. There’s a bit more head-toss over quick bumps and crests, and ultimately the vehicle is less buttoned-down over fast roads than the air-suspension Q7, but it’s still impeccably comfortable.
Overall, the 2017 Audi Q7 is easy to drive. We spent an entire day cutting through fog, around twisty back roads, and through meandering two-lanes without once tiring of driving the car. The Q7’s infotainment system is as intuitive as your iPhone, the cabin stays quiet no matter the road surface, and the supple seats and suspension keep your back comfortable.
Let the robots help out
To make the Q7 even easier to drive, there are various active-safety updates. The adaptive cruise control, for instance, now automatically reads speed-limit signs and adjusts your velocity if you reach a zone with a slower limit (fortunately, this feature can be disabled). The cruise will also automatically slow down proactively if you’re approaching a curve too fast, displaying a little warning icon in the head-up display.
The 2017 Audi Q7 features Traffic Jam Assist, which in certain circumstances can take over acceleration, braking, and steering for brief periods. It works only below 40 mph in heavy traffic, and uses cameras to follow lane markers and the car ahead of you. The car chimes loudly if you take your hands off the wheel for too long, so this truly is an assist rather than a self-driving function, but it still makes stop-and-go situations less tiring.
Thanks to higher-resolution radar sensors, the blind-spot warning system has evolved to add a feature called Vehicle Exit Assist. If you try to open the doors when a cyclist or car is bearing down on you, red light piping and the mirror-mounted blind-spot warning lights flash in warning. The system works any time the car is stationary while running, and for three minutes after the ignition is shut off.
An update to the rear cross-traffic alert feature now supplements visual and audible warnings by applying the brakes if you’re about to back out into the path of a vehicle. And a new function called Turn Assist automatically brakes if you’re attempt to turn left in the path of an oncoming car. These technologies are simply the logical extension of sensors already built into most modern cars, but they’re the type of safety features that will actually help real drivers avoid real-world hazards.
A bold step forward
From top to bottom, the 2017 Audi Q7 represents a rethink of how a three-row luxury crossover should work. With its fresh styling, huge weight loss, and updated interior, the all-new Q7 leaps forward in almost every way. Perhaps the only other recent crossover to show such a new way of thinking about the segment is the Volvo XC90, which on paper is a close match for the Q7. We’ll get the two together soon to see which has the upper hand in real-world driving.
For now, the 2017 Audi Q7 represents a bold step forward for luxury crossovers. Stylish, comfortable, and loaded to the brim with useful and usable technology, it’s the sort of crossover in which we’d happily take a long family road trip. As long as grandma doesn’t have to sit in the third row, that is.
2017 Audi Q7 Specifications
- On Sale: January 2016
- Price: $55,750-$65,250 (base)
- Engine: 3.0L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/333 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 325 lb-ft @ 2,900
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
- Fuel Mileage: 19/25 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
- L x W x H: 199.6 x 68.5 77.5 in
- Wheelbase: 117.9 in
- Weight: 4,938 lb
- 5.7 sec
- Top Speed: 130 mph