I am a total geek for cool technology. And I'll admit I've been itching to try out a vehicle that has some advanced autonomous technology.
Enter the 2017 Audi Q7
with adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist.
I had a lot of fun freaking out my passengers as I hovered my hands over the steering wheel while approaching a curve on the highway. Luckily my husband has nerves of steel and a boatload of patience.
The all-new Q7 is one of the more technologically advanced vehicles I've driven recently, and I loved its smart technology, quick acceleration and comfortable ride.Design
The Q7 is completely redesigned for 2017, with the most noticeable change being to the grille. Gone is the cheap-looking bar that runs through the center of trapezoidal grille. In its place are chiseled silver accents and a sculpted trapezoid surround. So, the shape is the same but the implementation is much more refined.
I love this new front fascia for Audi, but living in a state that requires front plates, I'm immediately sorry that a crappy piece of metal will mar this pretty face.
The exterior lines are more austere and handsome than the previous model. The last generation seemed a little curvier, whereas the 2017 model has numerous distinct and well-defined horizontal lines. I'd say the overall look is elegant.
If you've ever sat in an Audi, this new interior will definitely feel familiar with one exception: the available virtual cockpit. This 12.3-inch display sits behind the steering wheel and offers maps and vehicle information in vibrant color. The first time I toggled through the display, I was on visual overload, but I came to love the beautiful larger-than-life map behind the wheel. The great thing about it is if you don't love it, you can change it out or minimize it.
The interior is generally comfortable with a highly adjustable driver's seat that affords excellent visibility out all windows. I didn't spend any ride time in the rear seats, but appreciated the fact that each seat in the middle row slides forward individually. This helps a parent who needs to reach a child in a car seat as well as a larger passenger who might be seated in the standard third row.
Speaking of the third row, access is a bit difficult and you will only have legroom if the middle seats are moved forward. While I think it would be tough to fit anyone larger than a child in the third row, I heard from a couple followers on Instagram who are around 6 feet tall, and they said they could fit back there as long as it wasn't for a long ride. All I have to say: Better them than me!Ride & Handling
For the 2017 model year, there is only one engine choice: a 3.0-liter V-6 engine that delivers 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Q7 aficionados will notice that this is the same power that the previous-gen, top-tier S-Line delivered.
Even though we're talking about a vehicle that weighs almost 5,000 pounds, I thought this was plenty of power for fast merges and aggressive passing maneuvers. Acceleration was fast, smooth and seamless.
The Q7 comes with seven drive-select modes, including Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Offroad and Individual settings. I spent some time in the various modes, and I have to admit, I didn't notice too much of a difference between them. So, at the end of the day, I kept it in Comfort mode assuming that it would protect me and my passengers a bit better over the spring potholes that seem to be cropping up everywhere.
For a larger SUV, I thought the Q7 was rather light on its feet, and driving in an urban environment, I appreciated the excellent turning radius. I was able to make tight turns through narrow alleys without doing a 3-point turn. To that end, the available top-view camera that comes with the Vision Package ($2,000) was very helpful. I used it every time I entered or exited a parking space.Fuel economy
This is where I say, "I really miss the TDI variant of the Q7." I know there's this whole "dieselgate" thing going on, but the 28 mpg highway estimate was really nice for a large SUV - and attainable. So, I hope they get this emissions thing figured out stat and bring back the diesel model soon.
But in lieu of miracles, the gasoline sibling actually has really decent fuel economy numbers all by itself. EPA estimates that you should get 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. In a test week filled with both highway and city driving, I averaged 21.3 mpg, which is 0.3 above what EPA estimates you should get for combined driving. I consider that a win.Tech & gadgets
Far and away, the coolest tech feature on the new Q7 is the adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist that I alluded to in my intro. This is a semi-autonomous function that aids drivers when their attention may start to wane at the end of a long work day during rush-hour traffic.
When engaged, this feature not only measures the distance between your car and the car in front of you but also uses its side cameras to "see" the lanes and keep you squarely in line. I tested this on several occasions, and I found that it worked surprisingly (and freakishly) well. At first I tentatively let my fingers loosely hold the wheel, then as I grew more confident, I stood at attention while I did a full hands-free hover over the wheel. The car not only expertly controlled the speed but also masterfully held the lane with tiny wheel corrections. It also tells you to put your hands back on the wheel after 15 seconds.
I left the feature engaged even when I was in full command of the wheel, and I have to admit it was disconcerting when I felt the wheel tug at my hands if the car didn't agree with my line.
There are a lot of implications with this feature, and on the upside, the car very often sees things before the driver does and reacts more quickly. It also aids the driver who might get distracted on a phone call or with a screaming child in the back seat. On the downside, I could see this promoting bad habits like texting and driving - or worse.
But at the end of the day, if it can prevent more car crashes, I'm all in.
One thing I need to specify: I was on really good highway roads while I tried out this feature with well-painted lines and nary a construction beacon in sight. I could see this system faltering in a construction zone where temporary lanes may not be clearly marked or may intersect with previous permanent lane lines. So, user beware: This is not a substitute for a coherent and competent driver.
Another cool tech feature that I fell in love with: the virtual cockpit. I was downright mesmerized by the four-color Google Earth map that appeared behind the steering wheel on the 12.3-inch display. But I appreciated the fact that you could change out the display to vehicle, phone or audio settings based on personal preference.
Also of note: The Q7 offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at the Premium Plus trim. The system works fairly well, but unlike other vehicles I've tested with this feature, it is not operated via touch screen. You have to use the MMI scroll wheel to page through the menus, which was a bit cumbersome.
I only tested CarPlay with my iPhone, and I found that the system itself is still a bit clunky. None of the vehicles I've tested with CarPlay so far, however, have a seamless transition between CarPlay operations and vehicle operations -- though Audi does a better job than most. For example, if I wanted to use the voice commands to access a vehicle operation, I just pressed and released the voice button quickly. If I wanted to use the voice commands to access a CarPlay feature, I had to press and hold the voice button to access Siri.Trims
There are three trim levels for the 2017 Q7, with the amenities being the primary difference. All trims come standard with the 3.0-liter V-6 engine and all-wheel drive.
Premium: This trim includes standard features such as three-zone automatic climate control, leather seats, 8-way power adjustable front seats, heated front seats, Bluetooth phone pairing, Audi pre-sense, push-button start and rearview camera. The base price is $55,750.
Premium Plus: This trim adds standard features such as navigation, the Audi MMI all-in-touch with handwriting-recognition technology, SiriusXM Satellite radio with a 90-day subscription, keyless entry, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a hands-free liftgate release, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The base price is $59,750.
Prestige: This top-tier trim adds the most standard high-tech equipment, including four-zone automatic climate control, 12-way power adjustable front seats, ventilated front seats, a Bose 3D sound system, the virtual cockpit, the top-view camera system and a head-up display. Base price is $65,250.
The test vehicle was a Premium Plus model and added every pricy option, including the Driver Assistance Package ($2,400), Vision Package ($2,000), Cold Weather Package ($500), Warm Weather Package ($1,600), Bose 3D sound system ($1,100), Florett Silver metallic paint ($575) and 20-inch, 10-spoke-star design wheels ($1,00). The as-tested price rang in at a hefty $68,925.Safety
The 2017 Q7 has all the standard safety features you've come to expect in a vehicle including front dual-stage airbags, front thorax side airbags, side head-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and rearview camera.
What I really like is that the basic and city Audi pre-sense are standard. This includes pedestrian and vehicle collision warning and braking initiation.
At the time of publishing this review, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had not crash tested the 2017 Q7. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it glowing marks, including it on the 2016 Top Safety Pick Plus list.
IIHS gives the Q7 "Good" ratings in all crash tests and a "Superior" rating for crash avoidance and mitigation.New for 2017
The Q7 is all-new for the 2017 model year. Vehicle highlights include standard all-wheel drive, towing capacity of 7,700 pounds, standard power liftgate, available virtual cockpit, standard two-panel panoramic sunroof, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Additionally, the base price increase over the previous generation is about $6K.A few of my favorite things
My favorite feature on the Q7 is probably the virtual cockpit. It's overwhelming and stunning, and I found having the large map behind the wheel to be helpful. It freed up my center display for audio or CarPlay functions. Plus, well, it just looked pretty.
Coming in a close second, however, was the adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist. I could see this feature being a literal life-saver for drivers who occasionally get distracted. And, let's face it, we all get distracted while we're driving - whether it's by a well-meaning passenger who says, "Look over there!" (Hi, Mom) or that text message you shouldn't look at but just can't keep your hands off your phone.
A less-techy fave: The power-operated third-row seat. This allows you to put the seats up or down with the push of a button. The added bonus is that there are redundant controls at the rear of the vehicle and near the second row.What I can leave
While I definitely appreciated the available rear cross-traffic alert that includes the rear collision avoidance assistant, it was a bit jarring when I first experienced it - especially since it was completely unnecessary. I was backing out of my parking space, which is really tight, and the Q7 slammed on the brakes. I thought I'd hit something, but when I looked at the top-view camera monitor, it appears that the Q7 thought I was going to hit my neighbor's vehicle. The reason why I think the sudden braking was unnecessary: The trajectory lines on the monitor showed I was in the clear.
Yes, the middle seats move forward to accommodate larger passengers who might be sitting in the back row. And, yes, each seat moves individually - which is kind of cool. But, the manual maneuvering of the seats is a bit tough, and I particularly disliked the difficulty of tilting the outboard seats to allow access to the third row. I really had to muscle the seats to operate them, which means a smaller child - who is the likely candidate to sit in the third row - absolutely would not be able to do this without adult help.The bottom line
The coolest thing about the Q7 is the available technology. The ride and handling are nice, but I fell in love with the virtual cockpit and traffic jam assist. And, I admit, I'm probably going to be comparing every other luxury SUV I drive to this vehicle. In case you're wondering, the bar is high.
I will point out that the BMW X5 has more model variations than the Q7, including a two-wheel drive variant, a diesel model, a plug-in hybrid and a V-8 engine option. But to get it comparably equipped to the Q7 I drove, you'll pay about $1K more at $69,195. And it doesn't have a virtual cockpit.Read more from Jill Ciminillo:
* Our top picks for the safest cars
* The future is now! Autonomous tech is already in cars of today
* Cool tech integrations in vehicles