Gliding along Hampshire A-roads in the all-new Audi Q7 and there's a sudden bang. A sparrow has somehow flown head-first into the windscreen, presumably distracted by this SUV's all-new looks – which are altogether more sophisticated and a bit less "station wagon" than the previous generation Q7. Or perhaps our two-winged friend was simply not used to Audis being so tall. Guess we'll never know.
Because the Audi Q7, given its SUV stature, is inherently tall; variably so thanks to Audi Drive Select making real-time ground-clearance adjustments that you can see and feel as the suspension adjusts. But, just like the glide-along driving sensation, its smooth transitions are about as far removed from a hydraulic lowrider as you can get.
It's a long vehicle too, at over five metres. Indeed it's the biggest Audi in the company's line-up, complete with seven seats as standard (the rear two of which can be folded down using electronic controls for an extra large boot space).
Some SUVs can be a little bus-like, but even with its near-two-metre width the Audi Q7, here with the extra of all-wheel steering (£1,100), nips around the bends like a London Black cab. Well, almost, its 11.4-metre turning circle isn't quite as tight, but it's still better than that of a 2015 Ford Mondeo. Nay bad Mr Q7.
However, we wouldn't compare the Q7 to a Mondeo any day of this week. This is very much Audi's push on the Volvo XC90, BMW X5 and, to some extent, Range Rover. All SUVs which look fairly big and burly from the outside, but are different beasts inside. Behind the wheel of the Audi feels like sitting high-up on a road-worthy magic carpet, particularly on the black Valcona leather seats (£1,100) fixed into our test model.
It's quiet, it's smooth, it's all-wheel drive for great road adhesion, and there's room for plenty of bums on seats. As Audi gleefully told us you could affix six child seats into this car no problems; a seventh would be possible but then who's going to drive?
Yet sat behind the wheel and consumed by the abundance of tech that's also on board, the sizeable interior melts away from consciousness and this large-scale Audi begins to feel like a familiar part of the company's line-up, just with added ground clearance. And that tech is rather lovely: it's the stuff that separates one manufacturer from another, particularly if you spend long periods of time on the road.
The must-have, in our book, is the latest Audi Virtual Cockpit – a 12.3-inch screen arrangement behind the steering wheel, comprising digital speedo and an abundance of other information. It's all changeable too, so whether you want a full-on MMI sat nav display or fuel consumption, selectable via two scrollable thumbwheels on the steering wheel, it's up to you. The downside, however, is that, for whatever reason, Audi charges £600 for this extra in the Q7 – whereas in the Audi TT (2015) it's a standard feature. Cheeky. We think it should be part and parcel of the setup for all customers.
This isn't the only screen on board, though, with a tablet-esque 7-inch display popping up and out of the dash to display the MMI sat nav (one feature that is standard). This screen comes in handy when making media adjustments – we seemed stuck, albeit content, with Rapper's Delight on repeat – and to dig into other settings. It's not a distracting touchscreen, with a control dial and touchpad ahead of the 8-speed auto stick sitting pride of place. Although, as it's beyond the gearstick, rather than to the near side of the driver, it felt a little unusually placed compared to, say, an equivalent BMW iDrive setup.
The tech continues aplenty with the aforementioned Drive Select and MMI sat nav (with Audi Connect for 4G/LTE connectivity), plus parking sensors and Audi pre-sense city (auto-braking under 27mph to avoid pedestrian collisions) as standard in all models.
Want to go even further? As part of the Dynamic Pack (WB1) option (£2,655) there's traffic-jam assist for assistive braking and steering up to 37mph; traffic sign recognition, which is particularly awesome in the head-up display (which projects onto the windscreen, floating, like a transparent layer – albeit a pricey one at £1,350); and all manner of predictive assists and collision avoidance built-in. The deeper your wallet, the more the Q7 watches your back.
Tech is one thing, but how the Q7 feels to drive is, but of course, integrally important. The previous model had a reputation as a bit of a bruiser: physically massive, heavy, and likely to be found five inches from your rear bumper, it wasn't a car to mess with.
The Q7 in 2015 is built on the all-new MLB evo platform, with an aluminium and steel composite frame that (in its five-seat arrangement) means 325kg less weight than last time around. But just because it's lighter doesn't mean it's softer. There's that identifiable Audi snarl, particularly set off thanks to Matrix LED headlights (£950) which are bright enough to even glint through sunlight. Sat upon optional 21-inch wheels (£1,100) it's like an angry A7 on stilts from the front, hiding a 3.0-litre v6 TDi engine behind that typically bold Audi grille and four-ring logo.
At just over two tonnes it needs that engine's 272bhp to whip it along the roads, but with 0-62mph in 6.5-seconds and a top speed of 145mph it's no slouch. Particularly when selecting Dynamic from the Audi Drive Select mode where you'll get quicker, snappier take-off and pull. Overtaking ultra-slowcoaches on the quiet New Forest roads was no problem at all.
Speaking of which, and lovers of the plush, green forest that we are, CO2 emissions between 153-163g/km and a supposed fuel consumption between 44.1-50.4kmpg doesn't make it hugely economical. It's on par with the competition, but – and in our typically British Imperial measurement format, just to throw a mix of miles and kilometres out there – we were roughly between the 26-29mpg mark, which isn't a million miles from its maker's claims.
What you've probably noticed in among this first drive is a whole lot of brackets complete with varying sums of money. And that's because the Audi Q7 can quickly add up to a price as sizeable as its seven-seat interior. Some time in 2016 there will be an e-tron hybrid electric option available too, again, no doubt, for considerably more cash.
With an on-the-road start price of £50,340 (raised to £52,970 for the S-Line model, complete with those black-out rear and rear-side windows), the whole S-Line arrangement as shown totals a fairly astonishing £71,010. Forego the Bose sound system upgrade (£1,100) as it didn't sound too hot to our ears, but the next-step Bang & Olufsen setup costs an eye-watering £6,300, which puts every other mentioned option into perspective really. So the Q7 is not only a sparrow killer, it's a bit of a wallet killer too.
Is the Q7 worth it? If you're adamant on buying an SUV then Audi's biggest car can certainly stand tall and proud. Sure, it's more cash than the Volvo XC90, but this is an Audi and, daresay, has a certain added kudos about it. It's less tank-like than the BMW X5, roughly on par in pricing terms, and should hold its value over the years well too. As far as those competitors should be concerned, the Audi Q7 is a case of SUVving wicked this way comes...