Luxury SUV Audi Q7 combines agility with size

The 2017 Audi Q7 is the rare luxury SUV that feels like a tiny mid-sizer. You might actually forget you're in a tall utility vehicle that's around 200 inches long. 

Thomas Peter/Reuters/File
Andre Brown of Audi Japan presents the new Audi Q7 e-tron quattro at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo in October.

Nimble, agile, and even tossable aren’t words that you’ll often find in driving impressions of a big three-row utility vehicle. Yet they most definitely apply to the 2017 Audi Q7.

The new Q7 manages to provide a driving experience that, on tight, curvy roads, feels like that of a tidy mid-sizer. You might actually forget you’re in a tall utility vehicle that’s around 200 inches long—the length of a full-size sedan.

The 2017 Q7 is essentially the same size as its predecessor, yet it has a new aluminum-intensive body construction (alloy body panels and a structure using high-strength steels) and completely new platform. It’s nearly 500 pounds lighter (or by official U.S. specs, more like 300 pounds) and its center of mass is about two inches lower.

But it also has its tricks—like all-wheel steering. In top-trim form, with all the right option boxes clicked, this big utility wagon has a sophisticated, height-adjustable air suspension and well-tuned suspension that really work to maximize this vehicle's ride quality and cornering potential.

With that top chassis combination, the Q7’s suspension soaks up the side-to-side pitchiness that can be unsettling to taller vehicles over mottled backroads, yet it’s exceptionally good in sudden weight transfers for tight corners and quick emergency maneuvers—when it doesn’t stay artificially flat but instead loads up like a good, very firmly tuned standard suspension.

Quattrosteer, not Quadrasteer

The Q7 is the first SUV with four-wheel steering since GM’s Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL models offered it more than a decade ago.

Just as in those vehicles—and in most models with all-wheel steering—the Q7 steers its rear wheels in the opposite direction (up to 5 degrees from center) as the front wheels at very low speeds (knocking about three feet from the turning circle) and then slightly in the same direction as the fronts at high speeds, to aid stability.

Victor Underberg, the head of chassis dynamics at Audi AG, rode along with us for an hour or so, and he helped us understand how the all-wheel steering works in the Q7.

According to Underberg, there are some serious differences in the behavior of the rear wheels between the Q7’s Drive Select modes (Comfort, Dynamic, Auto, and Individual, as well as Off-Road in some situations). The Q7’s Dynamic Mode not only reduces the maximum angle of the rear wheels in tight cornering but changes the entire way the system works in quick maneuvers and nearer to the limit.

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