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CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Unless you’ve been hiding under a particularly large rock for the best part of the past decade, you’ll be well aware SUVs are very much Big Business. These days, high-riding options stretch from dinky budget crossovers to luxurious barges on wheels and pseudo-sportscars on stilts.

I find the latter a particularly peculiar breed since such vehicles attempt (seldom successfully) to meld various seemingly incongruent attributes, making all manner of dreadful compromises in the process. They’re heavier, slower and more expensive than their likewise performance-slanted sedan or coupé counterparts, all while trying to hide a loftier centre of gravity. Yet, they’re seldom comfortable.

That’s why I’ve developed quite an appreciation for Audi’s Q7 (and, for similar reasons, the closely related Volkswagen Touareg). Despite sharing its platform with sharper-edged Volkswagen Group siblings such as Porsche’s Cayenne and the Lamborghini Urus, Ingolstadt’s second-generation luxury SUV has precisely zero performance pretensions, regardless of the obligatory smattering of words such as “dynamic” and “sporty” in the marketing material. In fact, even the 900 N.m SQ7 set to arrive on local shores in early 2021 isn’t exactly an out-and-out corner carver.

Just like the pre-facelift version, then, this refreshed Q7 majors in comfort, luxury and refinement. As with that outgoing range – which debuted in South Africa as long ago as September 2015 – there’s just single engine derivative on offer at launch: the 45 TDI, which draws its urge from an unchanged 3,0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine (though there is also a mechanically identical S line variant listed for an extra R60 000).

So, what does this mid-cycle update bring? Well, for one, the starting price has increased a considerable R192 000 to R1 328 500. Audi says that’s partly due to exchange rate woes (thanks, COVID-19) but also points out it has added to the big SUV’s list of standard features. And, to be fair, the Q7’s still priced either in line with or below its direct German rivals.

While the exterior styling makeover is by no means minor – led by a fresh grille with upright slats, redesigned headlamps and a chrome strip linking the revised taillamps – it’s inside Audi has made the greatest changes (and where the bulk of your extra cash has seemingly been spent). The updated Q7 ditches the old infotainment architecture in favour of the automaker’s latest stacked twin-touchscreen arrangement, complete with the new Audi Connect system and complemented by a highly configurable standard digital instrument cluster.

As a reminder, the upper 10,1-inch display covers infotainment and navigation functions, while the 8,6-inch arrangement sited directly below it takes care of climate control and other convenience functions. As was pointed out in CAR’s 2019 test of the Q8, the touchscreen-based system is pleasing to look at (when it’s not covered in fingerprints, that is) but isn’t the most user-friendly on the move, even though Audi added a haptic-feedback feature. Give me wonderfully tactile physical buttons any day of the week.

Still, the Q7’s cabin again features a pleasing mix of typically solid build quality and impressive passenger (plus packing) space, with this latest revision bringing yet more technology to the table. As before, the SUV ships standard in five-seater guise, although there’s again the R20 800 option to add two additional pews at the rear, complete with an electric folding function and Isofix anchors. Either way, it’s an eminently practical thing.

With adaptive air suspension (a R27 900 option on the standard Q7 45 TDI but available at “no cost” on the S line variant) fitted, our test unit delivered a suitably supple ride, despite the fitment of optional 21-inch alloys wrapped in 285/40 rubber. The suspension upgrade furthermore adds the ability to vary ground clearance at the prod of a button, while the availability of rear-wheel steering lends this five-plus-metre-long SUV a welcome degree of nimbleness at parking speeds.

So, what about the powertrain? Well, while the familiar six-cylinder unit is untouched, still delivering 183 kW and 600 N.m to all four corners via a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, that needn’t be seen as a negative. It’s a lovely, creamy oil-burner, offering a pleasing mix of low-down shove and open-road refinement.

Indeed, the Q7 isn’t the sort of SUV you feel the need to hustle along your favourite slice of twisty tarmac. Instead, it prefers to float along calmly in comfort mode, munching mile after mile with quiet competency.

Sure, the likes of BMW’s X5 and the aforementioned Cayenne offer a decidedly more engaging driving experience. And, yes, something like the Land Rover Discovery boasts a broader set of off-road skills. But it’s the Q7’s laser-like focus on refinement and comfort that ultimately defines it. And, despite so many of the segment's contenders chasing performance over practicality, there’s certainly still a place for a softly sprung luxury SUV with oodles of space.


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