Monday 19 August 2019

Driving the Ring with confidence

Campbell Spray heads to Kerry to take a massive SUV out among the hordes on the tourist trail

The Audi Q7 (in Matador Red) on the Ring of Kerry
The Audi Q7 (in Matador Red) on the Ring of Kerry

Campbell Spray

In many ways, it was quite bizarre. Travel to Killarney for the international launch of the revised Audi Q7, but then test the behemoth by driving a left-hand drive version around the Ring of Kerry at one of the busiest times of the year.

It was even stranger that most of the foreign press, including those from Russia and Canada, were first taken to Munich for an overnight stay before flying to Farranfore and the road test, then leaving the same day without experiencing Kerry hospitality for even one night. A massive marketing opportunity lost for Failte Ireland. However, views along the Ring seem to have entranced the visitors.

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There were a lot of corners, an awful amount of traffic, some big snarl-ups and very few chances to put the massive SUV through its paces. However, at the end, you could only marvel that such a big machine was so easy to live with.

These large cars aren't really my thing now: I have no need for their massive carrying capacity and am concerned that they are more urban status symbols than rural workhorses. Yet the amount of tech on the new Q7 is stunning and is only a few steps away from autonomous driving. But not in Kerry. The roads are just too narrow and the markings inconsistent. This was especially true of the lane keeping/departure control.

Audi claims it has substantially enhanced the dynamics of the Q7. And that's why it probably had the international launch in Kerry. In addition to the optimised all-wheel steering that allows the rear wheels to turn as much as five degrees in the opposite direction - a great turning circle - there is the option of electromechanical active roll stabilisation. Adjustable stabilisers reduce the body movements on uneven roads when driving in a straight line. Audi says that "the focus is on optimum roll compensation" so that the tendency of the car to lean into the bend is reduced substantially.

There is also the standard adaptive air suspension which provides variable ground clearance and prepares the Audi Q7 with its quattro drive and seven profiles for off-the-road driving.

The design tweaks aren't extensive but have given more style and a sleeker, less ungainly, look. The optional Matrix LED headlights are great and there is a very spacious upmarket feel about the 5/7 seater. But with prices starting at the mid €80k, there should be. We will only have two large diesel engines for the launch next month. They are coupled to a mild hybrid system, a fine Tiptronic box and permanent four-wheel drive. Later in the year, a plug-in hybrid arrives.

Sharing platforms with Bentley, Lamborghini and the VW Touareg, the two-tonne Q7 is a class effort. After spending nearly six hours - some of it very frustratingly - confidently driving the Ring of Kerry, there wasn't an ounce of tiredness. The Q7 reviews were embargoed to last Wednesday (July 31) so it was unfortunate that news came that morning of former Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler facing trial over diesel fraud affecting more than 250,000 Audis, 70,000 VWs and 112,000 Porsches. Munich prosecutors say Mr Stadler is being charged with knowing that emission figures were manipulated and he "still allowed or not hindered the sale of affected vehicles of the brands".

It doesn't leave me in a good place. I know company cultures are difficult to change. However, it was good to be in Kerry and no doubt the Audi people were happy to be far from troubles in Munich. They should have stayed longer - and kept the press there too.

Sunday Independent

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