Cons: Body style not for everyone. Pros: Pretty much everything else.
One piece of criticism Rolls Royce CEO Torsten Mueller-Oetvoes lobbed at the competition when his company was on the cusp of debuting the Bentayga’s arch-rival, the Cullinan, was to call Bentley’s SUV out for being little more than "a camouflaged Audi Q7.” As much of a powerhouse the Bentayga has been for the Bentley sales machine, Rolls Royce’s boss kind of has a point. No matter how many cowhides and bookmatching experts it takes to build a Bentayga, many badge snobs will know it shares its MLB Evo platform with much lowlier cars like the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7. But is that really an insult to Bentley? Or could it be construed as a compliment to Audi?
Our money was on the former until we spent a week in the Q7 fighting heavy fatigue, rain, and traffic during a trip to Lake Tahoe where we learned that Audi should take Mr. Mueller-Oetvoes’s comments as praise.
That’s not the first impression you’ll get by looking at the specs sheet, though. With a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four sending 253 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic and out to all four wheels, our Q7 lacked the punch of its other available engine, a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 that makes 329 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. Was any of that horsepower missed when push came to shove? Hardly. With the turbocharger supplying low-end torque and keeping the engine well-fed with oxygen while climbing steep Sierra Nevada highways, the Q7 never struggled to serve up a helping of passing power as long as you had 0.7-seconds to spare for the turbine to spool up. Even with the slight hint of lag, throttle response is well-balanced and feels just right whether on the highway or in the city trying to milk out the Q7's EPA-rated 19/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined.
This may not be the case for its target demographic, but to our eyes the aesthetic of the exterior feels awkward considering how savvy and sophisticated a driver the Q7 makes you feel. Jason Statham might drive an Audi A8 in The Transporter, but something in us just knows the straight lines of the Land Rover Defender make it a more appealing off-roader to him than the Q7.
The Q7 has straight lines too, best exhibited in the chrome hexagonal grille with edges that morph into striations that flow back across the hood and side body panels and end over the taillights on the rear hatch. While plenty of ground clearance and Audi’s quattro AWD system are sure to be a boon off-road—the moderate overhangs bolstering its case—a long wheelbase gives the Q7 a planted look at the base while chrome accents sparkle on the top third of the body where the greenhouse starts.
As of late, the Four Ring’s lineup has delivered quite a bit to write home about. And not more so than in Audi's interiors. Aside from a suspicious plasticy squeak coming from under the driver’s seat when shifting our bodyweight to exit the vehicle, everything feels premium and looks to be designed better than the competition. The ergonomics of the cockpit and the ease with which occupants can access the vehicle’s technology without feeling overwhelmed by options is beyond class-leading. It’s industry-leading, confirmation that we have a right to complain about other vehicles in this segment since Audi has proven what is possible.
The MMI-based infotainment system remains one of our favorites and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster, which replaces gauges with a screen that can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel, is attractive, easy to use, and ups the Q7’s cool factor. And if you catch yourself getting sick of the technology, there’s even a button that stows the centrally-mounted infotainment screen in the dash in one swift motorized motion.
What can’t be stowed is the tech you always want on, like the interior lighting system that doubles as a visual communication device relaying warnings to driver and passengers. The strips of white light in the doors and footwells don't only look like tasteful accents, they are also useful. Try to open a door after parallel parking when a car is coming from behind and the trim flashes bright red while the orange blind spot monitoring lights in the side mirrors blink to reinforce the warning.
Design-wise, the interior can feel a bit cold and robotic, but coziness can be added by filling seven seats with good friends and family, or by driving past beautiful scenery since the large greenhouse enables high exterior visibility. We didn’t try to stuff all seven seats with people, but we’d imagine headspace would still feel plentiful due to the panoramic moonroof and lightly colored headliner.
As a unibody SUV designed to carry people and shopping mall loot rather than cross a mountain range, the Q7 is optimally sized for city life. Even though it sits just under 200-inches long—117.9-inches of which goes to the wheelbase—77.5-inches wide, and 68.5-inches tall, its tight turning radius and an army of cameras make it a breeze to drive in the city or park in impressively small spaces. Solo commuters will be more likely to appreciate the traffic jam assist feature on the automatic cruise control, but during the holidays the Q7 truly comes into its element.
Relatives are sure to enjoy 38.8-inches of second-row legroom while the third-row seats offer only 29.2-inches of leg space when they’re not stowed to turn the 14.8 cubic feet of storage behind them into 37.5 cubic feet. Anything wider than a snowboard will require the entire second row to be stored as well (as opposed to just folding the center seat), bringing total carrying capacity to 71.6 cubic feet.
What the numbers can’t tell you is just how good the Q7 feels on the open road. After being out of town for most of the Q7's tenure and letting it sit in a garage with just 30 miles added to the odometer since we borrowed it, a weekend trip out of San Francisco’s hustle and bustle was in order. With fresh snow on the Sierra Nevadas and the confidence of Audi’s famed quattro acting as a safety net, we hit the road before sunrise and beat traffic out of the city, where the absence of the optional height-adjustable suspension system was never noticed. Whether bouncing over potholes on San Francisco’s streets that see “Road Work Ahead” signs stay for an eternity or heading north towards Reno on curvy portions of the I-80, the Q7’s chassis feels balanced, rock solid, and exudes smoothness as the noise of the outside world fails to register with occupants' ears.
The magic recipe of the Q7, and possibly the Bentayga for that matter, is to give both vehicles an iron-clad foundation and then tune the components added to them to just the right setting. That foundation is the MLB Evo platform constructed using a blend of aluminum, high-strength steel, and other materials for just the right balance of weight and rigidity. Our tester didn’t have the available four-wheel steering system or even the height-adjusting suspension, but there wasn’t a moment where we felt we had anything less than a direct connection to the road even though the unpleasantries usually associated with a communicative suspension were absent. The electrically-assisted steering felt properly weighted and had a good on-center feel, which mitigated some of the lack of communication electric racks usually exhibit. Brakes had the typical Volkswagen Group’s surgical precision and aside from the very mild turbo lag, the Q7 reacts to a driver’s inputs and relays the road’s response effortlessly and without delay.
That’s not to say that our time with the Q7 was perfect, but the only issue we had regarded the Active Lane Assist function, which is not a technology that's been refined to perfection in any existing vehicle. The system can read well-marked lanes and add steering input to keep the Q7 within line, but it seemed to teeter back and forth between lane borders at low speeds while the Traffic Jam Assist component of the automatic cruise control was in operation. The heavy rain we were traveling through at the time was likely to blame since it obscured the road markings, but it’s still a disconcerting feeling to have the steering wheel do its best impression of a drunk driver in the middle of rainstorm traffic. As with the infotainment screen, a simple press of the "Off" button is all it takes to get the technology to stop fighting a driver’s grip over the wheel.
For its size, capability, sophistication, and number of features, the Q7 sounds like it would be unattainable for anyone who doesn’t have a law degree, medical license, or trust fund, but that’s not the case. Available in three trims, Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige (which can only be had with the V6), a base 2019 2.0-liter Q7 starts at $54,545 including destination. With that you get the same excellent chassis as the rest of the lineup, quattro AWD, and ironclad build quality. Our 2018 tester had a nice array of extras added added to it, including the $4,000 Premium Plus package that adds MMI and the $2,400 Driver Assistance package that includes most of the driver aids. Tack on another $2,000 for the Vision package that includes the fancy Virtual Cockpit and $2,250 for both the Cold Weather and Warm Weather packages and you get the $62,100 tester we drove, including destination fees. Move into the territory of the V6 and suddenly you’re looking at $60,945 for the Premium and $69,695 for the range-topping Prestige.
Even though the upper end of the Q7's lineup isn’t cheap, it also isn’t terrible when compared to Land Rover, Mercedes, Maserati, or Porsche badges. Another way to look at it is to say the Q7 is good value compared to, say, the Bentayga. The basic argument behind Rolls Royce’s jab was that even if you can afford to blow $230,000 on a luxury SUV, why spend that much if a similar experience can be had in a $70k vehicle? In reality, you can’t. The Bentley is simply better, but the Q7 left such a good impression on us that we seriously doubt the Bentley is $130,000 better than the Audi.