The standard eight-speed gearbox, sourced from German transmission specialist ZF, comes with a range of revised ratios which allow the engine to operate at lower revs than in the previous model. This brings improved economy and reduced emissions without sacrificing overall accelerative ability or in-gear performance in any way.
Official figures point to 47.9mpg and a CO2 rating of 153g/km. As part of the focus on weight, Audi has once again decided not to offer the Q7 with the low-range transfer case.
Running at typical motorway speeds with little more than 2000rpm showing on the rev counter along arrow-straight desert roads, the engine is superbly isolated from the cabin and remarkably free of vibration for a diesel.
A noticeable reduction in wind buffeting around the repositioned exterior mirrors and excellent insulation of road noise completes an impressive performance on refinement and acoustic qualities for the big new Audi. Front and rear occupants can converse at all times without ever having to raise their voices.
Another significant improvement is the ride, which is much more controlled and offers outstanding rolling refinement across a wider range of speeds in Comfort mode than before. With aluminium now used within the front suspension strut towers and other areas of the floorpan, the second-generation Q7 benefits greatly from an overall increase in structural rigidity.
Riding on the optional air springs fitted to each of the various prototypes we drove in Namibia, the new Audi swallowed most bumps and transverse ridges with tremendous conviction. It also isolates road shock with far greater authority than the old Q7, bringing a polished smoothness to its on-road character even in the worst of driving conditions.
Switching into Dynamic mode brings noticeably firmer damping and a reduction in wheel travel, although happily the inherent control and compliance provided by the reworked underpinnings remains part and parcel of the driving experience.
Along with the giant strides made in ride quality, the new Q7 also handles with impressive poise, helped by a 50mm reduction in the centre of gravity and a thoroughly redesigned suspension set-up boasting greater adjustment in terms of camber control. With a direct nature to its electro-mechanical steering and outstanding body control, the big Audi is sufficient wieldy to engage the driver over challenging roads in its sportier mode.
A new four-wheel steering system, which will come as an option on models bound for the UK, provides up to five degrees of opposite turn at low speeds for a one-metre reduction in the turning circle over the first-generation Q7, along with greater manoeuvrability around town.
At higher speeds, the system offers up to two degrees of parallel turn to improve stability. Spearing along at high speeds on the gravel roads outside Geluk proves the worth of the new system, which greatly enhances longitudinal consistency over the bumpy surface.
Given the conditions and the fact that the prototypes were running on all-terrain tyres, the grip levels also proved outstanding. In normal conditions the torque sensing quattro four-wheel drive system apportions the drive in a 40% front, 60% rear split, but it has been programmed to send up to 85% to the rear when required.
Heading off-road over rocks and sand, the Q7 made a pretty decent account of itself. But without the ground clearance and low-range gearing of some rivals, it is clearly focused more towards on-road driving than the rough stuff. Hackenberg hints that an off-road package will be offered at some point.