New and improved model: Audi set to release the latest Q7 this year
The second-generation Q7 has been awhile coming - the first one launched in 2006 - but Audi has taken the time to put its large SUV on a serious weight loss programme, improve its fuel economy and emissions, digitally-enhance its interior and offer a catalogue of hi-tech safety options.
Where the first model's design pushed a coupe-crossover exterior aesthetic with a slim window graphic and sloping roofline to hide the vehicle's five-metre-plus length, the brief to its designers for the mk2 model was to find a more SUV-like silhouette appearance - to distance it further from Audi's large Allroad and Avant estate models. Together with this boxier and more horizontal approach, the new Q7 sports a more three-dimensional and angular, chrome-edged front grille too. The end result is subjective but either way, the mk2 is unlikely to be mistaken for the mk1.
Less subjective is the thoroughly modern interior that is as hi-tech and high quality as we've come to expect from Audi. Beyond the subtle combination of superbly fitted surfaces covered in leather and aluminium there are some genuinely excellent features. One example is the Q7's ability to display the navigation map across the whole driver display while reducing the size of the rev and speed dials within it for greater clarity. Although first shown on the mk3 TT in 2014, the Q7 goes one step further by replicating the infotainment on a separate centre screen so that passengers can also get visual confirmation of their MMI controller inputs without having to lean over the driver's shoulder (as on the TT). Apple CarPlay or Google Android Auto software - where the car's centre-screen mirrors those smart phones' interfaces and can be used in the same way - will be an option later in the year. The second-row seats can now fit three separate child seats (should you be procreating with such frequency or carrying the offspring of those who do) and also move fore and aft to give extra room for the now electrically operated, but still small, third-row. If that third row is not required the seats stow neatly into the load floor, and if major haulage is required, the second row can fold down to give a large 1995-litre maximum luggage capability.
Kudos should also go to Audi for shedding up to 325kg - or three very large men - from its kerb weight by optimising lighter aluminium and hi-strength steel wherever possible (it's even got an aluminium brake pedal). Although still a two-tonne-plus vehicle in the seven-seat version standard in the UK, economy and emissions are improved by almost 30 per cent. The UK dropped the old model's petrol engine in 2012 (due to dwindling demand) so the mk2 range starts for now with the 272hp 3.0 TDI diesel unit offering 47.9mpg and 153g/km of CO2 from £50,340. A lower-power 218hp 3.0 TDI (52.3mpg and 144g/km) arrives in the autumn from circa £48,000 and a greener, but more expensive, third option - the 373hp, 166mpg and sub-50g/km CO2 eTron plug-in diesel hybrid - goes on sale at the end of 2015.
Audi makes no pretence that its Q7 is a serious off-roader but it is more than capable on it. The 272PS 3.0 TDI quattro rapidly propelled the SUV up various steep inclines on its mountainous Verbier test route and also had sufficient stability control to feel secure and comfortable through twisty corners. The lower-power 218PS 3.0 TDI was noisier paddling through the eight-speed automatic gearbox, but more than able too. Standard all-wheel drive and decent ground clearance should allow both to traverse gravel, grass and sandy 'soft-road' conditions with ease.
No world firsts are claimed for the mk2 Q7 but Audi does say it has 'the world's largest offering of driver assistance systems in the segment.' The 'exit warning' system is one of the better ones, alerting occupants of oncoming but unseen cars or cyclists, by flashing lights in the wing mirror and turning interior light strips from blue to red if they start to open the Q7's big doors into other road users paths.
All in all, the latest Q7 moves the game on in technology and interior quality. But if you like what you hear and see, perhaps wait until later in 2015 to investigate the Apple and Google-enabled versions and also the hybrid option, before making your final decision.