New Audi Q7 diesel sheds pounds, aims for over 40 mpg average

Audi introduced an update to its Q7 SUV at the 2015 Detroit auto show, featuring reduced weight, greatly increased fuel economy and a stunning cabin tech package.

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Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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2016 Audi Q7
Audi's Q7 update for 2016 loses weight, then adds fuel economy and significant tech features. Josh Miller/CNET

DETROIT -- When Audi tackled its update to the Q7 SUV, it improved the car from top to bottom, reducing weight, improving fuel economy, increasing interior space while reducing overall dimensions, adding advanced driver assistant features and completely redesigning the cabin electronics interface.

The 2016 Q7 takes advantage of Audi's multiple technology initiatives, giving it the most cutting-edge features in the lineup.

The new Q7 shows up in five- and seven-seat configurations contained in a body measuring slightly shorter and narrower than the outgoing model. At the same time, Audi increased the interior space for passengers and cargo. The body design loses some curves from the previous model, adding angles for an aggressive appearance. The grille takes on a more flat, hexagonal shape, adding to the styling.

The reengineered body and chassis, making use of more aluminum than previously, helps the Q7 lose more than 700 pounds, bringing total weight for the Q7 TDI version down to 4,398 pounds, pretty low for an SUV of this size.

That weight loss means improved fuel economy. Audi notes that the Q7 TDI should get an average of 41.3 mpg, but that number is likely to come in lower with EPA testing.

Audi loads 2016 Q7 with all the tech (pictures)

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The Q7 TDI relies on a turbocharged diesel 3-liter V-6 engine producing 255 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. Audi will also offer the Q7 with a turbocharged 3-liter V-6 gasoline engine and a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, this latter configuration expected to get 138 mpg equivalent fuel economy and boast the most power in the line-up.

Underneath the new Q7 Audi completely reengineered the suspension, changing front and rear components from double wishbone to a multilink architecture, suggesting that will lead to a more comfortable and agile ride. An air suspension will also be available, adding comfort and adjustable ride height.

Taking advantage of Audi's Piloted Driving initiative, the Q7 gets adds a traffic jam assist feature to adaptive cruise control. This feature will actually take over the steering, keeping the car in its lane, at speeds up to 41 mph. Automated parallel and perpendicular parking is another available assistance feature.

Future-forward cabin

Audi takes a big step forward with the Q7's cabin, fitting it with a similar Virtual Cockpit interface that first came out in the new TT . This interface puts a large LCD in place of the instrument cluster, capable of showing the navigation system map overlaid with virtual gauges for speed and tach. Unlike the TT, the Q7 also features a rectangular LCD that rises up from the dashboard, showing a semicircular menu with navigation, media, phone and driving data.

The Virtual Cockpit interface makes more use of the touchpad Audi introduced a few years ago, while reducing the size of its traditional dial controller.

Audi Virtual Cockpit
Audi's Virtual Cockpit puts a big map display, overlaid with virtual gauges, in front of the driver. Josh Miller/CNET

Similar to the new A3, connected features in the cabin take advantage of the Q7's 4G/LTE data connection, allowing online destination search, Google Earth integration with the navigation system, and over-the-air update for the stored maps. As an additional option, Audi offers Android-based tablets that not only serve for rear-seat entertainment, but are tightly integrated with the car. Connecting to the car over Wi-Fi, these tablets let passengers program music, set destinations for navigation and even view vehicle data, such as remaining range.

Audi rounds out the cabin tech for the Q7 by offering not one, but two premium sound options, one from Bose and one from Bang & Olufsen, both featuring 3D. Audi demonstrated a concept version of the Bang & Olufsen audio system at CES 2014, which offered impressively staged sound. For the production vehicle, this audio system uses 23 speakers and almost 2,000 watts of amplification.

The sheer mass of technologies in the new Q7 could lead to disaster, but Audi has done such a good job integrating similar features in its other models that this SUV is likely to be a success. Owners will be able to appreciate cutting-edge cabin technologies every bit as functional as their smartphones in a very capable and comfortable vehicle. Although not a serious off-roader, the Q7 should make drivers feel comfortable in harsh weather while also maneuvering nimbly through urban areas.

Given all the technologies Audi brings to bear in the 2016 Q7, a fully loaded version is likely to be very costly, but if the Q7 TDI meets its fuel economy projections, it will save plenty of money at the pump.