In a sneak preview of what we can expect from the 2017 Q7 SUV, Audi pulled the wraps off of its new 7-passenger box full of luxury, style and technology in Switzerland. This 2nd-generation Q7 will be a 2017 model when it arrives in the U.S. next January -- Audi is passing on creating a 2016 version for the States.

The new Q7s we drove were European models, and packed with upgrades and options, including an adaptive air suspension, the stunning graphics of the Audi's Virtual Cockpit, and an Alcantara headliner. Some of what we saw will not be making it to the U.S., but a delightful lot of it will, although the U.S. specifications are yet to be finalized.

Lighter and roomier

All of the standard Q7 features return for 2017: Three rows of seating? Check. Quattro all-wheel drive? Check. Comfort and convenience features like leather seating and a power rear liftgate? Check and check. And for 2017, a panoramic sunroof comes standard. Check and mate.

Significantly, the new Q7 weighs a lot less than the outgoing model -- between 500 and 700 pounds, depending on the model. The bulk of this diet comes thanks to lighter materials used in the outer construction, suspension and powertrain, and weight-saving attention paid to every other inch of the SUV -- right down to two pounds saved by using aluminum for the brake pedal.

The exterior is not a wild departure from the current model, but the differences -- particularly the LED headlight adornments and less-wide-mouth-bass grille treatment -- make the big SUV's case for bold. And while those outside dimensions are slightly slighter than the current Q7, the interior is notably roomier. The first two rows, in particular, stand out. The third row, generous in headroom and usable in legroom, is a cinch to access via the split second row's fold-down/tumble-forward mechanism. The second row also slides fore and aft. The 50/50-split 3rd-row seatbacks can be lowered/raised electrically to expand the rear cargo space.

The new Q7 in motion

When the 2017 Audi Q7 arrives in the U.S. next January, you'll have the choice of same two 3.0-liter V6 engines -- a supercharged gasoline unit and a turbocharged diesel -- mated to a new 8-speed automatic transmission that saves weight and space by integrating the center differential and front axle drive. Both V6 powerplants have been modified and improve fuel economy (boasting best-in-class fuel economy in Europe) without selling short the Q7's performance. For the best of both worlds, you'll want to lean towards the TFSI gasoline V6. If highway fuel economy means everything to you, however, take the diesel. The standard quattro all-wheel-drive system, is still one of the smartest AWDs around.

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Around June of 2016, a third engine will be added to the Q7 lineup: the 252-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 currently in the 2016 Audi A6.

The optional air suspension on the new Q7s we drove in Europe gives you control of both ride height and suspension stiffness, and we're happy to report that the differences between the "Comfort" and "Dynamic" modes are legitimate. We chose Dynamic mode for the snaking roads, and the suspension responded beautifully without beating us up at all or interrupting the quiet of the cabin. We're told that the standard U.S. Q7 suspension, a new 5-link architecture, will split the difference between the feel of the air suspension's Comfort and Dynamic modes -- just about right for an American audience.

All-new and optional is a 4-wheel-steering system that tightened low-speed corners in the hairpin-turn-infested Swiss Alps, and stabilized highway-speed lane changes.

Some of the highest tech we've seen in one SUV

Audi is still sorting out what technology is going to be available on the new Q7 for the U.S., but here are the highlights of what we saw at the luxury SUV revolution.

First off is a 2nd-generation Audi infotainment platform that seamlessly integrated my iPhone, its navigation, and a few choice apps into the Apple CarPlay module (its Android will do the same for your Android system). Second up, but first in the hearts of the visual driver, is Audi's Virtual Cockpit. Virtual Cockpit replaces your instrument panel with an outrageously sharp graphics display that you can adjust to show the classic gauges and instrument panel information that all SUVs offer, or you can re-adjust it to reduce the size of the gauges and allow infotainment lists or the Google Earth navigation display to dominate the screen.

Outside your Audi, improved camera and sensor development dominates the appeal of the new Q7. Ultra-highlights include the parking assist system which will parallel park your Q7 in and out of tight spaces (you only need to brake), or nose you/back you into perpendicular spots. Traffic Jam Assist allows you to tap a steering-column stalk and the Q7 will essentially flow with the stop-and-go traffic and stay in its lane at speeds up to 40 mph. Other memorable assistance systems include "Exit Assist" which alerts you to approaching traffic when you are about to open your door, and "Turn Assist" which can stop your SUV before you make an inadvertent left turn into oncoming traffic.

Audi is justifiably proud of all the technology in its 2017 Q7, as well as the fact that it is first and fully a luxury SUV. As always with this German company, the price of the new model and its options will be a factor worth noting. If you expect to be in the market for an imperial SUV in early 2016, keep the new Q7 in mind.


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