As somebody who is a pretty massive fan of all things SUV I can usually rely on the Detroit Auto Show to give me a little bit of excitement every January; sure the European motorshows like Geneva, Paris and Frankfurt all offer up exotic eye candy and even the likes of the L.A., Moscow and Tokyo shows give a pretty decent haul in terms of interesting metal, but for all things big and rugged you need to wait to North America’s largest car-related event. Even though it’s not for another month or so auto makers have started to release pictures of their latest and greatest in order to beat any leaks/drum up interest, and this week two vehicles have piqued my interest.
One of those is a car I’ve written chapter and verse on over the last 18 months, Audi’s flagship SUV the Q7. Ever since the Pikes Peak concept was released way back in 2003 (again at Detroit) I have been smitten with the gargantuan Audi with it’s svelte lines contrasting with it’s large dimensions, but since the production model’s launch in 2006 the Q7 has been left largely alone by it’s maker, which has seen pretty impressive sales especially after 2009’s mild facelift. But in the face of continuously updating rivals the Q7 has been beginning to look long in the tooth – for example BMW were still on their first generation of the X5 when the Q7 was released, and the third generation car will already have been on sale for 2 years when the new Q7 arrives in the hands of new buyers at some point next year.
Considering the Q7 is supposed to be a sister car to the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne this time gap has been a little surprising; those cars were replaced back in 2010 and spy shots of a new Q7 have been circulating for nearly as long…in fact the new Bentley SUV (based on the same platform) seems to be only slightly behind despite only having been a twinkle in a designers eye as recently as 2012. Still better late than never and today the new much lighter Q7 bowed in official photographs, sharing design cues with the recently facelifted Q3, A6 and flagship A8 line ups. My gut instinct is that the exterior of the car has lost a lot of it’s distinctive and aggressive detailing in exchange for a more subtle look which harks back to Audi models from the turn of the century…many people will undoubtedly think this is a good thing given the showy nature of some models (*cough R8*), but for me it just isn’t as visually appealing. I guess curves and rounded edges are a little old hat and not as appropriate in ‘rugged’ cars, but with this Q7 the design just comes across as pretty bland and more like an estate-car-on-stilts, to coin a popular phrase in auto circles. The chrome surrounded grille is obviously Audi’s new design motif (judging by the facelifted Q3), but it too has yet to ingratiate itself for me.
Inside though things are a lot more successful, as while the old Q7’s interior was still passable on most fronts it did hark back to the previous generation of cars and the new car brings things right up to date. Bringing together elements of the A3, A8, A6 and TT the new Q7 comes across as a challenger for class honours in the SUV segment; a large navigation screen is hidden within the sweeping dash and on the centre console lives a space-age gear selector to go with the massive touchpad for the MMI infotainment system. The instrument cluster is also fully configurable as in the latest TT and combines with the rest of the interior to create an atmosphere which looks streaks ahead of the dated Mercedes ML/GL, boring BMW X5 and pretty-but-stupid interior of Land Rover’s vehicles. Practicality looks impressive too, and the reverse tardis effect of the previous Q7 looks like it has been done away with too as there seems ample room for 7; the Audi’s trump card in the past has been the ability to offer more space than main rivals, and although newer versions of those cars has seen space grow (and buyers change loyalties) the new Q7 will go a long way to stealing some customers back…that’s if they can get over the less aggressive looks. Engine choices and performance numbers will be released nearer the car’s launch, but with over 300kg of weight lost in this new generation I’d expect the new Q7 to be near the top of the class for fuel efficiency and competitive with rivals (at least in mid 3.0 TDI spec anyway).
The other German manufacturer to release a full-size SUV (or SUC whatever) at Detroit in 2015 is Mercedes Benz, well in fact they may be releasing two but for the time being we’ll look at the car whose images have already leaked – the GLE Coupe. For those of you confused as to what a GLE Coupe is I don’t blame you; essentially Mercedes have finally delivered on their promise to sort out their naming conventions and ditched the well-regarded ‘ML’ nameplate in favour of ‘GLE’, the Coupe is essentially to the GLE as the BMW X6 is to the X5, read a lower roof line and more extreme looks for more money. Of course the reaction from hardcore car nerds has been that of horror – what could be worse than the reviled BMW X6 than a copycat version from Mercedes?! But for me the new Merc succeeds in looking a lot more premium and coherent than it’s traditional sibling (although to be fair a proper GLE has yet to be released yet), and in my opinion BMW have mucked up the new X6 in a fairly big way so Benz may be able to steal a fair few sales from their rival. Although more curvy than the new X6 the GLE Coupe has less fussy details and from all angles seems pretty attractive – the rear is certainly different but it just seems to work for me.
Inside things are based on the architecture of the current ML, and so admittedly things are a little less exciting than the exterior promises (and indeed compared to the new Audi Q7 it seems at least one generation behind). Mercedes’ trend of having a fixed navigation screen is a little more integrated here thanks to the fact the old screen had it’s own little enclave, but it still sticks out and the rest of the front fascia is still dated and cheap looking compared to other details like the new COMAND controller. On the whole though the GLE Coupe still seems like a premium product, and although practicality is compromised by that swooping roof line there are still 5 seats as standard as well as a boot which betters most saloons of the same price, if not traditional SUV rivals. Mercedes seem to be on a bit of a roll at the moment with cars like the GLA and new C Class finding popularity amongst both buyers and those in the know, so if they can get running costs, performance and price at a happy medium then they’ll have a surefire hit on their hands…but with prices meant to be set around £10k above the GLE/ML (which starts at around £48k) it means that it might be a rarer sight on UK roads than it could be.
Interestingly Audi is supposed to have plans for both a BMW X4 rivalling TT-SUV as well as a purported ‘Q8’ to do battle with the X6 and the GLE Coupe, but given the fact the X6 has been around for such a long time it seems strange that Audi are so late to the party…