While the Q7 may be Audi's first-ever sport-utility, its strength and refinement suggest that Audi has been in this game for years, if not decades. As such, the Q7 represents a fresh and beautifully rendered newcomer to the luxury SUV segment. Like other Audis, the Q7 is a paragon of driving elegance and interior refinement.
Built upon the same solid architecture shared by the Volkswagen's impressive Touareg and Porsche's high-performance Cayenne, the Q7 is even nicer to drive than its two corporate cousins, thanks to a more compliant ride and Audi's decades of experience with all-wheel-drive systems, which Audi calls Quattro, or quattro. The Q7 is also the longest of the three, and thus is the only one to offer three-row seating. Audi also has equipped the Q7 with many luxury and convenience features not found on the Touareg and Cayenne, including a few not found on any other luxury SUV.
With a base price of less than $50,000, the Q7 is priced close to others in the luxury SUV segment, which also includes the Cadillac SRX, Lexus GX 470, and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. With all-wheel drive, a choice of powerful V6 and V8 engines and arguably the classiest interior in the segment, the Q7 deserves serious consideration when shopping for a luxury SUV.
Audi Q7 3.6; 3.6 Premium; 4.2 ($49,900); 4.2 Premium ($59,900)
Crisp side-view styling with articulated fenders and an arching roofline also do much to lessen the generous dimensions of the Q7. The exterior mirrors are perhaps the largest we've ever seen on a vehicle in this class, which should come in handy when towing. Two stylish, full-length metal rails on the roof provide anchor points for accessory crossbars for securing cargo on the roof.
The Q7's rear view is dominated by high-mounted, horizontal taillamps with LED illumination and fiber-optic/LED turn signals. The cut line for the tailgate sweeps outward around the taillamps to become a styling element of its own.
Lower moldings are rendered in a durable, unpainted, chip-resistant material that is color-keyed to the paint above. With the available S-Line appearance package, they are replaced by more aggressively styled lower moldings that are painted to match the body.
Other notable exterior features that would be particularly appreciable in colder climates include pull-type door handles that are easy to use with gloves, as well as wide-sweeping windshield wipers that, when not in use, rest on an area heated by the interior vents in order to prevent freezing.
Most drivers should find the driving position nearly perfect. Getting in and out of the front or second-row seats is easy thanks to large doors and a reasonably low floor. Accessing the third row is not as easy: The second-row seat slides and folds forward to grant access, but never quite enough for an adult to get back there smoothly. To Audi's defense, the seat was designed to accommodate people no taller than five feet, four inches. As with most SUVs, the third row is best left to the kids.
Interior trim speaks of high quality, with padded surfaces everywhere one can touch and virtually no hard plastics. Three different kinds of wood are available, as is patterned aluminum trim. The mix of materials conveys a level of luxury that matches, if not exceeds, the Q7's price.
The Q7's gauges are clear and bright with an information display between the speedometer and tachometer which cycles through several menus via buttons on the steering wheel. Redundant navigation messages are also communicated through this display, even when the dashboard screen displays something else, a useful feature. The stalk-mounted cruise controls and the switches for the wipers and lights have a supple, expensive feel.
As with the A6 and A8, the Q7 combines controls for the stereo, navigation system and other functions into a screen-based system Audi calls the Multi-Media Interface (MMI). Designed to reduce the amount of buttons on the dashboard while adding even more features, MMI adds layers of complexity that require a considerable amount of time and practice to operate smoothly. That said, MMI is clearer in operation than BMW's iDrive system, a source of aggravation for many drivers, and provides dedicated menus for the climate, audio, phone and navigation systems, as well as relevant vehicle system information.
Stereo choices for the Q7 include an AM/FM/CD unit with eight speakers and an AM/FM/6CD unit with 14 Bose speakers. Both are ready for satellite radio, and Audi offers a choice of XM or Sirius. While most of the audio adjustment functions are incorporated into MMI, the controls used most often, such as the volume and seek functions, are adjusted with clearly labeled buttons and knobs mounted sensibly and attractively on the center console, just in front of the armrest. Also of note are available voice-activated controls.
The front bucket seats are superb: comfortable and supportive with power adjustment in most directions. Leather upholstery is standard on all models, while the V8 Premium array comes with upmarket Cricket leather. Leather also covers the three-spoke steering wheel, which also features redundant audio controls.
Dual-zone automatic climate controls are nothing new for this segment, but Audi made an effort to provide ventilation while reducing draftiness when the vehicle is being heated or cooled rapidly. Hence, the Q7 has an abundance of generously sized vents, including a diffused air vent at the base of the windshield in the front, as well as vents in the both the B-pillar and the rear of the center console for second-row occupants. One particularly upscale option is four-zone climate control (two zones in front and two zones for the second-row passengers), though its price is a bit upscale as well.
Four full-size adults can enjoy plenty of space in the five-seat array; the 60/40 split rear bench seat allows cargo/passeng
Power from the 280-hp 3.6-liter V6 is more than adequate for most drivers, with plenty on tap for quick, smooth acceleration in spite of its high curb weight of over 5200 pounds. The V6 emits a satisfying growl under full throttle but goes virtually silent when coasting or cruising. The throaty 350hp 4.2-liter V8 offers even more impressive acceleration numbers (0-60 in just 7.0 seconds, according to Audi), but ultimately is more powerful than all but the most aggressive drivers need.
All Q7s come with a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission that shifts so smoothly it's almost imperceptible except during full-throttle acceleration. A Sport mode can be selected that provides faster shifts and automatically holds gears a bit longer for more responsive performance. If the driver wants to shift manually, the Tiptronic manual shift feature is selected by moving the shift lever to the right, then tapping it up or down as desired. The multi-information display in the instrument cluster clearly displays the selected gear.
The Q7's standard full-time quattro all-wheel drive system requires no driver input. Normally, power is delivered to the front and rear wheels in a 42/58 percent split in order to create a rear-wheel-drive sensation for confident dry-weather handling. When driving conditions become such that traction becomes compromised at, the torque split is automatically adjusted between the parameters of 65/35 to 15/85 percent, front-to-rear.
The electronic stability control, or ESP, manages any additional wheel slip by applying the brakes at the slipping wheel without interrupting power deliver to the wheels with grip. ESP helps maintain stability in corners by lightly applying the brakes to individual wheels when the vehicle's path doesn't match the driver's intentions. The Q7's ESP system is enhanced with an off-road mode that can be switched on to allow some slip for smooth power delivery on gravel roads. For steep, slippery grades, a downhill assist function automatically maintains a 12-mph speed by applying the brakes to individual wheels without driver input, allowing him or her to concentrate on steering.
Fuel economy for the 4.2 is surprisingly favorable at an estimated 17 miles per gallon city and 23 highway, thanks in part to waste-reducing advancements such as fuel stratified injection (FSI) and electronic throttle control (ETC). This compares well to competitors such as the Cadillac SRX V8 (15/20 mpg) and the Mercedes-Benz ML500 (15/19 mpg).
Towing capacity starts at 5500 pounds for all models. Tow capacity rises to 6600 pounds with the optional tow package, available on most Q7 models. The optional Adaptive Air suspension features a trailering mode that helps manage the unique physics of trailering. The Q7 also offers a separate Tow mode for the electronic stability control that is calibrated to counteract swaying motions that can become dangerous when pulling a trailer.
The power steering is speed-sensitive, reducing the amount of assistance as the Q7 accelerates to deliver more road feel at higher speeds. On-center feel is outstanding and with steering inputs met by quick response, thanks to just 2.66 turns from lock to lock. Steering isn't as heavy as that in the BMW X5, for example, but nor is it as light as that of the GMC Yukon.
Handling is superb. Both of the 4.2 models we drove featured the optional adaptive air susp
The new Audi Q7 represent a winning combination of comfort, style and space. With Audi luxury made even more enjoyable by a taller roof and a more commanding view of the road ahead, the Q7 has an interior package that will be an excellent match for today's luxury SUV customer.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Steve Siler filed this report from Scottsdale, Arizona.