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Smooth and sophisticated, but somehow stilted: the 2018 Audi Q7 conundrum

What changes will make the 2018 Audi Q7 different?

Don’t count on much, outside perhaps new paint colors and higher prices. Because Audi’s seven-passenger crossover SUV was all-new for model-year 2017, truly major updates are unlikely before model-year 2020. The redesigned 2017 Q7 marked a new direction for the brand’s exterior and interior designs. While it’s roughly the same size as its 2006-2016 predecessor, today’s Q7 is about 500 pounds lighter, thanks to aluminum-intensive construction. The payoff is better acceleration, handling, and fuel economy.

In terms of size and price, the Q7 occupies a middle ground among premium crossovers with three rows of seats. It’s slightly larger than the midsize-class Acura MDX or BMW X5 but it’s smaller than the full-size Mercedes-Benz GLS. It’s more expensive than the Acura but less costly than its German rivals. Q7’s “not too big, not too small” approach is appealing for a fair number of luxury-crossover shoppers, but fewer than Audi would like. Despite sales that are up about 8 percent through the first quarter of 2017, the MDX, X5, and GLS remain more popular.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

Only to see if Audi manages a huge surprise and brings a plug-in hybrid and/or diesel Q7 to North America. That’s highly unlikely, though. The previous-generation Q7 was available with a diesel, but when parent-company Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions tests, the U.S. government ordered it to halt sales of all its diesel cars and SUVs and pay billions of dollars in fines and compensation. As for the Q7 e-tron plug-in hybrid, it was to have used a diesel V-6. Instead, Audi reportedly is developing a pure-electric version of the Q7, called the e-tron Quattro, but it’s not expected until 2019, at the earliest.

As such, the 2018 Q7’s lineup should carry over with base Premium, midrange Premium Plus, and top-end Prestige models. Premium and Premium Plus will offer buyers the choice of a turbocharged four-cylinder or supercharged V-6 engine; the Prestige should be V-6 only. All will come standard with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you find the X5 too small and the GLS too big, the 2017 Q7 may be just right for you. We are particularly intrigued by the turbo four-cylinder engine, which Audi introduced mid model-year. Q7 and Volvo’s XC90 are the only three-row luxury crossovers to offer a four-cylinder. Priced from $49,950, 2017 Q7s so equipped started $6,500 less than their V-6 counterparts. Any ’17 Q7, though, will likely cost at least a few hundred dollars less than its 2018 counterpart, so buying a ’17 gets you the same basic crossover for slightly less money.

Will the styling be different?

No. The ‘17 Q7 helped Audi introduce its new design ethos. This is most apparent in the front end, which sports a hexagonal grille and sharply raked headlights. It’s the same look you’ll see on Audi’s A3 and A4 cars, as well as the redesigned 2018 Q5 compact crossover. Q7’s reshaped roof and angular haunches give it a trimmer, more athletic look that compliments the vehicle’s quarter-ton reduction in curb weight. Still, there’s little visual excitement here, and some would deem the Q7 understated to a fault.

Inside, things are as luxurious as you’d expect from Audi. The dashboard and controls are pleasingly contemporary, and the brand’s available MMI center-console infotainment-control interface continues to improve for ease of use and overall responsiveness. The ultimate gee-whiz factor is the Prestige model’s standard Virtual Cockpit, which replaces a traditional instrument cluster with a single 12.3-inch programmable LCD display. Capable of displaying strikingly clear navigation maps and other vehicle info, it’s a neat piece of gadgetry. But wrapping up so much data in a single display makes a system failure a frightening prospect.

The first two seating rows are exceptionally accommodating and comfortable. The third row is problematic. Ingress and egress are very awkward and there’s little more than toddler-sized space. Another penalty of Q7’s size: at 71.6 cubic feet, maximum cargo capacity of is among the lowest of any three-row crossover.

Any mechanical changes?

Highly unlikely, given the taint of diesel powertrains and the pure-electric’s timetable. Expect the ’18 Q7 to reprise the ‘17’s four- and six-cylinder engine. The former is VW/Audi’s corporate turbocharged 2.0-liter unit, here with 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Models so equipped get the 2.0T designation. Those with the V-6 are badged 3.0T and have a supercharged 3.0-liter with 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. All Q7s deliver power to all four-wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive. An adaptive air suspension and handling-enhancing four-wheel steering are available on the Prestige model.

We’ve not yet tested a Q7 2.0T. V-6 versions have plenty of power, even if they don’t feel quite as quick as Audi’s claimed 5.7-seconds 0-60 mph. Expect the four-cylinder to be slower, but given our experience with this engine in other Audis, we wouldn’t assume it’ll feel underpowered, especially since a 2.0T should be more than 100 pounds lighter than a 3.0T.

The Q7 generally strikes a good balance between handling competence and ride comfort. It’s not as sharp through the twisties as an X5 or as composed over bumps as a GLS. But most buyers should find this Audi’s road manners more than satisfactory. For best ride composure, keep the available Audi Drive Select and air suspension systems in the default Auto setting. Comfort mode induces annoying secondary motions over bumps, while Sport makes the ride borderline harsh, with little corresponding improvement in handling.

Will fuel economy improve?

EPA ratings for the 2018 Q7 were not released in time for this report, but they shouldn’t change from the 2017 numbers. Expect 2.0T models to again rate 20/25/22 mpg city/highway/combined. Surprisingly, this isn’t much better than the V-6’s 19/25/21-mpg rating. All ’18 Q7s will again require premium-grade 91-octane gasoline.

Will it have new features?

Audi may shuffle some standard and optional equipment, but count on the overall feature set to stand pat for 2018. Even the “entry-level” Premium models have an appealing array of standard amenities, including leather upholstery with 8-way power heated front seats, a panoramic moonroof, a power liftgate, front- and rear-obstacle detection, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights.

Premium Plus editions will again build on that with standard blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert; imbedded GPS navigation with support for Audi connect telematics, Apple CarPlay, and Google Android Auto; and hands-free operation for the power liftgate. Prestige versions will expand on Premium Plus models with full LED headlights, four-zone automatic climate control, ventilated front seats, rear side-window sunshades, Bose-brand audio system, a surround-view camera, a head-up instrument display, and the Virtual Cockpit.

Kudos to Audi for making forward-collision alert and autonomous emergency braking standard across the board, too. Unfortunately, other driver-assistance features, such as radar-based adaptive cruise control; automatic high-beam headlight control; and lane-departure warning/prevention are available only on the Premium Plus and Prestige as part of a $2,400 Driver Assistance option package. Only Q7 models so equipped receive the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s second-highest award, called Top Safety Pick. The Q7 fell short of the institute’s ultimate Top Safety Pick+ rating because of headlight performance, a new metric the IIHS added for model-year ’17.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll probably be a bit higher. How much depends on potential standard-equipment shuffling – and on the severity of traditional year-over-year price inflation. These estimated base prices include Audi’s destination fee, which was $950 on the 2017 Q7.

With the four-cylinder engine standard, estimated base price is $51,000 for the 2018 Audi Q7 Premium 2.0T and $55,000 for the Premium Plus 2.0T. Add at least $6,500 to both for the V-6 engine. At the top of the pecking order, look for the Prestige to start around $66,500.

Among key options, expect any paint color other than basic white or black to cost $575. Upgraded dashboard wood inlays would be $350. Several wheel and tire packages that include rims of up to 21 inches in diameter would cost from $1,000-$1,800, depending on model. Other options available on all models would include a Cold Weather package with heated second-row seats and a sport steering wheel ($500); a tow hitch ($550); torso-protecting rear side airbags ($350); and a factory-sourced wiring loom that can accept a dealer-installed dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system ($150); and a black cloth headliner (no charge).

At around $3,000, the Premium’s MMI Navigation Plus Package would again include imbedded navigation, Audi connect, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Many of the Prestige’s standard features will again be available on the Premium Plus. Expect the $2,000 Vision Package to again add full LED headlights, Virtual Cockpit, and a surround-view camera. The $1,600 Warm Weather Package should again contain ventilated front seats, rear side-window sunshades, and four-zone automatic climate control. For $1,100, you could again add the Bose audio system.

Expect 2018 Prestige versions to gain offer several exclusive packages. The Luxury Package ($6,000) would include massaging front seats, additional leather trim in the cabin, Valcona-brand leather, an Alcantara faux-suede headliner, and power soft-closing doors. Also returning should be the Titanium-Black Optic Package ($1,500) with unique exterior trim and 21-inch wheels with summer-only performance tires. The Adaptive Chassis Package ($4,000) should again add the previously mentioned air suspension and four-wheel steering. Finally, the Prestige should again feature a night-vision camera ($2,500) and a high-end Bang & Olufsen audio system ($5,000).

At what should be a retail price of a little less than $60,000, our pick would be the Q7 Premium Plus 2.0T with Driver Assistance, Cold Weather, and Warm Weather packages. We wish Audi would separate the Virtual Cockpit from the Vision Package so you could take advantage of the otherwise worthwhile LED headlights and surround camera.

When will it come out?

Look for a 2018 Audi Q7 release date no later than the third quarter of 2017.

Best competitors

Acura MDX, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, Volvo XC90

What change would make it better?

We’d like to see Audi include a full suite of driver-assistance features as standard on all models. Further, the company should make the gimmicky Virtual Cockpit a standalone option instead of bundling it with other amenities like the surround camera and LED lighting. We would also extend that request to the Prestige.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]