Few other countries in the world may regard SUVs as a suitable replacement to the venerable large sedan, yet in the Philippines, it is par for the course, with many of the well-to-do opting for the large SUV as their choice mode of daily transport.
Any red carpet affair will likely be graced by a number of Land Cruisers, LX570s, Suburbans, and Expeditions. After all, bad roads, speed bumps, and urban floods are commonplace, and vehicles best suited to insulate against these annoyances tend to ride high off the ground.
While many of these offerings, being designed for off-road use, are never found lacking in presence, few roll in with the kind of grace and understated style that their new formal role calls for. Yet that is about to change with luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7.
First introduced in 2005, the Q7 may not have stolen glances then, but it certainly does so today. Audi’s trademark grille has been reshaped to suit the SUV’s more rugged aspirations. Broad lights and intakes stretch out from it, leading eyes to its subdued profile. Unlike its more ruggedly inclined competitors, its wheel arches are much more subtle, there are no black rocker panels nor are there any roof rails. Off-road ability has not gentrified this Audi, making it still an appropriate choice for arriving at a red carpet affair. In fact, with remarkably bright LED headlights and taillights, the Q7 announces its arrival from quite far away.
Inside, the Q7 retains the clean and austere interior the marque is known for. In spite of the bevy of high tech functions, the buttons and controls are still well organized according to their function. All of it also comfortably within ergonomic reach.
Laying in front of the driver is the new fully digital 12.3-inch LCD display. This cleverly integrates all information relevant to the driver into one screen. Speedometer, tachometer, fuel, temp, trip readouts, and navigation can be configured to make as complicated or as simple a display as desired. Remote controls on the steering wheel also integrate scroll wheels for more precise adjustment of settings and audio volume.
Towards the center is another 8.3-inch LCD display that rises out of the dashboard. These entertainment settings are controlled by an interface on the center divider. It’s composed of a multidirectional knob and a touchpad with haptic feedback that can even recognize handwriting, letter by letter. It’s all comfortably within reach of any hand resting on the low automatic transmission electronic shifter stalk.
The interior climate can be adjusted to four individual zones. If the controls seem confusing, simply hover your hand over the buttons for a preview of their functions.
With these set, it’s easy to lay back in the cabin with the supple dark grey leather wrapping all of the seats (even the third row). The second row seats can recline to quite a degree and offer side window blinds for privacy.
Behind, the third row can be deployed with just the press of a button, with access to them from the second row made just as easily. Or, they can be stowed flat, leaving generous room for up to four large golf bags. There are even controls to lower the rear suspension to make loading heavy items easier.
With passengers and personal items loaded, the potent 3.0-liter TDI V6 engine propels the entire vehicle forward with little difficulty. This is all thanks to the 272hp and monstrous 600Nm of torque on tap. The torque on idle is enough to roll it along on its own. Nonetheless, more power follows smoothly with just a little more effort on the throttle pedal. It will surge forward when floored but without the neck-snapping aggression most expect from 600Nm. It’s delivered smoothly and progressively, leaving you enough time to prepare for horizon-grabbing momentum.
It can all be adjusted by one of seven drive modes: Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual, All-Road and Off-Road, with Individual being programmable to your own preference. An eight-speed automatic transmission delivers power to the Quattro all-wheel drive system, constantly governed by a whole array of ABS, traction and stability systems.
Any bumps and dips are quickly muted by the air suspension system, returning a nearly airliner-like ride over the worst of streets when set to Comfort mode. The damping can be stiffened for more sporty requirements when set to dynamic. These modes adjust the weight of the steering as needed too. As such, given the right setting, the Q7 cleverly masks its size and mass to tackle tight corners with surprising speed and control.
Should the need ever arise to venture off paved roads, the Q7 will still oblige with its full off-road mode. The suspension can be raised to take on intimidating off-road trails, while the Off-road mode turns the center screen into an inclinometer. No need to worry about locking which differential or disconnecting any anti-roll bars, the built-in program tackles all the intricacies of grip for you, slipping for just a half second before figuring out which tire needs the most grip.
In spite of its flexibility to cope with a variety of situations, the Q7 is best enjoyed in the Comfort and Efficiency modes, returning an incredibly light steering feel that is still precise and a balmingly smooth ride. It continues to reward with exemplary fuel consumption at 8 km/L in very heavy traffic, to 17 km/L in the highway. And once the roads permit, it will still oblige with the occasional thrilling drive thanks to Dynamic mode.
If there’s any vehicle the luxurious A8 sedan should be threatened by, it’s this Q7. Many SUVs tout of their ability to perform in a variety of environments, yet few make as compelling a case for pampering quite like this. Go on and hop back into your daily driver after a quick drive in this and see how quickly you’ll miss the light steering, phenomenally quiet interior, and heavenly ride of the Q7.