Audi's Q7 was a huge commercial success with 400,000 built over the long nine years. But it's significant for other reasons, too; its first generation gave rise to what has become one of the most profitable and fastest growing segments of the brand. Also, the Q7 was the first Audi to bear the Q name, paying tribute to the legendary Quattro. Being the first to install AWD on everything from a city car to a supercar, Audi should have been one of the early adopters of the SUV trend, but apart from dipping a toe in the water with the Allroad crossover, the company arrived at the 4x4 party relatively late. Now, nearly a decade later, Audi's first all-rounder will be remembered as the successful launch of the whole SUV lineup, spanning three models, with the prospect of growing to six. Together with the rumored Q7-based Q8, they'll remain at the top of the model food chain.
The new Q7 represents many of the design and engineering solutions soon to be seen on smaller siblings. Boasting safety systems more suitable for a fighter jet than a family car, even more effective powertrains featuring the e-tron hybrid, and new design language, the new Q7 is a big advancement compared to the previous model. The revolution starts at the very core of the construction: The new car is based on the MLB Evo platform, which will be used by the future Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, as well as the SuperSUVs, Bentley Bentayga, and Lamborghini Urus (all of which will share the assembly line in the faraway Slovakia). The body, on the other hand, is 41 percent aluminum, Audi's favorite metal for the last two decades. It's shed roughly 700 pounds compared to the identically equipped version of the previous Q7. You wouldn't like to have people from Audi compose your diet—they take the art of watching weight to new heights. They have managed to take 53 pounds off the doors alone, shedding an additional 42 pounds in the construction of the seats and the same from the exhaust system. But it was only the beginning for Audi's weight loss wizards: They have taken a further 19 pounds off the brakes, and even 9 pounds from the wiring. Painstakingly putting all of these little savings together, some of the versions of this XL-size SUV now fit below the weight threshold of two tons. Add this to a surprisingly sleek body (it boasts drag coefficient of 0.32) and a powertrain system that proves that "Truth in Engineering" is more than a slogan, and you'll get huge progress in efficiency, performance, handling, comfort... basically, everything. Twelve percent of the chassis is made of hot-formed high-strength steel, which, together with the new joining techniques and innovative structural reinforcements, brings a new standard of crash safety as well.
Following the face-lift of the Q3, the Q7 is the first Audi SUV shaped by a new design language. Its distinctive style will become mandatory for all models starting with the Q letter to help them differ more from A's or R's. The original Q7 had as much grace as an overweight sperm whale and was nearly as big; its successor is a tad more compact (1.5 inches shorter and 0.6 inches narrower) and looks much smaller. Compared to the pickups and SUVs two sizes larger than anything coming from Europe, the biggest Audi looks modest on the road, more like a wagon than a 4x4. Germans are advocates of the "quality, not quantity" approach. The Q7's body is a piece of lovingly honed design, with refreshingly sharp, crystalline shapes, while the cubic silhouette still gets the street cred drivers expect. Audi has become a master of high-quality details: The front shouts high tech with a huge single frame grille pretending to be molded from a single block of aluminum (it can't be, for pedestrian safety reasons), while the rear seems to be even more imposing, an illusion created by no less than 10 horizontal lines joining the sides.
Despite the humbler dimensions, the new Q7 is considerably roomier inside. There's more space in each direction, which is best felt in the optional third row. In most other cars, vans included, it's terra incognita, with two mini-chairs just to lure buyers with the prospect of fitting six friends. No, you still can't really carry your grandparents in the "way-back" due to the tricky access, or anyone particularly tall, but there's space for smallish agile adults. Behind the full-size seatbacks, there's room for beer and a barbecue to cater for all seven people, and the second-row bench will accommodate three adults in comfort.
Judging the Q7's interior on space alone would be missing the point, as the premium feel is all about quality. The luxury SUV segment has exploded; the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne are notoriously close to perfection, as is the new Volvo XC90. It'd be considered success, then, to at least keep up with them, but the Q7 has a few aces up its sleeve. One of them is Audi's Virtual Cockpit—a TFT display the size of two iPhone 6S screens, a neat dashboard replacement available in the new TT and R8 as well. This is one of the features heralding the new wave of Audi Interiors, along with the extra-size touchpad taking over responsibilities from the downgraded MMI controller.
A group of four Q7s causes quite a sensation on Canadian roads, but the design is only partly responsible for that. The '17 edition of the Audi family hauler won't officially cross the Atlantic before 2016, so these Euro-spec cars had been brought to this part of the world for the first time specifically for this drive. We plan a 1,200-mile trip starting in Calgary, crossing the Rocky Mountains, and finishing in Vancouver. As soon as civilization ends, the great hills start to appear, as do serene lakes and never-ending forests. Trees of all ages consume the better part of Canada, being not only a great source of wood (from which basically everything is made), but also a home to countless animal species. Wild animals becoming a part of local traffic is not an uncommon sight, which is a great thing, provided it's a wapiti (that's a Canuck elk), not a bear. There are more bears here than you could (or want to) imagine. All of the garbage cans in the forests, and even on the outskirts of the cities, are tough bear-proof contraptions.
Although it's the middle of summer, the temperature quickly falls to nearly zero and the hills are gradually covered in snow. Finally, the Q7s reach Athabasca Glacier: one of the most popular and mostly visited glaciers in the world. Despite the harsh climate surrounding it, you'd better hurry up if you want to see it. It currently recedes at the rate of about 16 feet per year, which means that it will disappear completely in about a century.
For the most part of the trip, we followed the Trans-Canada Highway (aka, Route Transcanadienne), the Canadian equivalent of Route 66, but twice as long. There are few better places in the world to test the touring abilities of the new Q7. The engineers have done their homework, following the success of A6, A7, and A8 setups. This means that the big Audi is more like the silky Range Rover Sport or Mercedes GLE rather than the focused BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. The Q7 tries to cover both of ends of the spectrum, but overall it's just an extremely competent all-rounder. It isolates from the outer world and yet is still relatively nimble for the 2 tons it carries high above the ground.
Audi drive select system helps a lot: For the first time ever, it features no less than seven driving modes. Your choices range from Offroad mode, sending the optional air suspension 35 mm up; the nearly as extreme Allroad; Universal Efficiency; Comfort; and Auto modes; all the way to the Dynamic and Individual options, where the driver can set all of the ride-related components independently.
The car feels most suited for the Comfort mode, when the driver can fully enjoy the calmness and fluidity of the ride. The automatic Tiptronic transmission may lack the urgency of the double-clutch S tronic, but its silky-smooth gear changes suit the car even more. The engines make good use of the eight gears. The low ones allow the Q-car (pun intended) acceleration levels, spirited enough to trouble a randomly encountered hot-hatch, while the long ratios on the other end help to cut the engine noise coming to the cabin. The dash of the 272hp 3.0 TDI Q7 proudly boasts a full 680-mile range, but the fuel consumption results of the 333hp 3.0 TFSI aren't shocking, either. The American engine lineup will be completed with the same oil-burner set for a modest 218 hp, a 2.0L TFSI turbocharged four with 252 ponies and an e-tron hybrid, which combines an electric motor with the same 3.0L TDI for 373 hp in total. The future S Q7 is said to be propelled by a new diesel V-8, aided with two electric turbochargers to reach as much as 450 hp.
I prefer the way the diesel engine develops its numbers. While the TFSI, contrary to its name, is armed with a supercharger, the turbocharged TDI attacks with a huge wave of torque from rest and keeps it throughout the whole rev counter. The engine and Quattro system form the ultimate dynamic duo. Under normal circumstances, 60 percent of the power is sent to the rear wheels, but the clutch can move up to 70 percent to the front or 85 percent rearward.
A feature that will interest more, and become far handier, is the rear-wheel steering. Once mocked as a Japanese gimmick in the quirky '80s, it enjoys its rebirth among the German performance aristocracy. The Audi system follows the standard trick of turning the rear wheels opposite the front ones at low speeds to benefit maneuverability, and moving all four in the same direction at higher speeds for stability. While the second promise might have been hard to validate during our ride, the system really did wonders for nimbleness. The Q7 has the smallest turning radius of any Audi Q cars (yes, Q3 included), enjoying a comfortable advantage over any rival in its segment.
But who cares? Parking on your own is so last year. Audi is just a small step from fully autonomous driving. Even if active cruise control is nothing special anymore, Audi took the next step to develop it into a complex system that can follow other cars in the front in a traffic jam, not only maintaining a safe distance, but keeping in their tracks, which means the Q7 will corner or even pass obstacles without the need for driver assistance. Provided you tick the right boxes on the options list, your Q7 will park on its own, reverse with a trailer, won't let you leave your parking spot if another car is approaching that you can't see, or even warn you of traffic when opening your door.
The new Q7 isn't revolutionary. It does all the same things as before, only better. It's neither the most dynamic, nor the most luxurious car in its segment, but surely one of the most competently honed all-rounders money can buy, a perfect tool for tackling long journey miles and a daily commute. Audi made us wait a whole decade for the new generation of its pioneer model, but the outcome proves waiting was worth our while.