Review: 2016 Audi Q7 SUV

May 12, 2015 06:55 AM EDT | Jens Meiners

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I think it still looks remarkably fresh, but as a matter of fact, the current Audi Q7 sport-utility vehicle—internally called Project 716—was conceived 13 years ago, and first shown at the Detroit auto show in January 2003. Exterior designer Satoshi Wada, a true visionary who long ago left Audi, was responsible for the clean and timeless lines of the original.

In fact, the new Q7 for 2016 doesn't look bad—especially with the two-tone look of the European entry-level trim, and with 20- or 21-inch wheels. You want to avoid the combination of a monochromous paint scheme and small wheels.

But apart from looks, what is the new Q7 like? We were among the first to drive the 2016 Q7 on Switzerland's beautiful highways.

What is it?

Quite possibly the most advanced 7-seater SUV on the market. The first iteration of the Volkswagen Group's second-generation MLB modular-longitudinal architecture, it is 700 pounds lighter than its predecessor, it packs an armada of assistance systems, and it can draw from the platform's incredibly huge parts bin. Whether customers go for four-bangers, W12 twin-turbos, plug-in hybrids, or fuel cell electrics: Audi will be able to deliver in a cost-effective and rapid style of perfection.

In fact, we expect to see several of these options down the road. Two plug-in hybrids - one based on a turbocharged four and another based on a 3.0-liter V-6 TDI, have been confirmed. Audi r&d chief Ulrich Hackenberg strongly hinted at a V8 TDI, turbocharged V-8 gasoline engines, and the application of electric superchargers—possibly with the V-8 TDI. He even said that a W-12 is possible "if markets demand." Start demanding, people!

I am not sure the new Q7, which will hit dealerships this fall, will look so fresh in a decade. "We wanted to take out some of the predecessor's size," an executive tells me. But looking at the new Q7, it becomes clear that this one is less the work of genius than of various committees. Conceived when Stefan Sielaff was calling the shots at Audi design, it was overhauled and delayed under chief designer Wolfgang Egger. When Egger was replaced by Marc Lichte, it was too late to execute massive changes. A few details, like the front bumper and the fenders, were improved; the roofline became more sloping.

How does it drive?

For now, two V-6 engines with 3.0 liters of displacement will have to do: a 272-horsepower turbodiesel engine, and a 333-horsepower supercharged gasoline engine. The TDI is strong, brawny, and reassuring, with the characteristic purr of a modern-day diesel. The supercharged gasoline engine, by contrast, sounds slightly throaty - and it is incredibly responsive. This one is a racer in disguise. We must say the TDI fits a large SUV's character better, but the gasoline engine is very appealing to the sporting driver.

Both engines send their torque to all four wheels through a ZF-supplied 8-speed automatic transmission—the same benchmark unit fitted in several BMW and Jaguar Land Rover models. As fast as these powertrains are, they find a perfect match in the perfectly balanced air suspension of the Q7. In lesser modes, it is appropriately comfortable and supple, but "dynamic" mode is an invitation to flog it. We didn't drive the Q7 with the standard steel suspension.

What's it like inside?

Virtually perfect. Audi has outdone itself with rich materials, clean and horizontal lines, and a user interface that is useful and very intuitive to use. You can get the Q7 with a TFT instrumentation that mirrors that of the new TT and R8; it matches the futuristic center console. And the seats are comfortable and spacious; even third-row seating is good once you have crawled in and unfolded yourself. This interior is a segment benchmark.

Overall

Audi finds a way to outdo itself—again. This, to us, is the best large SUV on the market. 

Highs:

Chasing sports sedans—or the previous generation's V-8 models—with the supercharged V-6; the color and trim selection inside.

Lows:

The oversized nose, and the lack of a decisive step forward in exterior design. And, of course, the "TFSI" designation for a supercharged engine. Those are matters of taste.

The ideal setup:

Definitely a Q7 with the gasoline engine, with a paint scheme that masks the sheer height of the flanks, and with 20-inch wheels. Skip the Bang & Olufsen stereo.

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