Audi builds a heavyweight contender
Until now Audi has been content to watch from the sidelines as its competition created truck after truck after truck. The German automaker is one of the last manufacturers in the world without a sport-ute in its lineup, and its accountants and stockholders are sick of it.
And so in the interest of continued profitability, the company that made all-wheel drive mainstream has gone SUV. But unlike Mercedes-Benz, which offers a variety of V8-powered luxury SUVs — the ML500, R500 and the new full-size GL450 — Audi has decided to straddle the entire luxury SUV segment with one vehicle, the V8-powered seven-seat 2007 Audi Q7. At a base price of $49,900, Audi has even priced the Q7 right between the Benzes.
But can one Audi take on three Benzes? After 10 days in the driver seat of the buck-toothed Q7, we're convinced it's up to the task.
Drives big and heavy
With a 118.2-inch wheelbase, the Q7 may not be the largest SUV on the road, but it is among the heaviest. Weighing nearly 5,300 pounds, the Q7 carries over 300 pounds more than the R500, yet feels downright ironclad by comparison.
The second you enter the driver seat, there's an unmistakable heft about the Q7. The doors are heavy, the seat is firm and the controls require a heavy hand. Despite its tight turning circle, the Q7 feels a bit cumbersome around town. City drivers can feel like they're piloting a small ship to the grocery store.
Audi did this on purpose. The company's cars have always had a smaller-than-they-are kind of feel, even the not-so-lithe A8 L feels light on its feet and athletic. But this time Audi has decided to increase the Q7's feeling of size from behind the wheel. Although its controls have the precision you expect in an Audi, and the Q7 changes direction as well as any SUV we've ever tested, the Q7 feels like it would rather be driven through the impending obstacle than around it.
Not exactly a sprinter
A 4.2-liter V8 engine similar to the one that powers the 414-horsepower Audi RS 4 sport sedan is standard. Both use FSI direct gasoline injection technology that allows fuel to be injected directly into the combustion chamber for greater power without sacrificing fuel economy. Audi V8s have always been a little light on bottom-end torque, but come on strong as the tach needle climbs, and the double-overhead-cam 4.2 is no exception. In the Q7, the engine is rated at 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm and 350 hp at its 6,800-rpm redline.
Even with FSI technology and a well-timed six-speed Tiptronic transmission, the Q7's fuel mileage isn't going to win any awards. During our 10-day test we found ourselves making regular small talk with Frank, our local gas station attendant. Our final average was a dismal 11.2 mpg over a few hundred miles, while a past test of the R500 recorded 15.6 mpg.
If you don't want to discuss Frank's great-aunt Fanny's hip replacement, a smaller, more fuel-efficient 280-hp, 3.6-liter V6 will be introduced in the Q7 later this fall. But a V6 Q7 may qualify for California's new Slowpoke Tax. The Q7's weight already puts a stress on the V8. With a 0-60-mph time of 8.3 seconds and a 16.1-second quarter-mile, the Q7 isn't exactly a sprinter. Both times are a full second behind the larger, but lighter R500.
Our truck's $2,600 optional adaptive air suspension has a speed-sensitive ride height adjustment which lowers the vehicle at higher speeds for maximum stability. It works. Out on the open highway, the Q7 takes a set above 80 mph like a well-pedigreed performance sedan, although overtaking cars camped out in the fast lane does require full throttle and the six-speed's willingness to downshift.
Aglow in red illumination, the Q7's state-of-the-art interior mimics the wonderful interior in the A6 sedan. Audi has managed a high-tech presentation without a sacrifice in comfort or warmth. Our test car had the optional premium Cricket leather seating, and natural walnut, leather and aluminum trim surrounding the cockpit-style control panel. Fit and finish, along with the quality of the materials, remains industry leading.
Audi's standard Multi Media Interface (MMI) must be dealt with to access the car's navigation system, climate controls and specially designed 14-speaker Bose audio system. BMW could take a lesson from this intuitive MMI system. It isn't exactly simple, but it can be figured out without a week spent studying the manual.
Additional feature highlights include an optional rear park-assist camera, optional adaptive cruise control and an optional lane-changing side assist unit, which spiked our test car's sticker price to over $60,000. The latter is a radar-based warning system that alerts drivers when cars are hiding in their blind spot with flashing signals in the sideview mirrors. It takes a few miles to get used to, since the lights first resemble a flash of sunlight, but once you become accustomed to the feature, it's handy to have onboard.
Rear passengers also have ample gadgetry at their fingertips. Rear climate controls are standard, and our truck's optional second-row captain's chairs were heated. Although the second-row buckets limit seating to six, seat comfort is higher than the standard bench.
Large cargo hold
Folding third-row seats offer limited legroom no matter the configuration, and, as is the case with most third-row seats in sub-Suburban-sized SUVs, they're best left to children.
When the backseats are not in use, they can be folded flat to accommodate 27.4 cubic feet of cargo, which expands to generous 88.7 cubes when the second row is also collapsed. A Q7 full of passengers can handle just a few kids' worth of sporting equipment in its 10.9 cubic feet.
A power liftgate is standard, but there's no control on the key fob, which can be a problem for drivers under 5.5 feet tall. They'll find it a stretch to reach the door-mounted button when the liftgate is open.
Technology meets road
Audi applies its quattro all-wheel-drive system across its model line, and the Q7 is no exception. All Q7s get standard quattro with 42/58 front/rear torque split for optimum traction in the rough or wet.
Just cruising the freeway, the adjustable suspension made a big difference in the Q7's ride quality, soaking up the bumps before they reached our backsides. The ride is firm, but there's no impact harshness despite our truck's optional 20-inch wheels and tires. Eighteens are standard.
Included with the air suspension is a roll-stabilization program to keep the Q7 level in the corners and an off-road lift setting that increases the SUV's ground clearance to nearly 10 inches when needed. Its lack of body roll, big tires and precise speed-dependent steering helped the heavy Q7 weave through the slalom at 61.6 mph. The R500 could only run the course of cones at 57.4 mph.
With its large, ventilated disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), brake tests were even more impressive. The Q7 closed the 60-0-mph gap in just 117.9 feet, a whole car length shorter than the R500's 125.8-foot stopping distance and a remarkable feat considering the Q7's mass. Even more impressive was Q7's lack of brake fade. There was none, zero, zilch, nada after five 60-mph panic stops.
Does it bridge the gap?
Although Audi took its time joining the race, it's backing a viable contender, which should make Mercedes take note and Jaguar nervous. You see, the new 2007 Audi Q7 officially leaves Jaguar as the only luxury nameplate without a truck.
And how long will that last? Right now there's a pack of Jaguar executives in some oak-paneled boardroom fervently ringing William Clay Ford, Jr. across the pond.
"Bill, old boy, isn't it high time we put a Leaper on the Explorer?"
Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds says:
This Q7 is one massive Audi. So big, in fact, that it makes the Largemouth Bass grille look proportional. It's impressive inside, too, with a well laid-out cabin containing plenty of nifty toys to play with. I found the enhanced backup camera extremely well executed, with guide lines to define my projected path that moved as I turned the wheel. Cricket leather seats? I'm not sure how many of the poor buggers it took, but whatever the number, it was worth it.
The multicammed 4.2-liter V8 engine seems impressive at first, with a potent-sounding exhaust note that fills you with the feeling that pole position is a foregone conclusion. But then I got my doors blown off at a stoplight drag by a mom in a clapped-out Explorer bent on thwarting me from getting the inside line on a not-so-fast-approaching freeway cloverleaf. For its next trick, the Q7 got left behind on said uphill ramp, struggling under all of that road-hugging weight. But I took comfort in the fact that it sounded really good and felt very stable, with excellent steering feel in defeat.
Executive Editor Scott Oldham says:
"Wonderful art direction."
"Great-looking inside and out."
"Audi hits another one out of the park."
"Easily, the easiest SUV to climb into of the year."
"Audi's seat heaters are an absolute triumph."
"An adventure that will charm kids and thrill parents."
"So powerful it's spine-tingling."
"Two big thumbs up."
"Seriously big and seriously heavy."
"Stirring and profoundly moving."
"Exhilarating! Heroic! Inspiring!"
"It left me in a state of euphoria."
"A genuine gut-buster."
"Potent, provocative and brilliant!"
"Deeply pleasurable, but paralyzing expensive."
Sorry, I read too many movie ads in the newspaper this morning.
System Score: 8.0
Components: Our test car was a Q7 4.2 quattro. All Q7s equipped with the 4.2 liter engine and the Q7 3.6 Premium trim come standard with an upgraded Bose stereo. Audi says the system is specially designed for the Q7 and acoustically tuned to the Audi's interior. The Bose setup uses Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which mimics surround sound through a variety of preset profiles. It's good for 750 watts. It features an in-dash, six-disc CD changer and 14 speakers. The regular 3.6 model has an Audi eight-speaker stereo with a single CD player. The Bose system is optional on that model.
Performance: As expected, the standard Bose stereo sounds very good and is even worth paying a little extra. Of course you don't have to pay extra because this stereo is the standard system in our 4.2 model.
Between its simulated surround sound and the nearly perfect tonal separation, this system lets you hear every note. Vocals come through with a warmth and clarity you rarely hear in an automobile, while bass notes are reproduced with a kick and little or no distortion. The bass response isn't perfect but is certainly more than adequate. We'd like a little more punch from the bass like that found in BMW's Harman Kardon systems. Still, this Bose system has plenty of bass and it anchors most types of music nicely. The highs are brilliant without being shrill and add an extra bit of sparkle to the sound. With 14 speakers, the sound seems to envelop each and every corner of the Q7's spacious interior, which makes listening to this system very enjoyable.
One feature we especially like is the fact that this Audi has an in-dash CD changer. No more reaching over to the glovebox to swap out Massive Attack CDs. We also like Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) and find it to be one of the most seamless multifunction controllers around, although a few editors have complained of a steep learning curve. On the Q7, the screen is mounted high in the dash, making it even easier to get information at a quick glance. Redundant audio system info on the center screen in the instrument panel is also a nice touch.
Best Feature: Concert hall sound quality.
Worst Feature: Bass could be punchier.
Conclusion: Like other Bose/Audi stereos, this one delivers great sound quality with more than enough power and refinement to keep even audiophiles happy. Audi's MMI continues to be a bright spot in modern automotive electronics. — Brian Moody