All these small steps combine to transform the Q7 from a woolly and frankly overweight brick of jello in the bends into a precise tool.
The SUV is losing its significance in Europe as a fashion icon, such is the vehement backlash of the environmental movement. America, too, is feeling the pinch, although they will merely trade in their giant Yukons for slightly smaller cars, like the Audi Q7 in fact. In other quarters, oil rich nations like the Middle East and lifestyle off-roader obsessed Russia, the 4x4 is as fashionable as ever and it is these markets from which the likes of Cargraphic are reaping the rewards of a Q7 tuning kit.
Cargraphic is best known for its work on Porsches, including the Tuner Grand Prix winning GT3. But they have branched out and now supply bolt-on kits for everything from the Aston Martin AMV8 and Lamborghini Gallardo right through to the VW Golf. They focus on simple kits that are easily supplied throughout the world and focus on lightweight wheels and suspension tweaks to hone the handling rather than ballistic power upgrades.
So it is with the Q7, which has come in for a lairy cosmetic makeover that has taken the elegant Audi to new extremes. The car can now sit on anything from conservative 20-inch Cargraphic Racing wheels to epic 22-inch wheels that just a few years ago would have looked oversized on a tractor.
Now they’re an integral part of the lifestyle SUV scene and with that much metal involved Cargraphic’s lightweight I-10 Intras even offer a discernible benefit when it comes to the corners when combined with an electronic module that drops the air suspension 40mm at the front and 30mm at the rear.
It doesn’t just bring that behemoth closer to the road, the reduced travel means it will corner even flatter and harder than the original that relied on computers alone to cope with cornering masses. Now that’s a lot to lose when it comes to ride comfort, but you have the best of both worlds here with a toggle switch in the cockpit that takes the car from stock to road-hugging settings and back again depending on the mood.
When it comes to the tyre drivers can choose between 22-inch Continentals for comfort or, for the ultimate in high-end performance, 9.5x 22 Dunlop SP SportMaxx rubber on the front and 10.5x22s at the rear. Now this seems like overkill for an SUV and leaves its off-road pretence exposed for the painful fraud that it is, as these tyres could barely cope with wet grass.
But we’re well accustomed to the fact that these cars will never truly head off road these days and if the car’s daily grind is a trip to the office then the extra grip is well worth the investment as it will pay off at the apex and the braking zone where they can help haul prodigious speeds of this battle wagon when you really have to.
All these small steps combine to transform the Q7 from a woolly and frankly overweight brick of jello in the bends into a precise tool. It will never be a sports car, but the big Audi could easily take the fight to a prestige saloon on a back road and has more than enough hustle for even the most demanding driver who may well have a 911 or Ferrari locked up in the garage for the weekend.
The advantage of the Q7 is that it’s all so effortless, thanks to a silk-smooth six-speed auto box and armchair luxury inside the car. The high seating position, ability to simply conquer bad roads with the sheer force of will and a fair lick of pace make this a favourite utility car for the well-heeled. From the hotseat, even for an SUV cynic, it was easy to see the appeal.
As for power, well despite the extravagant exhaust kit on the rear this was the TDi version with its 4.2-litre engine pumping out 326bhp and 550lb/ft of torque and we arrived before they’d had a chance to play with the electronics, so this car doesn’t quite have the bite to match its bark. On the plus side, even if you’ve gone cheap on the purchase price and like the idea of getting more than 20mpg out of your SUV then this proves you can still look the part.
A branded rockguard dominates the rear view, together with the Cargraphic back box and four exit pipes. Cargraphic are working on a new management unit, too, that should unleash at least 50bhp and at least another 50lb/ft from this torque heavy motor. With 326bhp and 560lb/ft the Q7 was plenty rapid enough anyway, but with Cargraphic’s input the 0-60mph time should fall to six seconds with a top end speed somewhere North of 170mph – which is Cayenne Turbo territory with diesel economy and aggressive looks.
Cargraphic’s Thomas Schnarr looked puzzled for a moment, then joined in with the joke when asked how much downforce the rear diffuser generates at speed. Let’s be honest a plastic add-on like this will never have any meaningful effect on two tonnes of metal. So the new front valance with its fog and high beam light clusters, and the roof spoiler that can fit over the top of the original equipment item are pure baubles, too.
But the work to the front end balances a diving neckline that was simply too weak on the standard car. Flimsy plastic has been replaced with another sturdy looking rockguard and those piercing lights look the business at night.
Such things matter in the markets where the Q7 is shifting, which is a gift from God for the tuners who can continue to bolt on continuously more outrageous bodykits to the big Audis, BMWs and Porsches of this world. Monster profits from monster cars is a market the tuners simply couldn’t have foreseen just a few years ago, but high fashion has proved big business and, where it counts, the SUV is still a catwalk Queen.