If you’re in the market for a new car, and are looking to treat yourself, someone is likely to ask the obvious question: How badly do you really need a luxury car? A basic car will always get you from point A to B, and sticker shock aside, when you compare insurance and maintenance costs of high-end to entry/mid-market brands, owning something in the luxury segment can begin to feel pretty daunting pretty quickly. Naturally, there are some serious perks to owning a luxury vehicle, but with high-volume automakersupping their game of late, the lines are really beginning to blur.
Heated, proximity-based, power-folding puddle mirrors, adaptive dynamic headlamps, and heated/ventilated, diamond-stitched Oxford leather seats are now commonplace on cars like the Kia Optima, and holy crap is that already a good car. So why would anyone still buy a luxury model if it can be had for far less, but with a different badge? The answer lies in the 2017 Audi Q7 3.0T.
Because the Q7 is without a doubt one of the most balanced three-row SUVs money can buy. Where its platform-mate the Volkswagen Touareg felt dated and left something to be desired, the redesigned Q7 is rugged, luxurious, and one hell of a capable people mover.
Supercharged, sporty, and sexy, the Q7 starts right about where a loaded Touareg leaves off ($54,800), but fully-optioned, almost hits 70 grand. That shouldn’t be an issue considering what buyers in this segment are used to spending, but for customers that are new to the segment and still grappling with that logical “is it worth it?” question, the Audi quickly removes any doubt. It is.
The new-for-2016 Q7 starts off on a somewhat low-key note. Because while it’s an overachiever in almost all other departments, its styling does leave something to the imagination. A number of nice details abound, like crisp belt lines, integrated aluminum roof rails, LED lamps, and larger alloy wheels, but neither the Graphite Gray Metallic paint scheme, nor any of the other nine available colors help them pop. It has a presence, but it isn’t exactly head-turning, which depending on your preferences can be a good or bad thing.
Exterior pros and cons
+ With razor sharp creases at every corner, there are some outstanding design details that win in a big way, like the upgraded 20-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, stainless trunk sill, and full LED headlamps.
+ The gaping front grille, lower air ducts, fog light sconces, and sleek lower chin spoiler give it a muscular look, and the rear lower roll pan and integrated trapezoidal exhaust tips do the same out back.
+ Plenty of great details like color-matched lower trim pieces, streamlined aluminum roof rails, power-folding illuminated mirrors, and lower bumper lenses that wrap around the sides to double as marker lamps.
– From the front things look great, but the upper portions of the rear hatch are a bit bland, with the LED tail lamps serving as the only area of respite. Again, most people won’t mind, but some may still prefer the older generation’s look.
Supercharged and ready to destroy the notion that fuel economy has to suffer in something this big, the Q7’s powertrain remains a huge selling point, and with 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, that 21 mile per gallon average suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. Nimble and precise, Audi’s outstanding Quattro all-wheel drive system and eight-speed Tiptronic transmission seal the deal with smooth sailing confidence and gratuitous amounts of grip.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ This powerband is evenly distributed, and while there are more powerful SUVs out there, the average buyer will be plenty pleased with the way the Q7’s 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet is put to use.
+ Hill descent control, the legendary Quattro all-wheel drive traction, 7,700 pounds of towing capacity, and a quiet ride operation make the Q7 a delight to drive.
+ Multiple handling modes and custom drive settings mean the drivetrain is ready for anything, from pouring power into a particular corner for increased grip, or laying low to ensure a cushy, fuel-efficient ride.
– If you’re overzealous with the accelerator pedal, the gas gauge will sink faster than the Titanic, which gets expensive since the Q7 runs exclusively on premium fuel.
Hands down, the Q7’s interior is world-class, and almost worth the cost of admission alone. It’s equal parts business-like, elegant, and luxurious. It even has family-friendly touches to keep the little ones happy, and offers easy entry and exit for them as well. With vents spanning the entire expanse of the dash, lavish LED mood lighting, and well placed contrasting accents in every corner, there isn’t much to complain about, as everything to do with fit, finish, and material quality is second to none.
Interior pros and cons
+ Highlights include things like a power-assisted, folding second row, expansive second row climate controls, ventilated front seats and heated first and second rows, and the ability to retract the center display screen at any time.
+ Everything from the sleek shifter and all of the well executed control layouts, to the panoramic sunroof that lets you cruise with the shade still drawn make for a great presentation.
+ Winning touches include the understated, electronically adjustable heated steering wheel, the toggle-like climate control switches and buttons that “click” when you engage them, and all of the stow spaces and nicely sized rear cargo hold.
– Every cup holder is either too small or sharply angled, negating the ability to place most travel mugs or water bottles anywhere in the car.
– The third row is designed for children only, and even with the second row pushed all the way forward, it’s a confined ride.
Tech and safety
The buy-in for the Q7 is steep, but it doesn’t leave you wanting for anything. From the outstanding surround view and crystal-clear backup camera, to the customizable virtual cockpit and Google Maps-powered MMI navigation system, there’s very little to complain about in the tech department. Safety-wise, Audi’s Auto-Sense collision warnings are visible but not annoying, every autonomous safety system the company offers makes driving a lot safer, and all those airbags coupled with high-strength steel and aluminum body parts add another level of confidence.
Tech pros and cons
+ 4G LTEW Wi-Fi, Audi’s outstanding virtual cockpit, digital gauge clusters that can run Google Maps in real time, and a surround view/backup camera system work together to form one of the best tech suites on the planet.
+ The 19-speaker Bose 3D audio system features a 15-channel amp and 558 watts of juice, making the top-trim, 23-speaker, 1,920 watt Bang & Olufsen setup seem like expensive overkill.
+ Virtually every preventative tech safety feature available can be had in the Q7, making for one secure driving experience.
– Lane Keep Assist can be a little too edgy at times when nudging you back on track.
– The MMI all-in-touch touchpad takes some getting used to, and can be frustrating to use if bumped or brushed by accident, especially when trying to navigate Audi’s multi-layered menu screens.
Stately and suave, driving the Q7 is equal parts plush pleasure and engaging go-fast fun. Featuring comfort, auto, dynamic, off-road, and individual drive settings, you get the feeling that Audi worked hard to bring its famous handling to its big SUV, and while mud-slinging didn’t occur the week I had the car, it left no doubt that it could hold its own off-road.
While the massive brakes bring the 2.5-ton SUV to a halt in splendid fashion, the extra wide 20×9-inch wheels and sticky Goodyear Eagle Sport tires kept corners in check, helped by the aluminum fully-independent suspension. Acceleration feels instantaneous thanks to a roots-style blower, and while it isn’t as extreme a take on the supercharged SUV as, say, the Range Rover Sport SVR, not once did I want for more power or performance.
But this car also isn’t designed to be a three-row R8; it’s a fully-loaded family SUV, so a heavy emphasis has been placed on practical driving dynamics, visibility, active tech safety, and comfort. This is the kind of car you want for prolonged road trips, because when those comfy heated leather seats make you feel drowsy at 2 in the morning, you’re going to want all those crash safety warnings and lane keep assists.
Wrap up and review
So if you’re still wondering if $70,000 is a fair asking price for something like this, especially since it is almost six grand more expensive than the model it replaces, here’s my verdict: I think it is, especially since it’s lighter, stronger, safer, and sharper than older versions. Plus, it’s just flat-out enjoyable to drive.
Outfitted with the optional alloy wheels, and an assortment of safety and luxury packages, the Q7 exudes class, and does everything well, even offering a fair deal of performance. So what if the lane keep assist can be a bit pushy, or that the final asking price is high? That’s what off buttons are for, and besides, many Audi buyers aren’t phased by a $70,000 price tag.
But again, the lines between luxury and mass market continue to blur. The Signature version of the all-new Mazda CX-9 can largely hold its own against Q7 in terms of styling and price, but you aren’t going to find the Audi’s fantastic tech, interior amenities, or power anywhere else. The Q7 hits you right in the feels straight out of the gate, and the only way for us to describe it is as an understated sensation.