Families are terribly inconvenient arrangements which have a tendency to transform small journeys into big efforts, requiring the logistical execution of a military campaign. Something like the European Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, except with more prams. Which brings us neatly to the subject of this particular head-to-head; full-size family SUVs. Full fat, added sugar, extra e-numbers SUVs, the dimensions of which, should they not be capable of doing the job, would require you to buy an actual lorry. For the face-off, we have a pair of particularly fine examples: the Audi Q7 and the Land Rover Defender 110. And before anyone gets too excited, the cars in the pictures do not compete directly (the LR being a D250 SE diesel and the Audi a 55 TFSI petrol), but are here to represent the practicalities rather than the performance. Thus the spec-off has been done with the Audi in 45 TDI guise for more relevance.
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Photography: Mark Riccioni
First up, the Q7. It’s the biggest and most practical Audi, and one with plenty to like. But the first thing you notice is that although the Q7 doesn’t skimp on length at over five metres – it’s actually quite low. It blends where the Defender barges into your eyeline, is neater, more subtle, and – ultimately – more boring. It feels like a scaled version of… well… every other Audi. But the fact that the Audi is more forgettable on the outside doesn’t make it less useful. It’s a full seven seater, with the rearmost pair of seats tucking under the rear floor, and there’s plenty of space, even if the troops are six-foot plus. With five seats operational, you get a humongous 865-litre boot, which expands to over 2,000 litres (2,050) with everything folded flat bar the two front seats.
The rearmost seats are a little upright, but you can get adults in there if you slide the middle seats forward (which you can individually), although the fold ’n’ tumble action for the middle row is heavy. Incidentally, you can have Isofix on all the chairs bar the driver if you run some sort of childcare operation or are unfortunate enough to have been blessed with sextuplets.
The Defender is similarly spacious, although it takes more tip-toe to access, because it’s notably taller. There’s echoey amounts of room, and it can be optioned with either three seats up front (with a middle jump seat) and three in the middle, or two up front, three middle and two rear – though you can’t have the middle front seat and the third row, so no eight-seater. The rearmost are also adequately sized, although LR says the Defender is technically a 5+2 arrangement, presumably to distance itself from the full-size Discovery.
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But you’re never less than aware that the Defender 110 is an aircraft carrier of a car – 916 litres of ‘normal’ bootspace, 2,233 with the middle seats folded, though it’s wise to note the Defender’s right-hand-side hinged tailgate offers up a slightly less wide entry than the Audi’s traditional top-hinged effort. To put these two into some sort of context, a Volvo V90 estate has 560 litres of bootspace, with 1,526 litres back seats folded. These two aren’t so much capable of doing an impression of a van as just vans with added plush.
And yes, there is plush. Like any modern Audi, the driver is greeted by a bank of high-def screens, 10.1 and 8.6-inch stacked in the middle, complemented by the excellent 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit up front. Quality, accessibility and compatibility is all top-notch, with pin-sharp graphics. It’s a multimedia/dash system that makes others seem clunky, and the tech is intuitive – albeit there’s a lot of it. If you bought a Q7 for the interior alone, we probably wouldn’t argue.
The Defender, on the other hand, feels relatively sparse in comparison. There’s a broad, flat dash with extra grabhandles, a single touchscreen in the middle and a digital dash ahead. There are exposed screw heads, rubberised cubbies and a cave network of storage. But where the Q7 feels like a posh car, the Defender feels defiantly more unique. The psychology of the interior makes the Defender feel more robust – and it feels like it’ll handle sticky toddler fingers better than the Audi.
There are however downsides to interiors that offer such scope, because both of these cars are big units. The Defender is slightly shorter than the Q7 (5,018mm – including the spare on the rear door – plays 5,063mm for the Audi), a smidge under two metres wide (1,996mm) being a shade fatter than the Q7’s 1,968mm. You’ll need the standard parking sensors in both, though the Land Rover’s bluffness makes it relatively easy to place. They are both also truly heavyweight, coming in around the 2.2-tonne mark, although the Defender is marginally the heavier of the two. And to be honest, even the smallest engines in both are more than adequate, though they really hit their stride in the middle of the available ranges – where most money is spent.
So the 45 V6 TDI and 50 TFSI for the Audi, the D250 and P300 for the Land Rover. In most directly competitive guises, the Q7 is faster and more efficient spec-for-spec, and they both tow 3,500kg comfortably. There’s absolutely no getting away from the fact that the Q7 outpoints the Defender when it comes to handling, mind. And it should, seeing as though its relations are VW Group luminaries like the Touareg, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga. The Defender’s D7x architecture also shares a deal with other JLR products, although the ‘x’ at the end denotes a strengthened aluminium body and beefy bits that elevate it into ‘proper’ 4×4 designation.
It’s obvious on the road. Where the Audi shrinks into a corner and becomes more nimble, you find yourself waiting for the Defender to settle. The Audi stays remarkably flat on its standard air suspension, the Land Rover heels over like a racing yacht on similar-but-optional air springs. The Audi has better steering, relentless brakes and a more sophisticated take on ride comfort. The Defender is more languid, softer, less urgent in the same metrics. Oddly though, that depends on what you expect from your family bus – the Q7 may be terribly agile going fast, but it’s a disputable advantage in a car that’s well over two tonnes and built to haul people. The Defender doesn’t encourage, but neither is it terrible. And yes, the Audi can handle a bit of light off-road, but if you want to get muddy regularly, the Land Rover drives away from the more road-biased German marque.
Let’s be honest here, people buy large SUVs because there’s a sense of power and control with a big car. They also need something that can cope with their maximum capacity needs, even if the day-to-day requires something more modest. The strange thing here is that the Audi Q7 is a brilliant points-scorer of a car that somehow manages to feel quite bloodless. A full-size SUV for those that don’t really mind what car they have as long as it has all the usual Audi attributes.
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The Defender, on the other hand, is empirically less capable, and yet possessed of a self-assurance and character that makes it impossible to resist. The sense of purpose, ruggedness, general machismo and rounded capability – it’s all awfully obvious and yet genuinely attractive. There’s not a bad car here, but if you want a winner, the Land Rover Defender walks it.
Land Rover Defender D250 SE – 9/10
3.0 6cyl turbodiesel, 250bhp, 420lb ft
0-62mph in 8.5secs, 117mph
AWD, 8spd auto
Audi Q7 45 TDI Quattro S Line – 8/10
3.0 V6 turbodiesel, 228bhp, 369lb ft
0-62mph in 7.3secs, 142mph
AWD, 8spd auto
— to www.topgear.com