As I explain the electronic controls and MMI touch-pad operation, plus the various functions of the innovative Virtual Cockpit in the newest Audi Q7, the navigator blurts out, “How do you know how to use all of this stuff — you can’t even get the printer to work at home!”
Well, thanks for the vote of support, but you have just revealed one of the virtues of Audi’s top-selling midsize three-row crossover, attributes that have escaped its many rivals. The Q7’s sophisticated systems are intuitive one-touch functions that don’t necessitate two days with the owner’s manual to enjoy the engineered performance found throughout one of the industry’s top-driving crossovers — as well as a favorite of a particular consumer magazine. If buyers find sensible aids that complement the ownership (driving) experience, as well as provide added information, they will embrace the technology and use it. Unlike overly complicated info-entertainment-driver-assist systems that drivers disdain, the Q7 offers a plethora of pieces that you will use and enjoy.
Inside, that list is topped by the Virtual Cockpit. While a large screen rises from the center of the dash to display many of the functions of the MMI-touch-pad resting at the front of the console, including navigation, the Virtual Cockpit can make numerous changes to the dash in front of the driver. Want a new view, shape or a 12-inch wide color nav screen — with excellent detail — right in front of you? Just scroll through the menus for system selections including five drive modes, economy and miles, plus audio information and safety engagements. The tachometer and speedometer can grow, or shrink, to digital displays, all at a simple touch of your finger. Everything else suddenly feels a little too Commodore 64-ish.
Revelation number two came from out of sight — the Q7’s engine room. Equipped with a version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine found throughout VW/Audi’s lineup, packing 252-hp here, the Q7 felt agile, eager and able to sustain most every throttle pursuit. Mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic, along with full-time Quattro four-wheel drive, our baseline Q7 was quick and efficient, traits that escaped some recent smaller crossovers that offered larger engines with less power. If not told, many drivers would have no idea that the Q7 has a small four-cylinder engine; the turbo delivers ample torque quietly, smoothly and without delay. (A 3.0-liter V-6 is available). Set cruise activation to 78 mph and the tach and speedometer readouts never quiver, the engine never rudely surges or the transmission doesn’t explore every gear trying to hold your selected speed, the 2.0T just plows forward, silently, no matter what the terrain.
Computers and turbocharging have enabled the automakers to produce quicker vehicles that weigh less and get better mileage from smaller displacement engines; our Q7 returned a high of 27.4 mpg, blowing past the EPA estimates of 19/25/21-mpg.
As is now traditional, the Audi’s cabin is top-notch. Fit, finish, comfort and general execution is above reproach. The navigator did not want to relinquish her time at the helm, yet passengers had no complaints either. Second-row seating is easy to access, legroom is abundant, while the seats slide back and forth (to aid access and space for the third row) plus the folded seatbacks (third row are powered) form a huge, flat load deck stem to stern. Third row seats down with plenty of room for golf gear under a fast-acting power liftgate.
In a segment where the Lexus RX and Infiniti QX60 are the sales leaders, the Audi (with strong sales growth this year) seems to make its competition feel dated. Impressive handling, adroit and nimble ride dynamics, plus secure steering and braking give the Q7 a clear edge over several of its rivals. Add the five-selectable drive modes — off-road, comfort, automatic, dynamic and individual — and the Audi can be many things to several driving tastes.
OK, so not everything is perfect. The shifter is a needlessly perplexing combination of acts and the second row seats require two hands to fold. Big deal. You will, however, remember the simple one-touch pre-sets for your favorite audio, no matter what source (no screens, no menu’s, just one click), the awesome panoramic roof, the excellent LED headlamps, as well as the overall civility of a luxury wagon that exceeds expectations.
Pricing starts at $49,900 plus destination fee. Add Premium Plus, with MMI controls, smartphone interface, Audi side-sensors, power tilt/telescoping wheel, plus Bose Surround Sound for $4,000; the Vision package, $2,000 includes LED lighting inside and out, 360-degree camera and Virtual Cockpit; while the warm weather package is another $1,800 for four-zone auto-climate, ventilated front seats, and rear sunshades.
Built in Slovakia, the Audi Q7 is a gem in a class of capable crossovers apparently using computer chips from a decade gone by.