Audi is taking full advantage of its 25 years of Quattro celebrations by bombarding us with more details of its Q7 luxury/performance SUV, which looks set to take the fight to more established "playmates".

Audi is taking full advantage of its 25 years of Quattro celebrations by bombarding us with more details of its Q7 luxury/performance SUV, which looks set to take the fight to more established "playmates".

The development of the Ingolstadt-based company's first SUV has been well documented since the unveiling of the Pikes Peak concept at the 2003 Detroit Motor Show. The Q7 will enjoy its official unveiling at next month's Frankfurt Motor Show.

In production form, the vehicle incorporates characteristic Audi influences, such as the high shoulder line and gaping grille. And despite its mammoth dimensions of 5 m (length), 2 m (width) and 1,8 m (height) the SUV's sloping D-posts lend it an almost coupé-like profile that also makes it appear much more compact.

Interior space and versatility within the cabin is immense and 28 seating and loading configurations are possible within the Q7. In line with current SUV trends, the Q7 can accommodate up to seven occupants in its three rows of seats. The seats in the second row can be individually adjusted for forward and backward movement and both rear seats can be folded flat to provide extra load space.

This new SUV will be introduced in South Africa in the second half of 2006, where it will certainly cause some discomfort in the ranks of rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg (with which it shares its platform), as well as the BMW X5 and Mercedes' new M-Class, which should be available in South Africa by the end of this year. More information about the Q7's pricing and model derivatives will be made available ahead of its launch, though.

However, when the vehicle is launched in Europe following its Frankfurt Motor Show début, customers will have the choice of two engines. The new 4,2-litre V8 uses FSI direct injection technology and produces 257 kW and peak torque of 440 N.m. The 3,0-litre TDI features the latest common rail injection system with piezo inline injectors to produce 171 kW of power and a mighty 500 N.m of torque.

Both engines are mated with Audi's six-speed tiptronic transmission.

Unsurprisingly, the Q7 is equipped with Quattro permanent all-wheel drive while its Torsen centre differential has a standard torque split of 40/60 (biased towards the rear).

The chassis consists of several aluminium components, steel-spring suspension and twin-tube shock absorbers for the highest level of comfort, even when venturing off-road.

Gadgetry is plentiful on board the Q7, which comes with variable ground clearance from 180 mm up to 240 mm, Audi's MMI operating system (used on the A8 and A6 saloons) and optional adaptive air suspension.

A number of new driver assistance systems, introduced for the first time in production form, will also be optional on the Q7. These include "side assist" with radar technology for lane changes, and an advanced parking system with audio-visual guidance and a rear-view camera.

The ESP (electronic stability programme) includes several new functions, including "hill descent assist" and a trailer stabilisation system that reduces the risk of fishtailing with "targeted brake intervention".

The Q7 recently underwent the latest in a battery of tests that took the SUV through temperatures ranging from minus 35 degrees Celsius in the Polar Circle, to sweltering heat in the deserts of southern Africa. Test conditions included congested highways in the US, dust and gravel testing in Europe, Asia, South and Central America and track tests around Germany's famous Nürburgring circuit.

"We're putting the Q7 through just about every horror imaginable to a car driver," Martin Brand, head of durability testing at Audi AG, said at the time. "Never before has an Audi vehicle had to go through such a broad-based spectrum of tasks and operational conditions during testing.

"The test tracks we use are a collection of the world's worst driving and obstacle routes imaginable in customer operating scenarios - pot holes, rough cobblestones, speed bumps, undulations, grit, non-surfaced roads, gravel, kerbstone mounting, railway crossings, water obstacles.

"These are highly dynamic courses, on which driveline, body torsion and bending, as well as running gear durability and functionality are tested."

For off-road testing, the Q7 was taken to a specially constructed track in Europe. A special dust track was constructed to check the cabin sealing properties, and a water chamber at Audi's Ingolstadt headquarters was used to test its watertightness.

As testament to its sporting characteristics, the Q7 was subjected to 250 laps - or 5 000 km - around Nürburgring's Nordschleife.