Following tenuously in the tyre tracks of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s full fat Range Rover, which was their chariot in the first instalment of The Trip, we headed for the Lake District in Audi’s new Q7. Coleridge and Wordsworth country awaited us, complete with mist-draped, moody mountains, stunning vistas and a resplendent orchestra of autumnal colours. It had proved difficult for me to extricate myself from under my cosy duvet, unabaiting rain having poured down for weeks and continuing to do so. As a 4×4 and SUV fanatic, I can’t deny, though, that I was admittedly still a teensy bit excited to say the least.

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Being completely frank, when I first clapped eyes on press images of the new Audi Q7, I initially perceived its styling as akin to an inflated, stretched Q3. Any apprehensive disappointment, apathy and ambivalence quickly melted away with the test car’s arrival, though. In the flesh, its design works cohesively, the gaping Singleframe grille, various curves and lines, and front and rear lights incorporating double arrow signatures striking me as effective individually and in unison. I much prefer the squarer silhouette of the new Q7, which has dropped the somewhat unsavoury, rap star image the original ended up with, in favour of a sophisticated, elegant, mature design, even in S line guise with mammoth 21” alloys.

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The second generation Audi Q7 is 37mm shorter and 15mm narrower than its predecessor, but despite this reduction in size, it’s actually more accommodating, Audi claiming it’s the most spacious premium SUV on the market. Yes, the interior is indeed cavernous but the new Q7 doesn’t feel intimidating to drive, apart when threading it down especially tight country lanes or city streets. The cockpit wraps around the driver in an engaging way, heightening the feeling of control. Typically Audi, the new Q7’s cabin is absolutely exquisite, comfort and luxury in plentiful supply. With elegant lines and shapes, tasteful materials, beautifully machined aluminium controls and superbly comfortable leather seats, it’s a lesson in masterly craftsmanship. Despite the latest incarnation somehow seeming slightly fiddlier, Audi’s ever-evolving MMI system is unarguably one of the best infotainment setups around.

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Audi has endowed the new Q7 with the Virtual Cockpit TFT instrumentation first seen in the latest TT, capable of displaying full-screen sat nav in place of the instruments if so desired. It may be a little superfluous, considering how large the central MMI screen is on its own, but it looks ruddy marvellous so I’m not complaining. Audi’s Phone Box feature is handy, complete with wireless charging for compatible phones, and although the digital TV option doesn’t work spookily cleverly like Jaguar Land Rover’s dual view system that displays different content to the passenger and driver, the new Q7’s interior is still a technophile’s paradise, the optional and rather magnificent Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system and the classy and practical LED lighting capping off the butter-soft interior splendidly.

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Practicality has also been strengthened on the new Q7, with 300ish cubic litres of boot space available when all seven seats are in use, giving you about the equivalent of a Ford Focus hatchback’s boot to play with. This may be roughly the same as the original model, but when the new Q7 is configured in five-seat mode, cubic litre capacity upto the luggage compartment cover increases from 775 litres in the mk1, to 890 litres in the mk2, whilst two-seat mode opens up a colossal 2,075 litres upto the load cover – an increase of 40 litres. The rearmost chairs operate electrically at the touch of a button, as does the luggage compartment cover, parcel shelf, tonneau cover or whatever you want to call it. It’s just a shame there’s nowhere to store the retracted cover. Families, business owners, sporty types and anyone else who has the frequent or occasional need to hump large loads into their SUV will appreciate the extremely minimal loading lip in the Q7, which makes sliding objects in so much easier. The boot can be configured with an array of nets, compartments, straps, hooks and the like, making it immensely practical as well as large, the air suspension can be knelt down at the back to turn the boot into a seat or make it easier for loading and unloading, and there’s even an electric tow bar option.

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The 272PS variant of the 3-litre, V6 diesel engine in the new Audi Q7 is so quiet it’s uncanny, and gear changes from the 8-speed tiptronic transmission are silky smooth and largely imperceptible, compensating nicely for the duvet I’d surrendered at 5am for our Lake District tour. It’s an effortless SUV to waft around in, with 600Nm torque at one’s disposal. Having shed 325kg compared to the original model, the new Q7 feels relatively light, although the real-life perception of pace doesn’t quite tally with its 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds. All-wheel steering would have been an interesting optional extra on the test car, touted as making this sizeable vehicle easier to manoeuvre in tight spots and able to corner with more aplomb. With steering that could do with a touch more crispness and feedback, this lady, like Maggie Thatcher, isn’t especially keen on turning either, at least not being flung around sharp bends. What the new Q7 does, though, is steamroller roads into submission, the adaptive air suspension giving it an astonishingly creamy ride. Earlier this year, I rated the Range Rover Sport highly in other ways but its ride compared to the new Q7 is bone-jarring. Piloting the Audi up and down the Lake District’s snaking, undulating roads was a real pleasure, the new model still providing a commanding seating position despite sitting lower than its predecessor, the mind-bogglingly brilliant Matrix LED lights more or less bathing Windermere in synthesised daylight on our way home, perfect for that plonker who complained to Trip Advisor recently about his lakeside hotel view being too dark. The lights are computer-controlled, working off camera and GPS data, providing maximum lighting without dazzling any other approaching or retreating road users in the area, even turning off individual diodes if necessary. Wow, indeed.

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After covering a few hundred miles, the test Q7 averaged 37.6mpg, which is pretty good compared to the published combined fuel consumption economy figure of 45.6mpg, as a lot of our driving was at low speeds up tight gradients. Incidentally, we’re not fortunate enough to possess the brass required to lunch at places like L’Enclume, indulging in taster menus featuring things like resting Manx queenies and a mallow-leaves liquor amuse-bouche that to Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan tasted like ‘Ray Winstone’s snot’. Sitting on the new Q7’s barely noticeable boot lip and eating our packed lunch after having lowered the air suspension was quite sufficient and emancipating, thanks very much. CO2 emissions of 136g/km make the 272PS version of Audi’s new Q7 greener than many of its similarly-specified rivals, the Range Rover Sport SDV6 emitting 185g/km, the Mercedes GL350 BlueTEC AMG Sport emitting 205g/km and the new Volvo XC90 D5 R-Design emitting 152g/km. I didn’t drive it off road and although such a suspension option is available, I wonder if it could match the ability of one of Land Rover’s offerings, few Q7 owners likely to venture too far off the beaten track anyway. Compared to its rivals, the new Q7 S line 272’s pricing is quite favourable, too, at £63,025 as tested.

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The rest of the Q7’s week with us saw it used as a commuting car and it acquitted itself excellently in stop-start rush-hour traffic, both in town and on the motorway. Some folk reckon its styling is either too boring or too American, but I’m having none of it. Tuners will soon get hold of it and do their blingy worst, I’m sure. For now, though, it’s one of the most attractive 7-seater SUVs available in the UK, its interior is like an extension of a plush home, and with a peach of an engine and drivetrain, madly clever lights and a raft of practical touches, it’s a belter.

© Author: Oliver Hammond, published motoring journalist, blogger & freelance writer

Photography: Isabel Carter

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