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2017 Audi Q7 Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Audi Q7 front quarter view
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Introduction

Audi has been pursuing--with much success--a forward-thinking, hard-charging, tech-heavy brand image. Given this pursuit, the original Q7 three-row SUV, introduced as a 2007 on a platform that was even then three years old, remained in production well past its sell-by date. The Q7's two-row platform mates, the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, were completely redesigned for 2011. That same year, the Q7 received a new supercharged V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission, but few if any other significant upgrades. It was then sent back to the front for four more years. Then someone in Ingolstadt finally thought to stick a fork in the original Q7 and note that it was done. With a replacement not quite ready for North American consumption, Audi opted not to offer a 2016 Q7. That replacement has now reached North American dealers as an early 2017 model. All-new (aside from the circa-2011 engine and transmission), does the new Q7 better fit Audi's image? How much difference can a decade make?

The Q7 doesn't really have direct German competitors. The Mercedes-Benz GL (to be renamed GLS for 2017) is a little larger and a lot more expensive. The BMW X5, though somewhat more expensive, is signifcantly less lengthy and functions poorly as a three-row crossover.

Then there's the Swedish XC90. Volvo took even longer to redesign its three-row crossover, offering the original from 2003 through 2014, then skipping 2015. But, once it finally shipped, the second-generation XC90 proved the answer to the $64,000 (or thereabouts) three-row crossover question. With the second-generation Audi Q7's arrival, has the new XC90's time in the sun already passed? Or is the new Q7 not worth its somewhat higher price? I spent a week with each to find out.

Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 front quarter view

In the past two decades Audi has designed some beautiful cars. This isn't one of them. more Q7 photos

Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 interior

High and wide console, low instrument panel, brimming with tech. Very Audi.

Tested: 2017 Audi Q7

4dr SUV supercharged 333hp 3.0L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2016 Volvo XC90

4dr SUV twincharged 316hp 2.0L I4 8-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Why the 2017 Audi Q7?

  Compared to the XC90
Feature availability
Feature availability: Better Better Worse

I have never driven a car more packed with, to use the technical term, stuff. Audi, wont to load its cars with the latest technology, has given the new Q7 pretty much everything, and then some.

Well, except for a diesel or hybrid powerplant. The diesel is delayed by VW's well-known emissions fiasco, while a plug-in hybrid could arrive in a year or two. Volvo offers the latter this year.

But I digress. I thought the Volvo XC90 was packed with features. The new Q7 can be optioned with nearly everything available on the XC90 plus a synthetic suede headliner, rear-wheel steering, massaging front seats, a power-folding third-row seat, 4G LTE connectivity, support for Android Auto and Apply Carplay, night vision, adaptive cruise control that anticipates curves from nav data, and even a few additional bits of safety tech. Oh, and one feature oddly absent from the Volvo: power tilt and telescope adjustments for the steering wheel.

Both vehicles offer head-up displays (HUDs), around-view camera systems (which make parking these large vehicles much less stressful and even fun), kilowatt-plus fancy brand audio systems with about 20 speakers, heated-and-cooled multi-adjustable front seats (with even more adjustments in the Audi), heated rear seats, and huge panoramic sunroofs. With both vehicles you can customize a surprisingly large number of things by digging through the menus. The typical owner will likely never bother. But they'll sense the possibility is there courtesy of engineers who tried to think of and include everything.


Safety & braking
Safety & braking: About the same Better Worse

The new Volvo XC90 aced all of its crash tests and includes a slew of safety features. The new Audi Q7 aced the same tests and includes even more safety tech. "Collision avoidance assist" suggests the best path to avoid a potential accident through the steering wheel. "Turn assist" automatically brakes the Q7 if the driver attempts to make a left turn at low speed in front of an oncoming car. "Vehicle exit assist" warns of cars and bicycles approaching from behind when a door is opened.


Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 rear quarter view

The new Q7 looks best from the rear quarter.

Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 instrument panel

MMI controls with a larger touchpad now ahead of the shifter. They work well post-learning curve.

Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Better Better Worse

I enjoyed the look and even the operation of Volvo's latest touchscreen-based interface. The Audi's infotainment screen isn't as fancy--just a seven-inch, less vivid display (Audi loves to limit graphics to its signature white, black, and red) that motors out of the top of the instrument panel. But the Q7's knob-button-and-touchpad-based "MMI" interface is easier than the XC90's touchscreen to operate while driving, at least once you've gotten the hang of it (there's a learning curve). This said, I'm not crazy about the new location of the MMI controls ahead of the shifter rather than beside or behind it. In the previous location they were not as easy to see--of greater importance with the new larger, more multifunctional touchpad--but could be operated by feel from the comfort of the armrest.

Then again, you don't much need that dashtop display or the console-mounted controls. Many operations can now be performed using the 12-inch instrument cluster display and buttons on the steering wheel. The display has two modes, one with a normal-sized speedometer and tach and a second with these reduced in size to allocate the great majority of the available real estate to infotainment. When navigation is selected, a Google Earth-based image of your location fills the display. I first experienced this innovative "virtual cockpit" in the new Audi TT, and liked it just as much in the new Q7.

One control I didn't care for: Park is directly engaged by pressing a button on the back of the shifter, an odd, somewhat difficult to access location. But you never really have to use it. The transmission automatically shifts to park when the engine is turned off or the driver's door is opened.


Handling
Handling: Much better Better Worse

The new Audi Q7 is about 500 pounds lighter than the original one, partly because it is now based on Audi's latest large car architecture (shared with everything from the much smaller new Audi A4 to the massive Bentley Bentayga) rather than a platform overengineered for off-roading that will rarely if ever happen. This still leaves about 5,000 pounds for the suspension to manage, and even in standard form, without fancy air springs or adaptive dampers (both part of a $4,000 option pakcage), it manages these pounds very well. To be clear, the Q7 never stops feeling large and heavy, and it lapses into safe understeer pretty early. But it's far more capable and composed in curves than a vehicle with its dimensions and heft has any right to be. The steering isn't exactly chatty, but its weighting and precision render it more confidence-inspiring than the Volvo's system. Up to a point (that point being the limits of the outside front tire's grip) the Q7 feels better the harder you press it. The Volvo, though almost as competent through curves, is less fun to hustle.


Towing
Towing: Much better Better Worse

The new Volvo XC90, like most other current largish crossovers with sideways powertrains, is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds. The new Audi Q7, with a longitudinal powertrain (which permits larger transmission parts), is rated for up to 7,700 pounds, far more than the Volvo and other crossovers with transverse powertrains.


Why Not the 2017 Audi Q7?

  Compared to the XC90
Price or payments
Price or payments: Much worse Better Worse

Audi greatly improved the Q7 in all ways save exterior styling for 2017, but kept the price much the same. The attractiveness of this price depends on what you're comparing it to.

The as-tested prices of the 2017 Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 weren't far apart, $68,925 and $67,955, respectively. But the Volvo was equipped with every available option, while the Audi was not. Equip both like the tested Volvo, and the Audi lists for over $17,000 more, about $1,900 of which can be attributed to additional content. A big difference. Equip both like the tested Q7 and the Audi is still $10,000 more, with only about $600 attributable to its additional content.

The Q7 checks in $12,000 above my favorite Asian contestant, the Acura MDX, but about a quarter of this can be addtributed to its additional features. Compare the Audi instead to its fellow Teutons, and its pricing becomes much more attractive. The Q7 is over $4,000 less than the BMW X5, which I didn't like nearly as much, and over $16,000 less (not a typo) than the Mercedes-Benz GL450. So the Benz has a much roomier third row? You can buy an additional car for the people who'd otherwise have to sit back there.


Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much worse Better Worse

Audi has been known for outstanding design as well as technology. Well, the new Q7 isn't nearly as attractive or as distinctive as the original Q7 or the typical Audi. I can't quite put my finger on why, but it's just not a pretty car--from any angle. The Mercedes-Benz isn't any more attractive, but it has much more road presence. The Volvo XC90 is much more attractive vehicle inside and out.

The new Q7's interior might not be a paragon of design, but it absolutely looks and feels like that of an expensive vehicle packed full of the latest technology. It might not be beautiful, but it is impressive.


Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 front view

The latest Audi singleframe grille: even larger, more angular, and with a thick chrome frame.

Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 third row seat

More room in the third row than in the old Q7 or current X5. Still not much room.

Front seat room
Front seat room: Worse Better Worse

Now that the Audi Q7's price and styling have been given their due, my other "why nots" are much less clear cut.

You sit SUV-high in the new Audi Q7, even higher (if memory serves) than in the Volvo, and certainly higher than in the relatively car-like Acura. While the commanding view over traffic will appeal to many drivers, they're less likely to enjoy the Q7's high floor. The step up won't be an easy one for shorter or older drivers. They'll want running boards.

For such a beamy vehicle, with about two inches more shoulder room than in the far-from-narrow Volvo XC90, the Audi Q7 has unexpectedly little stretch out room in the front seats. The culprit: an unusually high and wide center console. The XC90, with a much narrower and lower console, feels roomier--but not as sporty.



Interior storage compartments
Interior storage compartments: About the same Better Worse

You might think a vehicle the size of the Audi Q7 with a center console the size of the Q7's would have a large storage compartment inside said console. You'd be wrong. It seems Audi's engineers crammed the Q7 so full of their stuff that they left little room up front for your stuff. You might be able to fit one paperback book or a few decks of cards. Then again, the Volvo's center console storage compartment isn't much larger. The Europeans don't seem to understand Americans' compulsion to enclutter their cars. Acura understands. The MDX has a far more commodious center console.



Other features of the 2017 Audi Q7

  Compared to the XC90
Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: About the same Better Worse

Rear seat room, though an improvement over the horribly space-inefficient original Q7, is just a little more abundant than in the Volvo XC90 and Acura MDX. While there's plenty of space in the second row, the third row seat is a much tighter squeeze and sits low to the floor. It'll do for kids, but adults won't be happy in steerage. At 5-9 I can fit with a little room to spare ahead of my elevated knees. I expected a more livable third row since the Q7 is five inches longer than the Volvo and a full half-foot longer than the Acura. It's a mere two inches less lengthy (if four inches less tall) than the hulking Mercedes.

This said, how many three-row crossover owners ever put adults in the wayback? This is probably far from common. Those who actually need three adult-friendly rows will want the Benz. Or, if they want to spend far less money, the Dodge Durango. Or, if they're being sensible, a minivan, which will also have far more space for knick-knacks and luggage than any of these crossovers and SUVs.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Worse Better Worse

Cargo capacity similarly falls short of expectations for a vehicle with the Q7's footprint and chunky profile, though not to as large a degree. While there's considerably more room behind the third row than in the original Q7, 15 vs. 11 cubic feet, as in nearly every other three-row crossover a family's luggage won't fit back there for any but the shortest trips. The Volvo and Mercedes can each hold one more cube, while the Acura has a spec identical to the Audi's.

Folding even half the third row could open up sufficient space for luggage. Fold both halves and you get 38 cubic feet to work with.

Fold both rows and the Audi's capacity pulls a few cubes ahead of the Acura's, but falls well short of the XC90's and GL's, a Honda CR-V-like 72 cubic feet vs. 86 in the Volvo and 94 in the Mercedes. The difference doesn't appear as large as these specs suggest, though.

To sort this out, I measured the Q7, XC90, and MDX with the driver seat still set for my 30-inch inseam. With both rows folded, the Audi has an 81.5-inch-long floor, about 2.5 inches less than the Volvo but about an inch more than the Acura. With the second row up and all the way back, the Audi has a 45-inch floor, vs. 50 and 45.5. With the third row up, 19.5 vs. 22 and 20.5. All of these measurement were taken at the floor. Do the same at the level of the top of the third-row seat back, and the Audi has only 8.5 inches to work with, vs. about 14 in the Volvo (but about 8 in the Acura). The Volvo's boxier rear end pays big dividends above the belt line.

Width is trickier. While the Volvo's and Acura's cargo areas are both about 45 inches wide (you won't be hauling a sheet of plywood), the Audi's is only 43 inches wide at the floor but 48 inches wide on top of a couple of low humps (for the wheel wells or suspension). So some plywood sheets should fit, if not with the tailgate closed.

The Q7's tailgate opening is 29.5 inches high in the center, but the top of the opening curves, so it's a few inches less towards the sides. The MDX's opening is curved even more dramatically at the top, and even in the center isn't quite as high. The XC90's opening stretches a couple more inches vertically and is more square.

Why can't the new Q7 hold at least as much as the XC90, since it is five inches longer? To begin with, it has a lower roof, by 1.5 inches. And its upper tailgate is raked more dramatically (though without yielding a more attractive vehicle). But the big difference is likely the powertrain layout. The new XC90 was designed for a transverse four-cylinder engine, which takes up relatively little length. The Q7, in contrast, is fitted with a V6 mounted longitudinally, and future variants will have a V8. Maybe they're even planning to offer a V12 diesel again (as they did with the original Q7 in Europe). As a result, much more of the Q7's length is taken up by the engine compartment, leaving less for cargo.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: About the same Better Worse

The Audi Q7's ride sometimes feels bumpy, though less than in the average large crossover. An optional air suspension should improve the Q7's ride, though probably not dramatically. The Volvo with its optional air suspension rides about as well as the Q7 with its standard steel springs. Other reviewers have described the Volvo's standard suspension as overly firm. The Mercedes GL rides considerably worse than either the Audi or the Volvo. It's virtually impossible to make a tall crossover ride as well as a much lower sedan, since pitching and rolling are amplified and require more suspension stiffness to control the farther you get above the ground. Noise levels are low in all three.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Better Better Worse

Pit Audi's 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 against 5,000 pounds of curb weight, and you get quicker, more effortless acceleration than physics suggests you ought to. The new Q7 can get from a dead stop to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, a full tick ahead of the Volvo. The Audi also feels less strained in the process, perhaps because its engine is 50 percent larger and so relies less on boost.

This said, because of its size and quiet interior the Q7 doesn't feel as quick as it is. If you want a thrillingly quick three-row crossover, you'll have to get one with a high-performance V8 from BMW or Mercedes. Or wait until Audi offers an SQ7 with its own powerful V8.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: About the same Better Worse

A powerful engine in a heavy vehicle tends to be a recipe for poor fuel economy. Yet in the EPA's tests the new Audi Q7 manages 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, about as good as you'll find in a crossover its size. The 2015 with the same engine and transmission was rated 16/22. Even with a diesel engine the Mercedes GL scores little better than the new Q7, 19/26. Though it weighs about 600 pounds less and has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine instead of a 3.0-liter V6, the Volvo's EPA ratings are also about the same, 20/25.

In my real-world driving the new Q7's trip computer reported suburban averages as high as 26.6, but most often between 17 and 21. On a 70-mph highway the reported two-way average was over 26 mpg, very good for such a vehicle. If I had a sixth "why to buy" slot, fuel economy would be in it.

Audi would have offered the new Q7 with a diesel if not for its ongoing emissions problem. As it is, the diesel's arrival has been delayed indefinitely. A plug-in hybrid variant could arrive sooner.


Conclusion

Both the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90 are very fuel-efficient for vehicles with their size and horsepower. Both are packed with the latest technology. Both are very safe.

In other areas they differ. The Volvo is much more attractive and can hold more cargo, while the Audi is quicker, handles better, can tow considerably more, and has even more tech and safety features than the Volvo does. For anyone into the latest technology, the new Q7, with tech seemingly oozing from its every pore, is an incredibly impressive vehicle.

Then there's the matter of price: the Audi Q7 costs about $10,000 more than the Volvo XC90. Is it worth it? For those who prioritize aesthetics, clearly not (unless they heavily favor Teutonic severity over the warmer Scandanavian ambiance). For those who prioritize performance, handling, towing capacity, and/or technology, on the other hand, the answer is quite possibly yes.

Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 engine

Sneak a peak under the not easily removable cover and you'll find the engine is attractively styled

Q7 Reviews: Audi Q7 cargo area both rows folded

Any chance you'll need more cargo space than this when you have no passengers? Probably not.

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2017 Audi Q7 pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2017 Audi Q7. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
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