The new class of American aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R.Ford, is actually a wee bit lighter and smaller than the Nimitz-class supercarriers it will replace. Yet, it is going to be far deadlier and full of all sorts of technology that might have been in the realm of science fiction less than a decade ago, with things like an electromagnetic catapult. The reason I bring this up is because the Audi Q7 is a supercarrier on the roads – just try parking it at Delhi’s Khan Market.
Much like the new American ship, the second-generation Audi Q7, which should go on sale later this year in India, is actually lighter than its predecessor. Similarly, the new Q7 employs some really cool sci-fi technology – things like Audi ‘Pre-Sense’, a system that uses sensors in urban conditions to automatically slow down or brake the car if it senses a pedestrian suddenly emerging onto the road. Similarly, the car has sensors to warn of oncoming traffic when making a turn, or if a cyclist or a car is approaching behind you when you are opening a door, as well as a fairly innovative system of manoeuvring with a trailer. The sad part is that some of these new technologies, while really cool (and while they did, occasionally, not work to the high standards Audi had set on a demonstration course) may not be enabled in India, because some of it requires the use of radar, and the authorities here are yet to be convinced about why a civilian in a car needs radar. In any case, automatic braking for pedestrians in India is not something I am convinced will work very well.
So how is the new Q7 to drive? It must be pointed out that through relatively innovative use of aluminium in the car body, Audi has cut the weight of the second-generation Q7 by 325 kg. That is a lot of weight loss, even for a heavyweight two-ton car, and the weight loss reflects very well on the car’s handling characteristics. As I drove the Q7 in the picturesque valley overlooking Sion Airport in south-western Switzerland (yes folks, there is another Sion), I was constantly impressed at just how sharply the car handled corners on alpine roads. While the earlier Q7 did not suffer from excessive body roll, thanks to complex software controlling the car, this car manages to control such issues thanks to simpler physics and less momentum. The lighter weight has also led to improved acceleration and braking characteristics – the Q7 I drove the most, the 268 horsepower 3.0 TDI turbodiesel, seems to pick up speed far better than the outgoing model.
The engine is not a radical departure on the outgoing 3-litre TDI on the first-generation Q7, which also does duty on the A6 and A8L in India, but it has been tuned for slightly more power while being more fuel efficient. The Swiss are rather strict about speed limits, and a speeding ticket here can leave you heavily out of pocket, so there were no attempts made at seeing just how fast the Q7 could go, but Audi’s engineers assured me that it can go plenty fast. I also had a short go at the 328 horsepower 3-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol version, which is unlikely to come to India, and I have to admit that Audi’s engineers sounded right.
The new Q7’s interior is brilliant. The front fascia now features what appears to be a continuous air-vent, and the Q7 is the second Audi after the third-generation TT to feature the brilliant Virtual Cockpit display, instead of an instrument panel. The car’s fourth-generation Audi MMI telematics system, when loaded with a SIM card, picks up satellite imagery from Google Maps and overlays it over the navigation system. Of course, when you use navigation, Audi ensures that you cannot miss an instruction by making it appear at three places – the virtual cockpit, the main screen and, if you have the optional heads-up display, there as well. The Q7 also features full compatibility with Android Auto, which I did not try because I used Apple Car Play, and I must admit it is a far superior interface than anything I have seen in the past.
If there is one disappointment with the second-generation Q7, it is possibly in the looks department. This is a huge car, but Audi’s (and, for that matter, the entire Volkswagen Auto Group’s) current design obsession with sharp angles and relatively straight lines makes the car look like a blown up version of an Audi estate car. Yes, it is big and huge and remains a pain and a half to park, even if you try to use the automatic parking features, but when the Q7 was first unleashed upon us, it looked menacing. This car does not, but make no mistake, it isn’t soft and cuddly either. The Q7’s popularity with the rich and famous in Delhi and Mumbai will likely stay on with this new car – expect to see several on the roads come November-December, when sales finally start. Prices are expected to remain around the same as the existing car, starting from around Rs 65-70 lakh.