What is it?
This is the second-generation Audi Q7 in pre-production form. We've been invited to Namibia to join Audi development boss Ulrich Hackenberg and a team of Ingolstadt engineers on their last validation drive in extreme conditions on a mixture of course-chip bitumen, gravel roads, rocky trails and sandy tracks before the SUV heads into UK showrooms at a starting price of £50,340.
Departing in every area of construction from its predecessor, the new Q7 is the first model to be based around Audi’s new, second-generation MLB platform. The multi-material structure is also earmarked to underpin upcoming successor models to the second-generation Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg as well as the eagerly awaited Bentley Bentayga and a whole new generation of Audi models, including next year’s all-new A4.
Audi says the new platform offers far greater modularity than the older MLB structure and is key to a significant 325kg reduction in kerb weight over the first-generation Q7 thanks to the use of of hot formed steel and aluminium within the body, a heavily revised suspension featuring a greater number of aluminium components and the adoption of aluminium doors.
Up close, the new Q7 appears to be a fair bit smaller and generally less imposing than its predecessor, almost like high-riding estate with oversized wheel houses. These impressions are backed up by the dimensions. At 5050mm in length, 1970mm in width and 1741mm in height, the new Q7 is 370mm shorter and 15mm narrower than the outgoing model while sharing the same height.
The wheelbase has also been reduced, but only by 10mm at 2990mm, while the tracks are increased by 29mm and 11mm respectively front and rear to 1679mm and 1691mm.
You won’t have any trouble distinguishing Ingolstadt’s flagship SUV from its many competitors. Key styling cues, such as the bold single-frame grille, have been retained, although the surfacing treatment is now tauter than before, giving the new Q7 a more athletic look. Numerous crease lines within the flanks also give the impression that it sits closer to the ground.
A series of new aerodynamic refinements, including extensive underbody cladding to smooth air flow and a grille with flaps that automatically close to reduce wind turbulence when engine bay cooling is not required, have also netted the new Q7 a impressive drag co-efficient of 0.32.
The changes inside are even more far reaching than those outside. As part of Audi’s effort to provide the Q7, which goes under the internal codename AU536, with a more upmarket positioning, it gains a high, contemporarily styled dashboard with an optional 12.3in digital instrument panel offering various displays, minimal switchgear and a retractable 8.3in infotainment monitor.
It is combined with a prominent centre console that houses a stubby gear lever and newly designed MMI multimedia controller, among other switchgear. The cars may be billed as pilot production prototypes but the quality throughout is outstanding, with leather, metal and soft plastic surfaces.
A generous amount of seat adjustment provides the new Q7 with a wide range of driving positions. Visibility is excellent, helped by the repositioning of the exterior mirrors from the front quarter window to arms attached to the doors. On first acquaintance the dashboard appears to sit too low and the centre console too high, almost as if Audi’s designers wanted to give it a sportscar-style feel.
Before we set off, though, we climb into the rear of the new Audi and discover added space all round. Despite the subtle reduction in external dimensions, the new Q7 offers greater rear accommodation with worthwhile improvements in both leg and head room.
All models destined for the UK will come as standard with a third row of seats, providing seating for up to seven in all. Getting into the two rearmost seats is made easier than before by a second row that now tilts further forward. There is sufficient room for adults under six feet tall, and as we would discover later, the seats offer enough comfort for them not to be restricted to short-journey use.
With seven occupants there are a nominal 295 litres of luggage space, or 770 litres when the third row of seats is automatically folded away into the somewhat high-set floor of the boot via a button. With the second row of seats folded away, there are 1955 litres of capacity on offer.