We recently reviewed the 2016 Volvo XC90, theÂ long overdue redesign of Volvo’sÂ family hauler. First introduced as a 2002 model, the XC90 was a teenager by the time it was finally replaced. Oddly enough, it’s a similar story with the Audi Q7.
InÂ response to Volvo’s then-new XC90, Audi began developmentÂ of theÂ seven-seater Q7Â in 2002, which later hit the market inÂ 2005. It received a facelift in 2009, but the basics of the slab-sided AudiÂ remained. ElevenÂ years later, and at around the same time as the new XC90, Audi hasÂ finally reinvented the Q7Â as a sortÂ of soft-road A8 Avant.
Can it compete againstÂ the new XC90 for the hearts and minds of luxury-minded families?
You’d be forgiven for thinking this Q7 is yet anotherÂ refresh of the original model,Â as itsÂ resemblanceÂ â€”Â the result of Audi’s “brand unifying styling” â€” exhibitsÂ historical roots. Even complete redesigns have to stick to the “one sausage different lengths” design philosophy.
The Q7’s grille and headlamps are more angular than before, giving the front end some needed masculinity, and the tail lamps gain Audi’s new Y-shaped light pipes. The overall effect is a sharpening of the attractive lines found in the 2016 model without breaking any new ground.
It’s not just sheetmetal that Audi replaces for the new Q7.Â The seven-seater is built upon Audi’sÂ newÂ MLB 2 platform, which was created for theÂ Bentley Bentayga and the majority of Audi’s future models. Although the big Bentley is the largest expression of MLB, the Q7’s 199.7 inch length is notably longer than the BMW X5 and just four inches shorter than an Escalade.
While the outside is a variation on a theme, the interior goes all-in on the latest gadgetry â€” from an available full-LCD instrument cluster to a large touchpad for “finger writing” entry and more active safety gadgets than I care to name.
The overall look is a little busy compared to the minimalist Volvo or even the X5. The dash is bisected by an enormous bank of air vents styled after the Audi 5000 that stretch from the gauge cluster all the way to the passenger door.
Audi’s new front seats are more comfortable than the base thrones in the BMW or Mercedes, while the up-level seat beats the competition’s premium options by a hair. That said, theÂ new seat design in the XC90 trumps this comfort, whether we’re talking base or optional seats.
Where the Q7 shines is in itsÂ second row. It’s enormous. Sporting a 40/20/40-split design like we see in the Volvo, the seats offer a smidge more room and my backside found them more comfortable. The trade-off is a third row that’s less comfortable than the XC90, although it is a substantial improvement over the cramped way-back in the X5.
Solidifying the Q7’s status as the luxury alternative to a minivan, you’ll find five sets of latch anchors for child seats. In addition, the second row is wide enough toÂ strap a Graco Classic Ride 50 seat in the middle and still flip/fold the outboard seats to hop in the rear. That’s important sinceÂ moving the second row out-of-the-way is a more involved two-step processÂ than the one-step fold/slide mechanism we see in comparable Volvo, Acura, and Infiniti models.
2017 takes MMI to a new level. Using the same 12.3-inch LCD disco dash as the TT, the Q7 adds an 8-inch LCD front and center. Audi decided to limit some of the “virtual cockpit” features seen in the TT, but the system functions similarly overall. The LCD clusterÂ offers a wide-screen map view with Google satellite imagery and infotainment readouts, but system and car settings have to be adjusted with the display in the dash.
Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. Without a touchscreen, these interfaces work a little differently than in mass-market sedans. As a result, it actually feels less polished than the implementation in the 2016 Accord.
Audiophiles will be happy to hear that the base audio system is a well balanced, 10-speaker setup with a standard CD player. Our tester had the mid-level, 19-speaker Bose branded system, which adds speakers in places you never thought you’d find them. This isn’t the top-end system. That’d be the insane 23-speaker, 1,900-watt Bang Olufsen system for a cool $5,000 over the Bose system.
While we have been told that a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine will eventually be the base engine, the only engine at launch is a 3.0-liter supercharged V6. Cranking out 333 horsepower and 325 lbs-ft of torque, it tops the 3.0-liter turbo in the X5 and the turbocharged and supercharged four-banger in the Volvo. Mated to a standard ZF eight-speed automatic and Quattro all-wheel drive,Â the Q7 will tow up to 7,700 pounds when properly equipped.
With 333 horsesÂ under the hood and a ZFÂ transmissionÂ coordinating the power delivery, you’d assume the Q7 would be sprightly, and you’d be right. Our tester scooted to 60 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds, easily besting the six-cylinder X5 and base GLE while tying with the lighter, nine-speed equipped MDX. What may surprise you is how close the 2016 Volvo XC90 came â€” just 3/10ths slower.
Audiâ€™s Quattro integrates the center and front differentials into the transmission case, the side effect of this is that the entire engine and torque converter ride in front of the front axle.Â This placement means that the Q7Â carries a greater percentage of its weight on the front wheels than essentially every rear-wheel-driveÂ competitor and, interestingly enough, the new XC90 as well. However, donâ€™tÂ confuse front-heavy weight distribution with front-wheel-drive power bias. This AWD system sends theÂ majority of the power to the rear wheels unless needed. The XC90 can never send more than 50 percent of itsÂ power to the rear wheels unless a front wheel slips, and the new SH-AWD system in the MDX is far less aggressive at sending power to the rear than it was before, which now defaults to a front-wheel-drive bias unless you’re really pushing itÂ hard.
When the new Q7 was launched, Audi trumpeted a significant 700 pound reduction in curb weight. However, by the time the Q7 made it to America, it gained about 275 pounds back, putting the 2017 model a cupcake away from 5,000 pounds. That’s a significant distance from the new XC90 at 4,394 pounds, or the MDX at a comparatively slim 4,286. Although theÂ Q7 has a strong rear power bias and our model came equipped with optional rear-wheel steering andÂ wide 285-width tires, the Q7 still feltÂ large and heavyÂ on winding mountain roads. Our model was equipped with the optional adaptive air suspension which, like all air suspensions, makes the Q7 feel “boatier” than it otherwise would. In contrast, the front-wheel-biased Volvo feels nimble and better balanced in neutral handling situations. On the flip side, the rear-wheel steering makes easy work of parking lot maneuvers that would be multi-point turns in the Volvo or Acura.
The EPA rates combinedÂ fuel economy at 21 mpg,Â which is essentially the same as the XC90. However, likely thanks to the weight and the general drivetrain design, we averaged 19.5 mpgÂ â€” below what we saw in the Acura or Volvo.
At $55,650 to startÂ (inclusive of a $950 destination fee), the Audi is $100 more than a base X5, but is far better equipped. In addition to the standard third row, the Q7 also features standard leather seats, all-wheel drive and three zone climate control, making it nearly $5,000 less than a comparably equipped BMW. The delta between the Q7 and the newÂ three-row Mercedes GLS is likely to be $10,000-$15,000. The Q7 is faster to 60 mph than the comparable Germans as well.
On the other side of the segment, the Acura MDX is a significant discount over the Q7, but ZF’s nine-speed auto is far less polished than the eight-speed in the Q7. The MDX alsoÂ feels less premium in general. Although a comparable MDX is a $9,000 discount over the Q7, the Audi is nearly $9,000 nicer.
As expected, the toughest competitor for the Q7 is the new Volvo. The XC90 T6 AWD is $4,000 less than the Q7, is nearly as fast, is a hair more efficient and has a more comfortable first and third row. The XC90’s design also strikes me as refreshing in a sea of complicated Germanic themes. While the Q7’s drivetrain is more my cup of tea than Volvo’s high-strung four-pot, the Volvo’s more nimble dynamic, more polished active driving assistants and lower price tag keep it in the top spot for me. Second place is not a bad finish for the Q7, but our tester pushed the $4,000 delta between the Audi and Volvo to $10,000 without adjusting for the leather dashboard and door panels you find in the Swede. With that kind of price difference, the Q7 may be the discount German, but the Volvo is the all around better people hauler.[Images: Â© 2016 Alex Dykes/The Truth About Cars]
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 2.3 seconds
0-60: 6.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 14.3 seconds @ 97.7Â mph