Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Audi Q7
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
If you’re in the market for a full-size, seven-seat, luxury SUV you’re obviously living life large. Big family, lots of friends, dogs and cats, and heaps of activity - horses, boats, camping?
You’re aiming at a six-figure bullseye between $130,000 and around $150,000. On a three-year novated lease, somewhere around three grand a month.
Mercedes-Benz Australia invited us to experience the car on a launch drive across city, suburban and rural roads.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
Audi's Q7 burst on to the scene at the 2002 Frankfurt Motor Show. A big, bluff unit, it went into production in 2005 and hung around for what seemed like an eternity. Like many first-generation German premium SUVs, it was compromised, heavy and heavily US-market focused.
The second-generation arrived in 2015. Its styling polarised opinion but its shift in focus has - arguably - made it more appealing to more people. Lower, better-packaged and with a very impressive interior, the Q7 transformed into a proper, premium SUV.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
It's difficult to pick between the 160 and the 200. Neither are particularly cheap but this is another of those occasions where it would be a waste of money to bring in a comparatively stripped-out entry level that nobody would buy.
If pressed, I'd say spend the extra on the 200 - it's got a fair bit more gear for the extra outlay and in both the theoretical and real worlds, it doesn't really use that much more fuel for the decent performance boost.
The e-tron is a long shot for a bigger wad of cash and is really only for those keen on a plug-in hybrid Q7. The limited competition isn't any better.
The Q7 is a belter of a large SUV - quiet, refined and reasonably capable off-road, despite its decidedly on-road focus. It goes about its business quietly, confidently and with a minimum of fuss . You know it's big, but it doesn't shout about it and, crucially, it doesn't feel like it from behind the wheel. That's a neat trick.
Do you agree with Peter's assessment that the Q7 is a suave city-dweller or is it just Another SUV? Tell us in the comments below.
As mentioned, the GLS is big; a step up from the already substantial model it replaces. Built with the US market in mind, in fact it’s produced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s more than five metres long, close to two metres wide, and over 1.8m tall. And there’s more than three metres between the axles, a 60mm wheelbase increase over the previous model.
And despite the size of the canvas, the Benz design team has managed to make the GLS look like a modern Merc. Signature elements include obvious ones like the slatted grille with a couple of three-pointed stars on the nose.
But there’s also, the carefully chiselled twin ‘power dome’ bonnet, scowling LED headlights and vents to aid front brake cooling and smooth aero performance around the front of the car.
The big beast’s off-road intent is highlighted by extensions around the wheelarches, with big optional 22-inch rims sitting underneath. The fact they look right-sized for the car speaks volumes about its scale.
The racy AMG Line package is standard, and a recess and pronounced character line, tightening the lower waistline is a familiar Merc treatment, plus alloy roof rails toughen the look while dialling up practicality.
The rear is relatively simple, borderline generic, with tapered tail-lights offering the only strong whiff of design personality. But believe it or not, thanks to careful detail sculpting of the body, and smoothing underneath the car it boasts a drag figure of Cd 0.32. Outstanding aero performance for a large SUV.
The driver and front passenger are presented with a sweeping dashboard dominated by twin 12.3-inch digital screens, one primarily covering the instruments, and the central screen managing the MBUX media system, including audio, nav, phone integration, car set-up, and more, plus ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control.
The overall feel is simple, and restrained, yet massively confident, with a subtle colour palette, large squared-off elements defined by brushed metal finishes, and an obvious, intense attention to detail, from the haptic controls to the beautifully finished, multi-function steering wheel.
And the standard Burmester audio system includes a two-way in-car communication function that subtly amplifies the driver and front passenger’s voices for those in the third row, and vice versa. Sheer genius.
The second-generation Q7 is a familiar sight on our roads. I remember the change from the first to second iterations clearly - I wasn't a fan of the old one's overbearing looks and it always looked as though it rode too high, especially on smaller wheels. As its long model cycle wore on, it became ever more bejewelled and the basic shape was lost in bling.
Thankfully, the second generation went light on the chrome and flashiness. Always riding on big rims, it looks less imposing than the original. There are some off-road nods, like vestigial wheelarch extensions, but anything with a rear diffuser is meant more for tarmac than gravel.
This Q7 is more a high-riding wagon (or higher-riding of you take the A6 Allroad into account) and seems more optimised for passenger space and utility rather than shouting 'Look at my massive car!'. Like the bulk of the current Audi SUV range, it's quietly elegant.
And inside, it's tremendous. The now de rigueur 'widescreen' feel to the interior means an airy, light space. Materials are spot on, the design coherent and sensible and the ergonomics are close to faultless. You'll want for nothing in here, with plenty of space, gadgets and style.
Space is obviously a critical factor here, and no surprise there’s copious amounts of it inside the GLS.
Front seat passengers enjoy plenty of breathing room, without feeling remote from one another, and there’s lots of storage in the shape of a large lidded box/armrest between the seats, a decent glove box, two big cupholders and jumbo door pockets with room for large bottles.
There’s one data-enabled USB port in the front, two charge-ports in the second row, and four in the third row. Shouldn’t be any complaints about powering mobiles, tablets or games.
The second row feels every millimetre the SUV limo. Simply getting in and out is made easier because an auto lowering function drops the car 25mm when one of the doors is opened.
I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. And there’s an extra 10cm of electrically adjustable travel to play with if those in the third row agree.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the front seatbacks, and again, the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is a breeze, there’s climate control ventilation, and a huge glass sunroof is standard. Rather than asking ‘Are we there yet?’ the kids will be disappointed when you arrive!
Then there’s what the Cleary family refers to as ‘the way back seat.’ A pair of third row seats for the lucky kids that get to inhabit their own little world. Getting in and out is relatively civilised thanks to electric slide and tilt for the second row seats, and space is generous. I could sit comfortably, so the kids will be all smiles.
With all seats upright cargo capacity is enough for a seven-person day trip (355L VDA). Press the button to fold the 50/50 split-fold third row down and your options expand substantially (890L). And with 40/20/40 split-folding second row lowered, transportation of a full, three-ring circus is on the cards (2400L). Overall, more space than the arch enemy BMW X7.
Plus, the ability to lower the car 50mm thanks to the standard air suspension makes life even easier. And one button lowers the second and third rows at the same time.
The spare is a collapsible space-saver, and towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3500kg, with a tow ball weight of up to 140kg. The ESP system also features a trailer stabilisation function that counters oscillation with “braking intervention.”
The size of this car is undeniable - interior images confirm loads of space and comfort for passengers and cargo. The interior dimensions match the huge exterior (the Q7 measures 5052mm long, 1968mm wide, and 1740mm high).
The diesel-only Q7s are seven-seaters, with access to third-row seating provided by tumbling the middle row forward. You can change how many seats by specifying it with just five as a no-cost option. The e-tron is available as a five-seater only.
Rear legroom in the middle row ranges from almost zero if you slide the seats all the way forward, to 'limousine', and that obviously affects the back row. The four-zone climate control (optional in the 160) also means third row passengers don't have to sweat it out when it's hot, which is a nice touch.
Boot space starts at an already-massive 770 litres with the third row stowed, and up to 1955 litres with the middle row down. The e-tron, with its underfloor gubbins, has a slightly reduced capacity with 650/1835 litres. The bottom line is, luggage capacity is excellent when the third row is out of the way.
The car comes standard with a cargo cover, roof rails (but no roof rack, although I'm certain a dealer will sell you one from an extensive accessories list). A net-style cargo-barrier can be erected either behind the middle or front rows of seats.
Storage space is good - the interior features a shallow centre console up front, a cupholder each for up to six passengers, a good glove box and bottle holders in each door.
Gross vehicle weight is rated at 2940kg for the 160 and 200 while the e-tron, with its higher kerb weight as a result of the electric gear, is rated at 3185kg. Double the turning radius and you have a turning circle of 12.4 metres. Ground clearance is 245mm unladen and wading depth, if you're game, is 535mm.
Price and features
Aside from the comprehensive suite of safety tech, covered in the Safety section below, the GLS equipment list includes, 21-inch alloy rims, adaptive high beam assist, air suspension, alloy roof rails, AMG body kit, a huge panoramic sliding glass sunroof, privacy glass from the B-pillar back, auto tailgate, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, and power closing doors.
The power closing doors are a big plus for parents not wanting to disturb kids nodding off in the car, with the soft-touch function drawing the door in for the last few millimetres to an almost silent close.
Inside there’s ambient lighting (64 colours), strategically placed open pore oak wood trim, 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround sound audio, electric folding second and third row seats, a head-up display, ‘Mercedes-Benz’ branded illuminated sills, leather seat upholstery (‘Artico’ faux leather on the dash and doors), multi-adjustable electric seats in the front and second row (memory in the front), electrically adjustable steering column, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and five-zone climate control.
The multi-media system is spectacular, incorporating the twin 12.3-inch digital screens, the central media unit managing nav, digital radio, mobile device connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus vehicle tracking. There are also remote vehicle status functions (door locking, valet parking, etc), global search (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and a wireless device charging pad.
The basket of goodies can hold its head high in this part of the market, so the value equation stacks up well.
There are three Q7s in our model comparison, excluding the V8-powered triple-turbo SQ7. The range starts with the 160 at $97,800, with the 160 designation referring to the engine output in kilowatts.
The 160 starts the range with 19-inch alloys wheels, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, Wi-Fi hotspot, keyless entry and push button start via smart key, electric power steering, cruise control, hill-descent control, quattro all-wheel drive, power tailgate, floor mats, chrome exhaust tips, electric front seats, leather trim, air-quality sensor, park assist, electric everything, auto wipers and headlights and a comprehensive safety package.
Read More: Audi Q7 e-tron 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Audi Q7 3.0 TDI 160 2018 review: snapshot
Read More: Audi Q7 3.0 TDI 200 2018 review: snapshot
Rather than supplying a spare tyre, Audi gives you a tyre-repair kit.
Stepping up to the 200, the price increases to $106,900, with an attendant increase in horsepower. The basic specification is roughly the same between the two versions, with detail differences.
The 200 adds four-zone climate control, a self-parking system, full body paint finish (body colour applied to the lower extremities of the car) and Audi's excellent 'Virtual Cockpit' digital dashboard.
The difference between the 160 and the 200 is small but useful. The diesel fuel economy is barely different, you get the same transmission, 4x4 system and overall comfort.
Both 160 and 200 buyers have a wide choice of colours: 'Night Black' and 'Carrara White' are free. 'Orca Black', 'Galaxy Blue', 'Ink Blue', 'Cobra Beige' (more gold, really), 'Argus Brown', 'Graphite Grey', 'Temperament Red' and 'Florett Silver' are all $2250. 'Sepang Blue' and 'Daytona Grey' are $7050.
The e-tron adds the hybrid electric unit, loses the third row of seating and some cargo capacity and comes with a full suite of safety systems, heated front seats, 'Audi Connect', LED headlights, e-tron styling and adaptive air suspension. The options list is way shorter, however, but few e-trons find their way into customers' hands.
Audi e-tron buyers are down to seven colours: Night Black, Carrara White, Orca Black, Ink Blue, Graphite Grey and Florett Silver are all freebies.
The many iPhone users out there will be very pleased that Apple CarPlay is standard on the Q7, while Android Auto is also available. As always, Audi's MMI mutlimedia system is excellent. The big 8.3-inch screen is run by a console-mounted rotary dial and touchpad, but it's not yet a touch screen.
GPS sat nav is available across the range. The navigation system can also have a Google Earth overlay. Obviously there is a mobile-phone bluetooth connection in addition to the USB. The multimedia gadgets include a CD player, DVD player, MP3 functionality and the usual AM/FM radio as well as DAB.
As it's an Audi, there's a huge options list as well as various packages to add to the lengthy standard features list.
The $6200 'Technik' technology pack adds the excellent head-up display, plus nine speakers to the stereo (19 in total, including sub-woofer) and wireless phone charging.
The Assistance package includes additions to the safety list (see below).
Of course, the drive-away price can be significantly affected by options choice. The standard price list is just the start, and the amount you can choose to spend on options is breathtaking.
You can upgrade the sound system to a thumping Bang & Olufsen with 23 speakers (including sub-woofer) for a whopping $13,990 (it's a good one), a panoramic sunroof for $3990, four-wheel steering for $2650, air suspension ($4690), 'Matrix LED' headlights ($4850), rear seat entertainment system, side steps, - you get the idea. If I have this right, you can almost double the cost of the Q7 with options.
The S-Line options are more an exterior design pack than the dynamic pack they used to be, offering ever-bigger alloy wheels, side skirts, darker tinted windows, subtle front spoiler and LED headlights.
Ceramic brakes with red brake calipers aren't available in 'standard' Q7s but are available on the sport edition SQ7.
Unavailable are autopilot self driving, tool kit, nudge bar, bull bar, auxiliary heater, heated steering wheel, sunglass holder, carbon fiber trim, 'Homelink', specific premium package and cargo liner.
Engine & trans
There are two engines on offer. The 3.0-litre (M256) in-line six-cylinder turbo-petrol GLS 450 4Matic, and the 2.9-litre (OM656) in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel GLS 400 d 4Matic.
The all-alloy, twin-scroll single-turbo petrol engine delivers peak power of 270kW from 5500-6100rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm across a broad plateau from 1600-4500rpm. It also features a 48-volt electrical system driving the ‘EQ Boost’ set-up, able to deliver an extra 16kW/250Nm for short periods. The integrated starter-generator also enables energy recuperation.
Although the all-alloy, twin-turbo diesel features variable valve lift it gives some ground on power, offering up 243kW between 3600-4000rpm, but torque is a solid whack, with 700Nm on tap from 1200-3000rpm. Worth noting, that to minimise emissions this engine features a “selective catalytic reduction converter” in the exhaust, which brings with it the use of an ‘AdBlue’ reducing agent. The separate AdBlue tank has a capacity of 31.6 litres.
The nine-speed auto transmission is the same in both versions, although the diesel has a slightly lower final drive ratio.
All Q7s are available with same engine size - a turbo-diesel 3.0-litre V6. In the base model it spins up 160kW/500Nm. Step up to the second spec and with a bit of extra turbo boost and some software tweaks you have 200kW/600Nm.
The e-tron plug-in hybrid runs the same diesel engine with an electric motor added. The diesel specs come in at 190kW/600Nm while the electric motor brings 94kW/350Nm to the party. It's not as simple as adding the figures together, however - Audi quotes the combined specifications as 275kW/700Nm. The battery is a 17.3kW/h lithium-ion pack under the boot floor.
Charging times vary from 2.5 hours from a 400V/16-amp supply to 10.5 hours from a household socket.
All Q7s ship with an eight-speed automatic transmission (from ZF) with power going through all four wheels. All Australian Q7s are all-wheel drive.
Towing capacity is 750kg for unbraked trailers and 3500kg braked - the ratings are identical across the three trim levels. A tow bar is on the optional features list.
The 0-100km/h acceleration times are an impressive 6.2 seconds for the e-tron, 7.3 for the 160 and 6.5 for the 200. These are good performance numbers for a 2000kg-plus SUV with decent fuel mileage.
The question of whether the engines use a timing belt or chain has a simple answer - the Q7's engines all use a chain. The engine also features a diesel particulate filter and the turbocharger is inside the engine V for quick response. The oil type is listed in the owner's manual.
There is no manual transmission or LPG version.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle for the GLS 450 is 9.2L/100km, the more frugal GLS 400 d trimming that to 7.7L/100km. The petrol 450 emits 210g/km of CO2 in the process, the diesel 400d dropping that slightly to 202g/km.
Stop-start is standard, you’re looking at premium unleaded for the 450 GLS, and you’ll need 90 litres of dinosaur juice to full the tank on both models.
For the 160kW, claimed consumption is listed at 5.8L/100km, while the 200kW is barely more at 5.9L/100km. Our time with a 200kW with a few options on board resulted in an average of 8.2L/100km.
On pure electric, Audi says you can shift the e-tron Q7 up to 56km with a top speed of 135km/h. This is purely academic - after a full charge we managed about 20km on pure electric, which isn't terrible but a fair way off the claimed range.
The e-tron's claimed combined consumption figure is 1.9L/100km but we got 4.5L/100km.
The fuel-tank capacity is a hefty 85 litres with the exception of the e-tron, which carries 10 fewer litres at 75.
As the Q7 is available only as a diesel or diesel PHEV, petrol consumption is a non-issue.
Merc claims the GLS 450 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2sec, and the 400 d in 6.3sec. Not hanging around for a 2.5 tonne mothership. But the standout is the 400 d’s torque. All 700Nm of it available from just 1200rpm to 3000rpm; right in the mid-range sweet spot.
The nine-speed auto transmission is smooth yet responsive, with paddles on the wheel for manual shifts when you want to pick the ratio. The combination of effortless grunt and the nine-speeder keeping things on the boil is an impressive one.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear, and while you can feel the weight in cornering, the standard Airmatic air suspension (which does away with steel springs) is superb in terms of ride comfort and body control.
We took a deep breath and pushed enthusiastically through a series of sweeping corners and the fat (285/45 fr - 325/40 rr) Continental ‘PremiumContact 6’ rubber wrapped around our car’s (optional) 22-inch rims gripped hard.
The ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system also seamlessly shuffles torque between the front and rear axles (theoretically up to 100 per cent in each direction).
Merc has put extra focus on body rigidity, the tuning of engine and suspension mounts, and sound absorption, and it shows. The GLS 400 d is beautifully refined on the highway. A neat touch is the car automatically lowering 15mm at motorway speeds or when ‘Sport’ mode is selected.
Steering is electromechanically assisted, and Merc says the front suspension geometry has been revised to minimise vibration through the wheel. And yes, feedback is minimal, but unfortunately so is road feel with only a general connection between your hands on the wheel and the front tyres on the bitumen.
When you’re steering a large beast like this, often with something substantial hitched to the back, you want to know braking performance is up to the task, and the GLS’s big ventilated discs all around deliver reassuringly strong stopping power, with nice, progressive pedal feel to boot.
The seats are adjustable six ways to Sunday, but beyond that they’re comfortable and supportive, even over long stints behind the wheel.
We stayed on the bitumen, because, let’s face it, that’s where this car will spend 99.9 per cent of its time, with the exceptions of the boat ramp, a ski weekend or pony club.
For those special occasions the optional ‘Off-road engineering package’ adds a low-range transfer case, inter-axle locking, hill descent control, and under body armour for more serious work.
Hit the start stop button (like most cars, carefully hidden from view behind the steering wheel) and the 3.0-litre V6 starts quietly (or not at all in the e-tron). As soon as you're out driving, you realise how little road noise invades the cabin, even with the fat tyres all Q7s wear.
Acceleration is good in all of them, even the 160 feels quick. At speed, the cabin is super-quiet and with the air suspension the ride is almost supernaturally good. With the steel springs, you do feel the weight of the car more than with the air suspension, but it handles the bumps and grates of Sydney roads very well indeed.
The e-tron feels heavier, but the standard air suspension copes nicely with the extra bulk. In all other ways it feels extraordinarily similar to the 160 and 200, with the predictable penalty in handling. While the pure EV range might be a little disappointing, the stats tell a rosier story. Around town, you might see 0km in the digital display for electric range, but stepping off from a standstill - a big contributor to city fuel consumption - is electric, with the diesel quietly intervening at around 20km/h. All up, the MMI system told us electric drive accounted for half of city running.
From the day this Q7 landed on our roads, we've praised it for its overall refinement, good steering and handy chassis. Ride is excellent on the standard and air suspension, although the latter is clearly better but does add weight (and cost).
This isn't an off-road review, but the capability of Audi's SUV range surprised me last year on a trip to the Audi Driving Experience where I put Q5s and Q7s through a reasonably tricky set of obstacles and alarming angles, all without the aid of off-road tyres.
At the time of this launch drive the GLS hadn’t been safety assessed by ANCAP, but you could make a small wager, like every penny you have to your name, that it will score a maximum five stars.
The expected active features are there, including ABS, ASR, and ESP, with additional tech including ‘Active Blind-Spot Assist’, ‘Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), active lane keeping and lane change assist, ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Parktronic’ (active parking assist with 360-degre camera), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign assist, and a tyre pressure warning system.
Then, if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the GLS is equipped with nine airbags (front and pelvis side for driver and front passenger, side for outer rear seat occupants, full-length curtain, and a driver’s knee bag), an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, and the ‘Pre-Safe Plus’ (flashes rear hazards to warn drivers closing too quickly from behind, tightening the belts at the same time, and locking the brakes if the GLS is stationary with a rear impact imminent).
The Q7 arrives with six airbags, reverse cross traffic alert, traction and stability controls (aka ESP), forward (up to 85km/h) and reverse AEB, around-view cameras as well as forward and side, blind-spot sensor and lane-departure warning.
The 'Assistance' package ($3850) adds active lane assist and adaptive cruise control.
Oddly, traffic-sign recognition isn't available.
You can fix your ISOFIX baby car seat with the supplied two anchor points or three top-tether points in the middle row and a further two in the third row where fitted.
All of these combine for a five-star ANCAP safety rating, awarded in December 2015.
The Mercedes-Benz range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW continues to lag behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz ‘Road Care’ roadside assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
As a guide, service pricing for the outgoing GLS is set at $2600 per service (up-front) and $3250 (PAYG), a saving of $650 a pop. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase ($3550 and $4900).
Audi offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty along with roadside assist. An extended warranty is available from your dealer.
The maintenance cost of the Q7 is controllable if you purchase an Audi service plan. This covers the basic service costs for three years/45,000km and at the time of writing costs $1900.
The stocks of Q7s appear reasonable, particularly during the current dip in the luxury market, so unless you have a weird set of options, your waiting time will be short.
Second-hand resale value stats appear strong. Audi certainly got on top of the common problems, complaints, faults and issues of the first-gen and the new car appears free of major reliability issues. The automatic-gearbox problems and diesel-engine problems of the past seem absent during my usual sweep of prominent internet forums.
Where is the Audi Q7 built? Same place as the forthcoming Q8 - Audi's Slovakian factory in Bratislava.