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Dauntless car for a divergent society

25 September 2015

I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but when you hear the new marketing slogan for the Audi Q7 you can’t help but think of the Divergent series of books and movies. Simply put, it’s dauntless, which is basically just a fancy word for brave.

In the books and movies, Dauntless is a faction. The world has been destroyed, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again, the populace is divided into five factions – Dauntless for the brave, Abnegation for the selfless, Amity for the peaceful, Candor for the honest and Erudite for the smart people. Those who don’t fit into any single category are labelled as divergent.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the message is that humans can’t be divided into factions and still have the capacity to express emotions associated with all five of them.

The new Q7 certainly didn’t scream “Dauntless” when I first saw it. From the side it looked like a tall station wagon – hardly intimidating. The overall design is nearly as daunting as its main rivals or the car it replaces, but I do like the idea of a car that looks expensive but stops just short of shouting about it. It’s a gentlemanly approach to design, which doesn’t mean it’s bad — just that there’s a time and place for everything. More on that later…

Oddly, the new Q7 is slightly smaller than the car it replaces, but it’s still quite big – 5,05m long, 1,97m wide and 1,74m high. More importantly, it weighs nearly 300kg less than the previous model, which means better fuel consumption and performance.

It seems that no sacrifice was necessary when it came to space. With seven seats in place, it still has 295 litres of boot space. This shoots up to 890 litres when you fold the third row down.

In terms of luxury, Audi has chosen the same route as Volvo rather than its traditional German rivals. It’s very minimalist in appearance, but that doesn’t mean it’s sparsely equipped. As standard, the Q7 comes with navigation plus and touchpad control, keyless start, drive select, Bluetooth connectivity, two USB slots, partial leather upholstery, park distance control, cruise control and LED interior lighting. There’s also a long options list to make life aboard even more comfortable.

The standard safety equipment includes attention assist and hill-hold assist, as well as Audi’s “pre-sense basic” and “pre-sense city” safety packages.

The Q7 got five stars for safety from Euro NCAP and actually beat the Volvo XC90’s score for child protection.

Optional assistance systems include adaptive cruise control, night vision assist, head up display, traffic jam assist, Audi active lane assist, collision avoidance assist, rear cross traffic assist and trailer manoeuvre assist, which will reverse park a trailer for you. (Why has nobody thought of that before?)

As a driving tool, the Q7 definitely is Dauntless. Only one engine is currently available, but it’s the one most customers would go for anyway.

The 3,0-litre TDI delivers 183kW and 600Nm of torque from 1500 to 3000rpm. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes 6.3 seconds, and the top speed is 234 km/h. Audi claims an average fuel consumption figure of only 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres.

Power is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Under normal driving conditions, power is split between the front and rear axles in a 40:60 ratio. Should the wheels of one axle lose their grip, it can transfer as much as 70% of the power to the front and a maximum of 85% to the rear without any delay.

I had the chance to drive a Q7 fitted with the optional adaptive air suspension and if there’s one option you should go for, it’s this one. It allows the Q7 to lower itself to decrease drag and improve fuel consumption, but the ride height can also be increased for off-road driving. I didn’t get to test it properly, but I suspect the Q7 will be quite the off-roader, especially in soft sand.

The adjustable suspension’s various settings work together nicely with the drive select and completely change the character of the vehicle in each setting.

The “comfort” setting offers the best balance on tar and allows the driver and his passengers to enjoy the Q7’s ability to comfortably crush long distances, thanks to its silky smooth engine and the air suspension.

The same can be said of its performance on gravel. It just soldiers on in silence and only politely interrupts the driver when it hits seriously corrugated surfaces. It’s one of the most reassuring vehicles I’ve had the pleasure to drive, and will undoubtedly be a joy to adventure enthusiasts with a lot of disposable income.

The Q7 is peaceful and smart, but I still wasn’t 100% sure about the “dauntless” part until the sun was setting and a convoy of journalists was driving the last stretch of sandy road to get to the overnight camp. I glanced in my mirror and saw a white Q7 with it’s tell-tale LED lights driving up a sandy embankment through the dust I had left in my wake. It looked stunning and at home in that setting, which is more than can be said of a lot of luxury SUVs out there.

The new Q7 is definitely dauntless, but to focus on that part of its character would be a disservice to a car that does so much so well.

The Q7 retails for R924 000 and comes as standard with a five-year/100 000km Audi freeway plan.