Audi goes to wild lengths to complete its new luxury SUV by Sue Callaway @FortuneMagazine May 15, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons When an automaker like Audi puts out a new vehicle, it requires millions of test hours, miles, and dollars. In the case of the all-new Q7 luxury SUV, Audi’s engineers went ever farther—specifically to Namibia, on the southwest coast of Africa and home to the oldest desert on the planet—to put the final dusty, washboard, pre-production test miles on the vehicle. The company invited Fortune to come play in the sand—one of only two U.S. media outlets hosted. Audi’s top six engineers were all present for this last approval drive because of the broader corporate significance of the Q7’s MLB Evo platform. The same platform will be used in numerous other important next-gen VW Group vehicles including the Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, Audi A8 flagship and Bentley Bentayga SUV. From the outside, the Q7’s looks lost all baby fat; the new version is taut and muscular, giving the Q7 a more aggressive, sleeker look. Under that chiseled façade are complex technological solutions that bring many firsts to the large luxury SUV category. At 4,398 lbs, the Q7 is the lightest in its class and is more fuel efficient than its competitors from Mercedes and BMW—and 28% more efficient than the current Q7. Rear-wheel steering tightens the Q7’s turning radius by more than three feet at low speeds. At high speeds, the rear wheels steer with the front to increase stability—above and beyond what the lightened Quattro system already provides. Audi has brought myriad active safety systems into the SUV, ever furthering the company’s continued leadership in the autonomous space. Systems include collision avoidance assist, cross-traffic assist, trailer assist (helps you line up to hitch up), traffic-jam assist, night vision and a predictive efficiency assistant. A windshield-mounted camera, paired with two front radar units, allows the Q7 to maintain cruise-control speeds of up to 155 mph (a feature we sadly didn’t get to test in Africa). Another highlight of the Q7 is the Virtual Cockpit double display system that is readable in any light conditions, refreshes at 60 frames a second and offers an HD instrument panel experience that is highly flexible and customizable. One of the downsides of the Q7 is, in fact, its vast array of competencies—which, I will guess, some owners won’t ever fully appreciate or master. On our second day of Namibian driving, along with the occasional kudu sighting, Audi’s team let air out of our tires, down to 13 psi, and we drove over and through sand dunes. Throughout it all, the Q7’s ride was comfortable, stable and capable of smoothing out even what looked like rough terrain. The Q7 isn’t for everyone; if you want a blinged-out mile-high ride, look elsewhere. But if you appreciate cutting-edge engineering and radically refined systems, this could be your ride.