Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Quattro S Line

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First car to feature the VW Group’s crucial new platform

This is an important car… and not just because it’s an all-new version of a popular product competing in one of the most hotly contested market segments. Underneath this new Audi Q7 lies an equally new platform that will underpin all the VW Group’s big SUVs for years to come. So not only will it provide some insight into, for instance, the next VW Touareg, perhaps more importantly for readers of this title it will also provide the basis of the next Porsche Cayenne and, of course, Bentley’s forthcoming Bentayga SUV not to mention the recently confirmed Lamborghini Urus.

The old Q7 was an unlovely beast. Ugly and uncomfortable, its appeal stemmed mainly from its sheer size and presence. Owners felt safe and it would carry up to seven people who could enjoy looking down on other road users. The new version is somewhat more sophisticated: it uses a hybrid steel and aluminium platform to shed hundreds of kilos from its kerb weight, while providing even more room inside. As a result the Q7 is perhaps even more practical and certainly a lot quicker than before.

Even so, it remains a device that’s hard to warm to. There’s no doubting the car feels more sprightly in a straight line and less cumbersome in the corners, but there’s still no fun to be had. And if you’re wondering what on earth can be expected of a two-tonne SUV in this regard, you won’t need to drive a Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover Sport to find out: a standard BMW X5 is far more engaging to drive.

There is of course a very plush cabin, especially if it’s an S Line model, but I find Audi’s new electronic architecture far less intuitive than the old. The TFT screen in front of you is dazzlingly clever, capable of shrinking the dials to coin size and filling your view with the navigation screen, but the complex system of buttons and dials required more time than I had to learn them. And I drove it for the best part of a week.

Its greatest talents are its ride and refinement. The new structure feels absurdly stiff, providing a platform sufficiently stable for the suspension to serve up what I suspect is the best ride in the class. Noise levels are as low as any I’ve encountered in this kind of car, too. And because it weighs upwards of a quarter of a tonne less than the old Q7, it’s surprisingly frugal: I managed about 36mpg which, with the optional large 85-litre fuel tank, provided an easy 600-mile range.

This, then, is not a car with which to fall in love. It is a tool that does its job to a very high standard and for that it deserves to be praised. But the Range Rover Sport will now also seat seven and, in terms of character and appearance inside and out, has moved the game far beyond this Audi’s reach. If Bentley is to make a success of the Bentayga, it will have to find qualities lacking in this first car to use its structure.