Q is for quiet as Audi's slimmer Q7 SUV shows it's no shrinking violet
THE first thing you notice about Audi's new Q7 SUV in the flesh is how much they have toned it down.
The old one was a hulk, a gargantuan, some would say over-sized, example of excess. Now it looks more like a substantial estate with a lower and streamlined physique.
I was a critic of the former's excess but I wonder if they have gone too far in the opposite direction with this one. I think so, but I can see the reasoning. Indeed I'll predict it will appeal to a wider audience. It may lack out-and-out presence but I sense Audi have made sure in other areas that it won't need bulk to attract buyers.
The second thing I noticed was how exceptionally quiet it was on the road. It must be the quietest car of its kind.
No tyre, road or engine noise of any appreciable nature got in. Certainly, they have dampened sound in the main areas such as the bulkhead, frame and doors. But they also have this thick acoustic glass in the windows - it's standard - that plays a major role.
Audi are by no means as quiet as their car in their claims for the new Q7, which gets here in July. They see it taking sales from rivals and I'd reckon a big selling point will focus on those compact looks and lower prices - as well, of course, as a big range of driver assist and infotainment systems.
Even the steering wheel is smaller - and I must say is wonderfully angled in the exceptional virtual cockpit. What a deal maker that will be (not on entry-level SE).
The third thing I learned was how vital it is you choose the right materials and colours for the cabin. I wasn't impressed with the minimalist look of my first drive but the second one, with its dark cream leather upholstery gave it a totally different feel. Leather will be standard. There were dozens of other things I noticed. Such as the difference the Drive Select can make to how the car feels and handles (several modes such as Comfort, Auto and Dynamic). Indeed, I ask, is the wide use of such modes by manufacturers blurring the lines between cars traditionally seen as better for handling and ride and more comfortably set-up motors?
I also sampled excellent space in the second row of seats; and found how simple it was to drop and raise the (good-sized) duo in the third row.
There are 1,955 litres of cabin space with the second and third row of seats folded. With all seven seats in use there are still 770 litres of luggage room. The Q7 can take six child seats, Audi say. Impressive.
A lot of what they've done is visual and tactile, especially in the cabin which I think is ahead of the BMW X5 (big rival) but not as sumptuously endowed as Volvo's new XC90 which is miles ahead of everything.
I drove the Q7 on motorways and corkscrew roads up the Swiss Alps; the sort of territory where, unfortunately I couldn't push it to test response and handling under pressure. I'd have loved to try it on sweeping bends and long stretches of motorway. I'm not sure what attributes hill-climbing were expected to extract. Surefootedness with its quattro all-wheel drive? That's a given. It was excellent: you can now choose from seven driving modes: auto, comfort, efficiency, dynamic, individual as well as new 'off-road' and 'off-road lift'.
However, it did subjugate 'serious' driving to more considered examination (in virtual silence) of what you will get in your everyday stints. Don't get me wrong; this can shift. I tried out both 3-litre V6 diesels (218bhp and 272bhp). Loads of power there and impressive torque figures.
A 325kg reduction in weight and much improved fuel consumption (5.7l/100km) have helped prices, with emissions well down (149g/km/153g/km, €390 road tax).
They are claiming the Q7 costs nearly €5,000 less and has more than €5,000 worth of spec over the old model. Smaller is always better with prices and they start from €72,975 on-the-road for the 3.0TDI 218bhp quattro SE. It gets here in the fourth quarter. The 272bhp version arrives in July. It's excellent.
There are three trim levels: SE, SE Business (from €77,375) and S Line (from €79,875). SE has seven seats, quattro all-wheel-drive, 18ins alloys, leather, acoustic glazing, Drive Select, pre-sense city system and automatic boot lid.
SE Business costs €4,400 more and has different leather, the famous virtual cockpit, 19ins alloys, sports seats etc.
S-Line (€6,900 more than SE) has 20ins alloys, LEDs and three-spoke steering wheel.
There are a number of 'packs' you can add to any spec - but no spare wheel. The €4,500 Tech Pack includes Audi Connect, wifi, Bose sound system, reversing camera, etc).
There's a €2,876 Tourer Assistance Pack with adaptive Cruise Control, lane departure warning, an efficiency system etc.
An 8.3ins retractable display on the dash provides the outlet for the infotainment system. It worked really well in the course of our drives and static 'workshops'; making it obvious and easy across the board.
And that is often the hardest thing to do: distilling complicated and intricate advances into something much better than before. Which is what I think the Q7 manages to do as an overall package.