The Audi Q7 used to have two choices of gasoline-powered engines; now it has one. Those engines used to produce 280 and 350 horsepower, respectively; the new one has 272.
On the surface, this would appear to be a problem. You see, Audi's full-size SUV has always been something of a big-boned chap. The old V8-powered Q7 tipped the scales at 5,420 pounds; the surviving diesel-powered TDI weighs 5,672, which is only a few hundred away from getting a commercial vehicle fuel-economy exemption from the EPA.
Now, this isn't to imply that the 2011 Audi Q7 has been given a steady diet of $5 veggie foot-longs to become a svelte representative of the SUV ranks, but it has lost just enough (it's now 5,256 pounds) to give this new engine a fighting chance. And a fight this supercharged 3.0-liter V6 can certainly deliver, as it makes 295 pound-feet of torque (versus 266 for the old V6 and 325 for the V8) available at much lower rpm than its predecessors, which means a nice, wide power band and easier driving. This engine (dubbed 3.0T, despite the fact that it has a supercharger, not a turbocharger) has an energetic nature that the burly V8 never had.
The 3.0T is also more fuel-efficient than the outgoing guzzlers. EPA ratings of 16 city and 22 highway mpg are pretty impressive for a utility vehicle this size, especially considering that the V8 used to get 13/18. Credit for this must also go to Audi's new eight-speed automatic transmission, which further lends a hand in helping the 2011 Q7 overcome its apparent horsepower disadvantage.
And how much does it overcome that disadvantage? Well, the Q7 3.0T goes from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds — exactly as quick as the previous, more powerful V8 model. Such performance makes this new engine quite a winner in our book. However, what about the luxury SUV it's attached to? Read on.
While the energetic performance of the new supercharged V6 injects some life into the Q7, this still remains a large vehicle and there's no getting around that. You notice its size especially while negotiating narrow streets and when parking. It lacks the ultimate handling acumen of BMW's X5 and its surprisingly firm suspension lacks the suppleness of the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class or Land Rover LR4. Yet the Q7 is well-balanced, and despite its size, it feels like a proper Audi from behind the wheel. Especially the steering, which has the highly speed-sensitive effort typical of the brand. It's tight on-center for a secure feel at speed, then lightens up when you're making a slow turn at an intersection or when you park.
The Q7's brake pedal has an especially long travel, which can be unnerving during an emergency stop. During Edmunds testing, though, braking distances proved to be acceptable for such a heavy vehicle, as the Q7 came to a halt from 60 mph in a tidy 122 feet.
The Q7's front seats are supportive and comfortable over the long haul and offer sufficient adjustment. Ditto the second row, which provides the sort of sprawl space a family with growing teenagers will appreciate during a family vacation.
From there on back, however, things start to fall apart for the 2011 Audi Q7. The third row is tight on leg- and headroom, and isn't especially easy to get to. It's fine if you're just stuffing the neighbor's kids back there, but for a 5,200-pound SUV, it seems silly that those growing teenagers have to be crammed into the caboose when the time comes to stick Grandma and Grandpa in row two on the way to Macaroni Grill. By contrast, full-size adults comfortably fit in the third rows of the Land Rover LR4 and Mercedes GL-Class, not to mention non-luxury models like the Buick Enclave, Dodge Durango and Ford Flex.
Really, if an SUV is going to be full-size on the outside, shouldn't it be full-size on the inside as well?
This trend continues with cargo capacity. With that insufficient third row folded, the load height is notably high. This not only makes stuffing in heavy and/or bulky items difficult, it reduces overall cargo capacity to 72.5 cubic feet of space. That's about 10 cubes less than the smaller Acura MDX and just a tad less than the comparatively tiny Toyota RAV4. Among vehicles of similar size and weight as the Q7, the GL, LR4 and Infiniti QX56 all hold more stuff.
The Q7 is not much better for smaller items either, as there are a limited number of storage nooks inside. The front center armrest is essentially split into two pieces: the first covers a shallow bin and the other houses two cupholders — one uncovered, the other protected by the flip-up passenger-side armrest. You can have a second mocha latte or some place for your wife's elbow, but not both.
Actually, the place usually reserved for cupholders right behind the shift lever is taken up with the buttons for Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI), which has been made more user-friendly than the one in the 2007 Audi Q7 that Edmunds drove as a long-term test vehicle. The layout of buttons aft of the shifter is roughly the same (and still requires some drivers to uncomfortably reach rearward to operate them), but the onscreen menus have been cleaned up for better functionality of the stereo and navigation system. We're particularly pleased with the easy operation of the Bluetooth phone system, which downloads your cell's phonebook into the car's databanks and generally makes talking on the phone a quick and safer experience.
Design/Fit and Finish
Audi has long been the standard-bearer among luxury cars regarding interior materials and fit and finish. True to form, everything in the Q7 fits together beautifully and feels great. The steering wheel is one of the best in any vehicle, period. The overall design is a spitting image of most Audis, though our test car's black interior was a little dour. The more natural colors available create a warmer environment, though the lightest hues may be susceptible to staining.
The exterior benefits from the 2010 addition of Audi's trademark LED running lights and additional brightwork in the grille. It all gives the Q7 a bit more flare, though the Q7 remains one of the more tasteful designs in a segment where things can get a little garish (cough, Escalade).
Who should consider this vehicle
The Q7 may have lost weight for 2011, but it's still far too big given its relative lack of passenger and cargo space. As such, it's hard to recommend it when there are more useful vehicles that give up little if nothing in terms of luxury. The 2011 Audi Q7 3.0T's new supercharged V6 stands out from the crowd with its strong acceleration and reasonably thrifty fuel economy, but if this is important to you, any number of smaller luxury SUVs will carry just as many people and just as much stuff as the Q7 does but for less money.
So the new engine may be a winner, but the luxury SUV that surrounds it still has some catching up to do.
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