First drive: 2020 Audi Q7 goes long on tech, short on space and fuel economy

February 28, 2020

The mid-cycle refresh of the 2020 Audi Q7 crossover SUV brings a mix of contradictory developments. One of the better infotainment systems gets better, but the new turbocharged V-6 contributes to lower fuel economy than the outgoing supercharged V-6. 

While it may seem like one step forward, one step back for the stylish three-row crossover, one thing hasn’t changed: The cramped third row will only fit grade schoolers in a pinch. 

The Q7 has put style over functionality since it first launched for 2007, but the change under the hood is more about short-term losses for long-term gains for the brand. This may not translate well to consumers.

The 335-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission makes 369 pound-feet of torque, and represents an improvement of 329 hp and 325 lb-ft in the outgoing supercharged 2019 model. The turbo V-6 can be laggy, but that is easily overcome on the Prestige model we tested by flicking the paddle shifters before a passing move. Even uphill, there is ample power to get past slow-moving RVs and other road obstacles. Without the downshift, expect a slight pause under heavy throttle. 

More power is usually welcome, but it comes at a loss of 3 mpg combined: The 2020 Q7 gets 17 mpg city, 21 highway, 18 combined; the 2019 earned EPA ratings of 19/25/21 mpg. 

More standard equipment adds 150 pounds, which doesn’t help fuel economy, but the 48-volt mild-hybrid system should. The mild hybrid uses a belt-alternator starter to help with start up and shut down by increasing the range of the stop/start system. As you lay off the gas to coast into a stop, the motor shuts off engine power at speeds up to 14 mph until the stop to conserve gas. Don’t worry, stop/start haters, once the cars in front of you begin to move, sensors will kick on the engine quicker than you taking your foot off the brake to the gas, so it’s almost unnoticeable. 

EPA testing doesn’t account for the mild-hybrid system, Q7 product manager Anthony Foulk explained to us. 

Instead, the EPA factors into its calculations the rolling resistance of tires, and that has made the biggest difference on the 2020 Q7. For the 2019 model, 18-inch wheels were standard; for 2020, 19-inch wheels are standard but Audi reported to the EPA that the optional 21-inch wheels will be the most popular choice for Q7 shoppers. These larger wheels negatively affect the EPA’s calculations. If fuel economy is the concern, opt for the standard wheels or the 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine that gets 19/25/21 mpg.

The new engine benefits Audi in that it can be dropped into more vehicles, such as the A6, A7, and Q8, for now. 

“It’s a common block used in many applications,” Foulk said. “it’s very versatile.”

That’s good for Audi.  

The good news for Q7 shoppers is it does better at what it was already good at. One of the more stylish three-row crossovers, the 2020 Q7 gets vertical slats in the grille instead of horizontal, and a broader, bolder lower bumper. Updated LEDs with DRLs come standard and wrap around the side, where sleeker rocker panels and the more muscular wheels buff out the profile. From behind, a new quad tailpipe design ensures the Q7 will never be considered an SUV minivan. It’s a Roman chin in a lineup of double chins. 

That’s good for style but bad for third-row functionality. At 5’ 8.5” (yes, the half-inch matters), I squeezed back there by moving the second row seat forward. It takes two actions to move the seat, which is already worse than the single push-button on less expensive three-row crossovers such as the Honda Pilot or even VW’s Group’s own Volkswagen Atlas. The sunglasses on my forehead scraped the ceiling. Either seat gets an armrest and cupholder, but with cargo room that only goes as high as the headrest, where the rear windshield slants inward to the roof, storage space is so limited that if you were to be on carpool duty picking up five middle-schoolers most of their gargantuan backpacks would have to ride with them, instead of behind them. So there goes the comfort. 

The second row is better. Audi says the 30/35/30 split second-row seats can fit three car seats, but we’re thinking it can only be boosters, not rear-facing for the littlest Q7-ites. Let’s say your family of five is going over the river and through the woods for Christmas at Grandma’s, this sleigh better be loaded with gift cards and a youngest child who willingly opts for the third row. Otherwise, it’ll be a Christmas to forget. 

For a family of four, or for those who like the closest confines, the Q7 redeems itself with the best infotainment system on the market. The dual touchscreen setup can be a turnoff due to safety concerns, but that is the way of things. BMW ditched its controller dial to make room in the center console, and now Audi has done the same. 

The 10.1-inch touchscreen on top handles all the navigation and media controls. The lower screen is for climate controls, and a subtle band of buttons below it controls vital functions like hazards, defoggers, and drive modes. Fortunately, audio and haptic feedback ensures that you’re hitting the intended control. As far as touchscreens go, it’s well done. The top screen is far better than Jaguar Land Rover’s, but JLR has Audi beat on the climate screen. 

Even more fortunately, most everything found in the upper touchscreen can be accessed via the 12.3-inch customizable instrument cluster. It is awesome. And Google Earth maps in HD and 3D makes it even better. No other automaker comes close when it comes to native navigation, and it’s the lone system that makes Apple CarPlay look like child’s play. 

For the style-conscious, which is most everyone, the Q7 ranks up there with the Volvo XC90 and to a lesser extent, the Mazda CX-9. The sophisticated execution carries over to the cabin, but beauty comes at a steep tradeoff in third-row functionality and fuel economy.

Correction: An earlier version said MIB 3 infotainment instead of an updated MIB 2+ was in the 2020 Q7. 

Audi provided airfare, lodging, and meals to help us present this firsthand account.
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