Audi Q7 an 'unlikely' muscle car

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The Audi SQ7 cabin scores top marks for appearance, feel, fit and finish. Photo:David Thomson

Those in Dunedin for this weekend's Otago Rally will doubtless associate Audi's famous advertising slogan ‘‘Vorsprung durch Technik'' with the original edition of the German company's legendary quattro coupe.

The adoption of the slogan (which translates as ‘‘advancement through technology'') in the early 1980s is inextricably linked to the quattro's contemporaneous rise as a revolutionary world rally car. Although rallying has moved on, the key ingredients the quattro introduced - turbocharging and four- wheel drive - are vital in frontline rally cars to this day.

Audi's new SQ7 shows that the spirit of Vorsprung durch Technik is alive and well too.

Billed as the world's most powerful seven- seater diesel SUV, the SQ7 reprises an earlier monster turbo-diesel SUV effort by the German company, the Q7 V12 TDI. Tested by Drivesouth in 2012, that vehicle applied Le Mans-winning diesel race technology to the Q7. Its $275,000 price tag was almost as eye- watering as the engine's ability to propel a 2.6-tonne leviathan from 0-100kmh in just 5.5sec.

For the SQ7 Audi has moved from 12 cylinders to eight, and reduced engine capacity from 5.9 litres to 4.0 litres. With peak outputs of 320kW of power and 900Nm of torque, the SQ7 accelerates considerably faster (0-100kmh in just 4.9sec) than the Q7 V12 TDI of old, is 36% more fuel efficient, rides and handles better, and costs almost $100,000 less.

Innovative technologies have allowed Audi to deliver more for less with the SQ7. Some of those technologies (including a raft of new ICT features and advanced driver safety aids) were introduced in 2015, when the second- generation Q7 was launched on a new platform that was a whole lot lighter than that of its predecessor.

Spawned off that platform, the SQ7 marks the debut of three further new technologies.

The first of these innovations is an electric- powered compressor (EPC) that forces air through the engine's twin turbochargers at low revs enabling those turbos to ‘‘spool up'' to deliver full effect far more quickly than other systems. The EPC thus eliminates traditional turbo lag and ensures peak torque is available from just 1000rpm, the net result being an engine that is much more responsive from low revs than the turbo-diesel norm.

So long as one specifies the $16,000 extra- cost Dynamic package (which includes four- wheel steering and a quattro sport differential with rear axle torque vectoring) the second new SQ7 technology is an electromechanical active roll stabilisation system. This decouples the SQ7's stabiliser bars to improve ride quality for everyday driving. Yet when a sportier approach is warranted it engages the electric motors and small gearbox to add extra force to the bars, keeping the chassis super- taut and massively reducing body roll.

Enhancement number three is a 48-volt electrical subsystem, utilising a compact lithium-ion battery pack beneath the boot floor. This provides the electrical grunt needed to run the EPC supercharger and active roll stabilisation.

All of this new technology is, of course, invisible when one inspects the SQ7 from the outside.

Sitting on 21-inch alloys, the SQ7 test car looked more purposeful than a standard Q7, especially with its suspension set in its lowest- riding mode. But it did not scream sporting intent from the rooftops, a fact that those who prefer a low-key approach to performance motoring may like.

The cabin scores top marks for appearance, feel, fit and finish. This is especially so up front, where the elegant sweep of the dash and stunning detailing, such as the quilted-style leather seat trims, brushed-metal highlighting, pop-up centre display screen and quality switchgear make a strong impression.

The second seating row comprises three generous individual seats, each of which adjusts for legroom and back angle. Crucial in giving the SQ7 bragging rights as the world's most powerful seven-seater SUV, the third row comprises two power-folding seats, adequate for adults at a pinch, but better for smaller family members.

Access to the boot is via a power-operated tailgate. Even with the third row of seats deployed, luggage capacity is useful, increasing to 705 litres when they are folded down, and on to an ample 1890 litres when the second-row seats are stowed, too.

Searching for interior gripes, the best I could muster was a lack of USB plug-in points for third-row occupants and the small capacity of the storage bin between the front seats. There's a good reason for this, mind, as the bin houses the wireless charge pad for compatible mobile devices.

Even summarising the multimedia and associated interfaces available would take most of the remaining space for this test; suffice to say, the SQ7 is state-of-the-art in this area. The list of more conventional comfort and convenience features is lengthy too: from wireless connectivity to quad zone climate control and heated seats, all key bases are covered.

There are driver assistance systems galore too: adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping assistance, self-parking with parking sensors and a 360-degree camera system, collision avoidance and warning systems, and self-dipping headlights all feature as standard. There's even a new traffic jam assist function that uses radar and camera technology to steer and brake in slow traffic.

Let's be honest though, what those drawn to this car are really interested in is how it goes.

From start-up, the engine settles into a burbling idle. A mild dab of the accelerator elicits a restrained but purposeful growl, much more akin to a conventional petrol V8 than a turbo-diesel.

Driven around town with drive select in comfort mode, the SQ7 behaves as an obvious but not awkwardly large luxury wagon. Ride quality and refinement are first rate and the engine is rarely roused beyond an idle.

Allroad and offroad modes are provided too, with increased ride height available in both. The test car took a half-hour excursion on gravel in its stride, though its 285/40 road tyres proved quite sensitive to camber changes, and would certainly not manage serious off-road work.

Back on the blacktop, cruising at 100kmh on a main highway or motorway run, the engine ticked over at an untroubled 1000rpm. Because near-instant maximum torque is available even this low in the rev range, only gentle throttle pressure is required for routine overtaking. This bodes well for real-world economy (the 7.5l/100km standard cycle return for an SQ7 on 21-inch alloys is excellent for a vehicle of this size).

It is no surprise that the SQ7 traverses a Kiwi main road effortlessly, since it is designed for sustained autobahn cruising at speeds of more than 200kmh, and has the planted, solid-on-the road feel required to excel at this.

Denied high-speed pleasure in New Zealand, the greatest driving rewards the SQ7 serves up here are on the most unusual of roads for a large SUV: undulating and winding secondary highways and lesser sealed byways.

Running in dynamic mode, the SQ7's poise and balance through twists and turns defies all expectations for a vehicle of this type, as does its ability to handle quick changes of direction without loss of composure. Those advanced dynamic technologies, especially active roll supported by torque vectoring and four-wheel steer, are the crucial ingredients that give the SQ7 such dynamic prowess. And they do so in an unobtrusive a way that sharpens rather than dulls the sense of connection between the driver and road.

The SQ7's motor delivers its glorious best in dynamic mode and has a soundtrack to match. With such a powerful and responsive engine allied to a fine eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, the SQ7 surges mightily between bends. That said, overindulgence with the throttle causes fuel economy to plummet, and a watchful eye on the speedo is required to stay clear of silly speeds.

Impressive on so many fronts, the SQ7 earns Drivesouth's first five-star road test rating of 2017 with consummate ease, and sets a heady new benchmark for its class.


Audi Q7 an 'unlikely' muscle car
At a Glance
Overall: ★★★★★
Design and styling: ★★★★
Interior: ★★★★★
Performance: ★★★★★
Ride/handling: ★★★★+
Safety: ★★★★★
Environmental: ★★★★

For: Lovely cabin, superb engine, excellent ride and
Against: The dynamic package is an extra-cost
Verdict: Technologies lead but never dominate this
impressive new Audi.

$175,900 (in standard guise)
Engine: 3956cc V8 bi-turbo with electric-powered
compressor, maximum power 320kW@3750-
5000rpm, maximum torque 900Nm@1000-3250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Tiptronic automatic,
quattro four-wheel-drive
Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, with
Safety rating: Five-star European NCAP
Wheels, tyres: Alloy wheels, 285/40 R21 tyres
Fuel and economy: 7.5 litres per 100km on ADR
combined cycle, capacity 85 litres
Emissions: CO2 198g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 5069mm, width 1968mm,
height 1741mm



RATING (5/5)