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2017 Audi Q7 Test Drive Review
A full redesign means Audi reintroduces its flagship SUV after a year hiatus with a new look, a new engine, and some serious weight loss.
After a year off, the Q7 returns with a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, improved technology, more interior space, a full visual redesign, and most importantly, 700 pounds less curb weight.
Look and Feel
Audi spent the better part of a decade redesigning the Q7, even taking a year off to make sure it got everything right. With good reason, too. The Q7 is one of the company's most popular and profitable models, and this newest version marks the debut of the Volkswagen Group’s new MLB Eco platform, which will form the foundation of the new versions of the A4, A5 and A8, Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, and Bentley Bentayga. As is the case for most manufacturers of late, the concentration here was on weight loss, and it seems Audi got it right. Seven hundred pounds is some serious weight that affects everything about the vehicle, from handling to fuel efficiency to acceleration and braking. There’s a reason so many racers and wannabe racers alike can be heard spouting the anthem of their people: “Weight savings, brah.”
And they’re not wrong. The svelte stylings of the new Q7 can be felt everywhere, and when fitted with the supercharged V6, the Q7 now comes in at just under 5,000 pounds. This was achieved by extensive use of aluminum and high-strength steel in the platform, chassis, and suspension as well as more efficient design and construction of the transmission and wiring harness. Changes like that aren’t easily communicated to buyers—a lighter wiring harness is about the furthest from “sexy” you can get in marketing talk—but they all add up to a serious improvement.
For the styling, it’s much the same. It’s not a revolution in design here, but rather subtle changes and improvements that drastically change the overall look. The profile betrays the best example of this, where small changes in the windshield rake and roof- and beltlines cause the entire Q7 to take on a sleeker, lower appearance, despite remaining nearly the same height. Now the Q7 looks almost like a shaggin’ wagon rather than a stout SUV, and the new Singleframe hexagonal grille and squinted lights only reinforce that. Inside the changes are similar, reminiscent of other upscale Audi offerings like the R8, thanks to the TFT/LCD virtual cockpit.
You can purchase the Q7 in one of three trims: Premium, Premium Plus, or Prestige. Premium starts at an MSRP of $49,000 with the new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and comes with luxury features despite being a “base” model. An expansive panoramic sunroof, LED running and taillights, leather upholstery, automatic wipers, and power-folding heated mirrors start the party and are joined by standard safety features like front and rear parking sensors, forward-collision warning with auto-brake and a reversing camera. Inside you’ll find 3-zone auto climate control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated front seats with 8-way power and driver lumbar, and a 7-inch display for the Audi MMI infotainment system. If you’d prefer the V6 at this level, the price starts at $55,000.
Premium Plus starts at $53,000 for the 4-cylinder or $59,500 for the V6 and adds the navigation system that’s optional for Premium trims. For the extra $4,000 you’ll enjoy keyless entry and ignition, a power-adjustable steering wheel, auto-dimming side mirrors, interior accent lighting, and some extra safety in the form of blind-spot monitoring. If you go for the $65,000 Prestige trim, the supercharged V6 is your only option. This trim includes packages that are optional for the Premium Plus, like the Vision and Warm Weather packages, which add LED headlights, the surround-view camera, and the TFT display for the former and ventilated front seats, 4-zone auto climate control, and some rear window sunshades. Additionally, you’ll get even more accent lighting, a larger, high-resolution 8.3-inch display, head-up display, and 19-speaker Bose stereo.
Audi provided me with a Q7 Prestige for testing and added expensive options like Orca Black Metallic paint ($575), a 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo ($5,000), the adaptive air suspension with 4-wheel steering ($4,000), and the Titanium Black Optic package ($1,500), which added 21-inch RS wheels and a lot of black gloss trim. With a $950 destination charge, that brought the drive-away price to $76,325. That’s a big jump from the Prestige’s $65,000 base price and an even bigger leap from the Q7’s base MSRP of $49,000, but keep in mind that properly optioned, the Q7’s price can get uncomfortably close to $90,000.
Before we dive right into engines, let’s talk more about the benefits of losing 700 pounds, because they are legion. For perspective, racers claim that every 6 pounds lost is equal to gaining 1 horsepower. Math will show you how much of an effect 700 pounds should have, but don’t forget that it also applies to handling, braking, fuel efficiency, and general wear & tear. Anyone who’s driven their car alone and then added one or two large adults can feel the difference in how their car performs. Now imagine being able to take 3, full-grown, 200-pound adults out of your car, and then removing another 100 pounds. The difference is more than nominal.
And if saving weight is of primary concern on your buying checklist, there’s good news for 2017. The new, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine outperforms the outgoing V6 with 252 hp, 273 lb-ft of torque, and a fuel-economy rating of 20 mpg city, 25 highway, 22 combined. That’s a 22% improvement over the old Q7’s V6, and it’ll do the sprint to 60 in around 6 and a half seconds, about a half-second faster than the old V6, too. These improvements for the redesigned 2.0-liter engine came about via adjustments to the exhaust manifold, the valve profile, and overall thermal efficiency. And lest you’re worried about towing, the 4-cylinder can still manage 4,400 pounds.
Even more impressive, moving up to the supercharged V6 means you’ll sacrifice only 1 mpg in the city and combined, trading that small penalty for the blessings of 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque—a mix of numbers that adds up to a 5.9-second 0-60 time, which is quick for the class, quick for the Q7’s weight, and quick for just about anyone this side of a race track. Equipped with the optional towing package, the V6-powered Q7 can haul 7,700 pounds.
Both of those engines come with Audi’s 8-speed Tiptronic, which handles power delivery with little issue. In fact, power is delivered so smoothly and in such a linear fashion that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking you’re going more slowly than you really are. Similarly, all Q7s are fitted with the rear-biased, quattro AWD system, which defaults to a 40:60 rear split, though 70 percent of the torque can be sent up front and 85 percent to the rear.
The optional adaptive air suspension means you can select between drive modes and even raise the ground clearance from 8.1 to 9.6 inches, and with the 4-wheel steering that system adds, the Q7’s turning radius is just 20 feet! As impressive as all that is, I believe my favorite feature of the Q7 is its braking. Despite its 5,000-pound curb weight, despite its height, it still manages to drop from 60 to 0 mph in just 112 feet. That’s shockingly good—that’s sports-car territory.
Form and Function
There has to be some bad news, no? Well, the Q7 falls behind competitors when it comes to cargo capacity. Open the power liftgate and you’ll have 14.8 cubic feet of space to work with, and if you fold the third row, that’ll expand to 37.5. Sacrifice all the rear seating and you’ll be rewarded with 71.6 cubic feet total, whereas competitors like the Volvo XC90 offer 85.7 total, though other numbers are more in line with the Q7's.
Thankfully, that lack of space isn’t felt by passengers for the most part. Head- and legroom are generous in the first two rows, and while the third row isn’t exactly expansive, it’s still doable for children and very small adults for the short term.
Better than that, the Q7 is quiet. Its stout, solid platform and a lot of sound deadening mean the Q7 remains that way, even at speed. It’s a really good argument for not spending the extra $5,000 on the Bang & Olufsen sound system, especially since the upgraded Bose system does its job quite well.
Audi may have the best interiors on the market right now, and the Q7 only pushes this assertion forward. Quality trim and fitment make it a pleasant place to spend some time, with plenty of leather and metal/wood trim, and the overall design is classic and elegant. My one complaint would be the abundance of controls for the screens. There’s a rotary knob, buttons, and the touchpad with handwriting recognition. Many features can be controlled by multiple inputs, and it can be confusing at worst, but after a day or so, you get used to what controls which feature. And it should be noted that while I generally write with my left hand, I never had a single issue writing on the touchpad with my right hand—every sloppy letter was immediately understood.
Technology is where the Q7 really tries to shine, and for 2017 it features FlexRay, high-speed optical fiber for all the electronic systems, allowing for higher data bitrates and reaction times, making full use of four Nvidia Tegra processors’ potential.
Benefitting from that is the TFT-LCD configurable virtual cockpit—a display that has a daunting amount of information to present, including full Google Earth integration. It’s an impressive system that demands time in the driveway to get fully acquainted. Attempting to do so on the road would be seriously dangerous, and even when fully familiar, it's just so pretty and there's so much information presented that it can represent a serious distraction on the road. Be warned.
Audi added a lot of safety tech with this new generation, and as a result the Q7 comes about as close to self-driving as is currently legally possible. Fitted with adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and forward-collision warning, the Q7 can literally drive itself up to 40 mph, although Audi would never suggest such a thing for reasons of litigious self-preservation. With the Trailering Assistant, it’ll even take care of the laborious process of backing up a trailer on its own, and if you so equip it, a Night Vision camera will identify the heat signatures of pedestrians and other warm-blooded obstacles well beyond the range of the headlights. Floridians looking to avoid alligators on evening constitutionals are sadly out of luck.
If you want to taste-test autonomous driving, the new Q7 would be a good way to do it. Properly equipped, the Q7 comes with a full suite of standard and optional airbags including rear side bags, 4-wheel disc brakes, traction and stability control, quattro AWD, plus adaptive cruise, lane-keep, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning and mitigation, night vision, and front and rear parking sensors. Audi Pre-Sense will tighten the seatbelts, prime the brake lines, and close all the windows and sunroof in the case of an imminent crash. However, I must mention that in previous tests of Audi's adaptive cruise and forward-collision warning and mitigation, the system has activated on me after incorrectly assessing discolorations or small bumps as obstacles, briefly braking hard before realizing the mistake and releasing. No system is perfect, and I hope the upgrades will help mitigate those issues.
By far, my favorite safety spec of the Q7 is its braking distance, which is achieved with little drama, especially with the optional adaptive suspension. And while the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to test the Q7, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named the Q7 a Top Safety Pick+, with top marks in all categories.
Cost-effectiveness in a luxury vehicle is a mixed bag, of course. Even with the base trim and the 4-cylinder, you’re still just a parking space away from $50,000, and for about half that you could drive away in a Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe that’ll still come with 3 rows, 4 wheels, a ton of space, and an engine up front. Is the Q7 worth twice that, or, fully trimmed and optioned, more than 3 times that?
It depends on what you want. If you want something with no frills, the Q7 will always be disappointed. However, if you’re looking at one of the higher trim levels of a Ford Flex, Mazda CX-9, or something similar, it’s worth checking out the Q7 Premium or Premium Plus trim, especially if you care at all about driving dynamics or mechanical elegance. At the very least, give one a drive. You won’t be disappointed.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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