Originally published May 19, 2015
Verbier, Switzerland – The alpine roads around Verbier, Switzerland wind and twist up and down the mountain faces, connecting the chalets and villages liberally sprinkled wherever the skiing might be best. The scenery is truly breathtaking and it feels as if you’re travelling from one postcard to the next. With ski season behind us, the smooth asphalt ribbons are the perfect place to test the handling prowess of machines like Audi’s new TT or upcoming R8 supercar.
But neither of those models is why the Ingolstadt company has flown a collection of auto journalists from around the world to this magical place. Instead, Audi’s product experts are sharing their newest SUV offering, the Q7. The brand’s largest vehicle – a seven-passenger crossover – seems an unlikely fit for roads that feature in the dreams of true driving enthusiasts.
There is good reason for this, and it’s not just because the lavish mountain resorts are likely to be littered with these luxury machines next winter as successful business leaders bring their families away for alpine holidays. No, Audi wanted to showcase just how much the newly designed five-link front and rear suspension does to the handling of this spacious hauler, so let us get right to the point: it is truly remarkable.
Typically vehicles of this size and capacity may have a luxurious ride, but tend to handle curves like an elephant on a ball – lots of roly-poly and not a lot of confidence. The new Q7, however, remains poised when managing cornering speeds higher than would be prudent in anything else of its kind.
The nimbleness of the Q7 was no better illustrated than on the countless tight hairpin turns on the narrow Swiss mountain roads. Never did the big Audi feel unwieldy or cumbersome, even when encountering oncoming traffic. Part of this is due to the fact that the new Q7 is actually slightly shorter and narrower than the outgoing model, yet it is more spacious inside. Part of it is also its four-wheel steering system – a first for an SUV – that results in a surprisingly tight turning circle. This will serve Q7 owners well not only on curvy mountain roads, but also when navigating the tight confines of urban centres.
What makes this Audi’s great handling more impressive is that it does it without compromising ride quality. We drove vehicles wearing both 20 and 21-inch wheel packages (the former with all-season Pirellis, the latter with more sporting Goodyear F1 rubber), and the ride was always supple, never crashing over the admittedly very smooth Swiss roads. Smaller 18 and 19-inch wheel packages will also be available on the Q7. Of note: road noise from the large rolling stock was higher than expected and noticeable within a cabin otherwise all but absent of wind and engine noise.