Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Audi SQ7
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Improved value
- Punchy diesel engine
- Cutting-edge interior
- Hefty weight
- Touchscreens are finger-print magnets
- Short warranty
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|
With car brands turning away from diesel engines in favour of more efficient petrol and hybrid powertrains, Audi has bucked the trend and stuck with an oil-burner for its latest SQ7 large SUV.
Outside, the SQ7 looks a little different thanks to a new front grille, but it's the changes on the inside that headline this update.
A dual-screen set-up is now found on the centre console, replacing the old version's button-heavy design, but is this enough to keep the Audi SQ7 competitive against its rivals?
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
Audi has thrown many ingredients into a blender to make the smoothie that is the SQ7, but while some of those elements might seem like they clash on paper, the brand has pulled off an absolute taste sensation.
The SQ7 is perfectly at home at slow speeds around town being a comfortable family hauler, and is also a credible performer in the bends.
The diesel engine also gives the SQ7 a unique point of difference, and serves up a nearly unmatched torque punch.
Add to that, the fact that Audi has thrown in more equipment for a slightly reduced asking price, and the SQ7 deserves its spot at the top of the large luxury SUV consideration list.
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.
In fact, compare an SQ7 side-by-side with a Q7 and only the most keen-eyed punters will be able to spot the difference.
Look closely though, and you will see 22-inch wheels, S Line bodykit, different bumpers and red brake callipers, as well as quad-exhaust tips.
It's subtle – especially in our test car's Navarra Blue paintwork – and we dig that the SQ7 is statelier in appearance than shouty, despite its Audi Sport designation.
Differentiating the 2020 SQ7 from its predecessor is a new front grille, which now sports vertical slats instead of horizontal ones, and updated headlights.
However, it's the inside of the SQ7 that gets the biggest design updates to bring it into the new decade.
The centre console now houses two large touchscreen displays, one for the multi-media system and the other for the climate controls, replacing the old SQ7's numerous buttons.
While the screens look fantastic, they attract fingerprints like a magnet after a little use.
Audi has seen fit to include a screen-wiping cloth in the glovebox of the new SQ7, but grubby and greasy fingers will infuriate the neat freaks out there.
The dashboard has also been reworked to suit the new screens, with integrated ‘hidden' air vents, and gloss-black and matt-brushed aluminium detailing.
Sports seats also feature, finished in Valcona leather with diamond stitching, but tall front passengers should take note as the headrests are not adjustable.
The preceding SQ7 cabin might have cut the mustard at the time, but the interior of luxury cars has moved on in leaps and bounds since 2016, so it's great to see the new version scoring a significant upgrade.
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.”
Measuring 5067mm long, 2212mm wide, 1743mm tall and with a 2996mm wheelbase, the SQ7 is a sizeable large SUV.
Its large dimensions translate well to interior space, with enough room to seat four adults and three children comfortably.
The front seats are the best in the house for room, but storage options are surprisingly limited.
Large door bins can house big bottles, and then some, but the central storage bin tucked under the armrest is disappointingly shallow.
The dual-screen set-up in the centre console also means the SQ7 loses the small storage tray found ahead of the shifter, but at least the generously-sized cupholders remain.
In the second-row, my six-foot frame fits comfortably in the outboard seats with plenty of head-, shoulder- and legroom, even with the front seats set in my preferred position.
The middle seat in the second row is harder to get comfortable on, partly due to its smaller size, but children should have no problem, even during long journeys.
Each seat is also individually adjustable, able to slide and fold independently.
The second-row doors have generous door pockets for bottle storage, while the fold-down armrest sports two cupholders.
As for the third row, however, it's a little trickier to get comfortable with the limited room, but the space isn't too bad for occasional use or small kids. It even has its own set of cupholders!
The SQ7's boot only accommodates 235 litres when all seats are in place, however, stow the third row and that figure swells to 705L.
With the 40:20:40 second row also folded, volume increases to 1890L.
Even with all seats in place though, the SQ7 offers enough for some groceries or a stroller, while the cut-outs in the side should even help with a golf bag.
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.
Priced at $161,500 before on-road costs, the new SQ7 is $400 cheaper than its predecessor.
While a $160,000-plus pricetag is certainly nothing to scoff at, this is about lineball with other large performance SUVs.
According to Audi, the SQ7 now has more than $15,000 worth of added equipment compared to before, including red-painted brake callipers, a panoramic sunroof, 22-inch wheels and rear-axle steering that were options before.
Standard equipment in the SQ7 includes adaptive air suspension, Matrix LED laser headlights, four-zone climate control, push-button start, wireless smartphone charger, heated front seats, powered tailgate with kick operation, soft-close doors, power-folding third-row seats and heated side mirrors.
Audi's excellent 12.3-inch virtual cockpit unit also carries over as before, and is as intuitive and great to use as it has been since debuting on the third-generation TT.
The headline change to the new SQ7, however, is the new multimedia and climate control system, which now matches the A6, A7 and A8 passenger cars with a screen that measures 10.1 inches up top and an 8.6-inch display down below.
Both screens feature haptic feedback, making it feel as if you are clicking a button, but thankfully volume controls are handled by a physical knob.
Despite the extra standard equipment, options are still available and include carbon-fibre interior highlights ($1950), black exterior detailing ($1450), and a Sensory Pack ($13,300) that bundles an up-rated sound system, Alcantara headliner, cooled front seats and more in-cabin leather.
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.
The result is a zero to 100km/h sprint time of just 4.8 seconds – making the SQ7 the world's quickest seven-seat diesel-powered SUV, according to Audi.
Audi has also fitted a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to the SQ7's powertrain, which feeds an electric-powered compressor to spool up a turbo quicker for better off-the-line acceleration.
Power and torque figures remain unchanged from the preceding SQ7, but the large Audi SUV has the distinction of being one of the only performance diesels in the segment.
Though power is a little lacking compared to its petrol-powered competitions, the SQ7 has the highest torque output of any large SUV available in Australia, matched only by the electrified Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid.
The SQ7 has a 3500kg braked towing capacity.
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.
Official fuel consumption figures are pegged at 7.8 litres per 100km in the SQ7, but we managed 11.5L/100km in our brief time with the car.
Tipping the scales at 2460kg, the SQ7 is surprising frugal for a large performance seven-seat SUV, likely due to a combination of its diesel engine and mild-hybrid set-up.
Between speeds of 55 and 160km/h, the 48-volt system can coast the SQ7 for up to 40 seconds, switching off the engine and conserving fuel.
Audi claims the system can save up to 0.5L/100km on fuel.
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.
Performance large luxury seven-seat SUV might seem a bit contradictory, but Audi has managed to pull this feat off with astounding success.
The SQ7 drives fantastically well, both around town in its most comfortable settings and out in the twisties with the settings dialled all the way up.
This dual personality is largely thanks to its adaptive air suspension, which does a wonderful job at absorbing road imperfections in comfort, and giving the driver just the right amount of feedback in dynamic.
New to the 2020 SQ7 is also the standard inclusion of rear-wheel steering, which can turn the rear wheels up to five degrees at low speeds for improved manoeuvrability, and up to two degrees at high speed for better stability.
We've tested cars with rear-wheel steering before and weren't fans of its implementation due to the unnatural feel, but the SQ7 offers plenty of feedback from the steering wheel and chassis in the corners – or as much as a large SUV can communicate.
At low speeds the system comes in most handy, as the turning circle is cut to just 12.4 metres, making the SQ7 more agile in a parking lot than the much smaller Q3 crossover.
However, there is no getting around the SQ7's hefty 2460kg weight and higher ride height, which means it can be a little slow to change directions in quick corners, and will tend towards understeer when pushed.
Grip is plentiful thanks to the quattro all-wheel-drive system and thick 285/35 tyres all round, though buyers can also opt for a $10,900 Dynamic Package that throws in active roll stabilisation and a sports differential.
We sampled the Dynamic Package in the platform-sharing SQ8, and while the active roll stabilisation is fantastic at keeping occupants from being jerked around in the corners, we reckon it's not needed in the more family-friendly SQ7.
Bringing such a sizeable SUV to a stop are equally sizeable 400/350mm front/rear brake discs, with six-piston callipers up front.
The brakes work very well at scrubbing speed from this large 2.5-tonne SUV, but buyers can opt for ceramic brakes that add a substantial $19,000 to the pricetag.
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).
Audi's latest SQ7 has not been tested by ANCAP, but it was awarded a maximum five-star rating by Euro NCAP after a Q7 50 TDI was examined in 2019.
It scored 92 and 86 per cent respectively in the adult occupant and child occupant protection tests, while for the vulnerable road users and safety assist categories, it notched 71 and 72 per cent.
Standard safety equipment includes autonomous emergency braking, eight airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, surround-view monitor and exit-warning system to stop dooring cyclists.
According to Euro NCAP testing, the SQ7's AEB system works from 10km/h.
Of note though, the SQ7 lacks traffic-sign recognition, but does display speed-limit information based on GPS data.
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).
As with all new Audi's the SQ7 comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with three years of roadside assist.
Service intervals for the SQ7 are set at 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Audi also offers a three- or five-year service plan with the purchase of an SQ7, priced at $2870 and $3910 respectively.