The Audi Q7 offers strength and refinement in a large, luxurious SUV. It is a paragon of driving elegance and interior refinement.
For 2009, a new 3.0-liter diesel engine is available, a turbocharged dohc V6 with four valves per cylinder. It makes 325 horsepower at 3750 rpm and a very robust 406 pound-feet of torque at 1750 rpm. It is matched with the same six-speed automatic used with the 4.2-liter V8 but, in consideration of its torque curve, has a numerically lower axle ratio of 3.27:1. Not only does it deliver a lot of torque, it also has remarkable fuel economy, and is EPA-rated at 17 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway. The diesel is known as the Q7 TDI and is said to be the world's cleanest diesel sport utility vehicle. It meets emissions regulations in all 50 states, and offers 600 miles of driving range on a single tank.
In addition to the availability of the diesel, for 2009 there are some slight alterations to the trim levels and options. Otherwise, the 2009 Q7 line is unchanged. The Q7 was launched as a 2007 model.
The Audi Q7 shares its solid architecture with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne. The Q7 rides on a longer wheelbase, however, and it has a more compliant ride than the Volkswagen and Porsche. The Q7 is the longest of the three, and is the only one to offer three-row seating. To make its cabin more luxurious and inviting, Audi has equipped the Q7 with features not found on the Touareg or Cayenne. And when the weather turns sour, the Q7 benefits from Audi's decades of experience with quattro all-wheel drive.
With a base price of considerably less than $50,000, the Q7 is priced close to others in the luxury SUV segment, which includes the Cadillac SRX, Lexus GX 470, and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. With all-wheel drive, a choice of three powerful engines and the classiest interior in the segment, the Q7 deserves serious consideration when shopping for a luxury SUV. High-technology features such as its blind-spot warning system add to safety and convenience in the Q7.
The styling of the Audi Q7 offers no surprises, just typical Audi class, as if the A6 wagon experienced an unexpected growth spurt. The Q7 is bigger than it looks. The blunt front end features Audi's signature bold grille flanked by menacing headlights at the leading edge of the sculpted hood. A heavily stylized front end helps mask the formidable mass of the Q7's nose. Fog lights are set into the lower moldings.
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 taillights with LED illumination and fiber-optic/LED turn signals. The cut line for the tailgate sweeps outward around the taillights 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.
Cold weather features include pull-type door handles that are easy to use with gloves and wide-sweeping windshield wipers that, when not in use, rest on an area heated by the interior vents in order to prevent freezing.
Audi designed the Q7 interior with flexibility in mind, and it offers numerous passenger and cargo arrangements among the three available seating configurations.
With the conventional 40/20/40 split second-row bench seat, the Q7 seats five; add the third-row seat and it'll seat seven. A six-passenger arrangement is available with second-row bucket seats separated by a center console, with the third-row bench behind it. All second-row seats slide for and aft four inches to maximize legroom, which Audi claims gives the Q7 the most stretch-out room in the class. We find second-row bucket seats more comfortable than bench seats; however, the bucket seats with center console diminish cargo capability and dog friendliness so consider this carefully before ordering second-row buckets.
The driver's seat is comfortable and most drivers should find the driving position nearly perfect. Getting in and out of the front seats or the 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. In Audi's defense, the seat was designed to accommodate people no taller than five feet, four inches. As with most, if not all, 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 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.
The Multi-Media Interface, or MMI, controls the stereo, navigation system, and other functions. Designed to reduce the amount of buttons on the dashboard while adding even more features, MMI adds layers of complexity that require considerable time and practice to operate smoothly. The system features a central control dial and some 15 buttons to control the climate, audio, phone, and navigation systems, as well as relevant vehicle system information. The controls are situated on the horizontal surface behind the shift knob. In addition to the added complexity, using the MMI often requires a longer look away from the road.
Stereo choices for the Q7 include an AM/FM/CD unit with eight speakers, an AM/FM/6CD unit with 14 Bose speakers, and a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen system with 14 speakers. Sirius satellite radio is standard on all but the base model. We found the 14-speaker Bose system to be outstanding; sound remains clear at high volume and the system has a lot of power. 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. The system also responds to voice commands.
The Rearview Camera and Parking System incorporates a camera in the liftgate to provide a view behind the vehicle when backing up. The image is clearly projected on the screen, with parking guide lines showing the path the vehicle would take given the steering wheel angle at the time. As the wheel turns, the guide lines change accordingly. We found this to be an extremely useful feature. It's especially valuable when backing up to a trailer, allowing the driver to position the receiver ball directly below the trailer hitch. It's also a great safety feature, whether backing out of the driveway or out of a space in a crowded shopping center parking lot, because it can help the driver spot people or objects difficult to see otherwise. It makes parallel parking easier and more efficient, helping the driver to back within an inch of the vehicle behind.
The front bucket seats are superb: comfortable and supportive with power adjustment in most directions. Leather upholstery is standard on all models. 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 both the B-pillar and the rear of the center console for second-row occupants. Four-zone climate control is optional, featuring two zones in front and two zones for the second-row passengers, nice but not inexpensive.
The five-passenger configuration provides plenty of space for four full-size adults. The 40/20/40 split rear bench seat allows cargo and passenger flexibility. This bench seat allows second-row passengers to slide rearward up to four inches for extra legroom, and the second-row seatbacks are designed to recline up to 10 degrees for more relaxed comfort. A benefit of the bench seat is that there is no center console to get in the way when it's folded down for cargo.
The six-passenger configuration comes with second-row bucket seats separated by a large console with storage and cup holders. The latter arrangement feels more upscale. It also makes the third row feel less confining, thanks to better forward vision.
Interior cubby storage space is adequate, if not stellar. The glove box is tiny, but features a handy air duct that draws in air from the climate control system to help prevent melting lip balm or lipstick on hot days. Additional storage is found under the armrest and in pockets in the doors. The Q7 is available with up to six 12-volt power points, including one in the tailgate, as well as 10 cup holders, including molded bottle holders in each door.
Cargo space is on par with other luxury SUVs with three rows of seats. There isn't much space behind the third row, so hauling anything but groceries will likely require that at least one half of the 50/50 split third-row seat be folded away. But, thanks to the sliding second-row seats and flat-folding seat stowing, the Q7 makes the most of its 72.5 cubic feet of available space. Five-passenger models feature an additional storage compartment behind the rear seat.
Loading cargo into the Q7 is facilitated by a wraparound tailgate that reveals a very wide opening. The available power tailgate is handy, especially when walking to the vehicle with an armload. Particularly clever is the load assist feature that lowers the rear of the vehicle approximately three inches at the touch of a button in the cargo area, handy when loading dogs as well as groceries. Numerous tie-down hooks and floor tracks are designed to fit accessory cargo securing devices available at Audi dealerships.
One option that families will find particularly cool is the Open Sky System: A full-length, three-panel panoramic glass moonroof that brightens the interior significantly. About 5.5 feet in length, the system consists of three tinted glass panels spanning all seating areas. The front section slides back over the fixed second section for full exposure for front seat occupants; another glass panel over the third-row seat and cargo area tilts up for added ventilation. A power retractable sunshade helps keep heat down on hot days.
On the road, the Q7 behaves like an Audi. The fully independent suspension delivers a comfortable ride and controlled handling. Road imperfections are managed without being transferred into unbecoming jolts or booming sounds in the cabin. Even at high speeds, interior noise level is low enough for conversation to be held without raising one's voice. Not as pillowy as the Lexus GX 470 or as stiff as the BMW X5 or Infiniti FX, the Q7's ride hits the sweet spot many luxury SUV shoppers desire.
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 5000 pounds. The V6 emits a satisfying growl under full throttle but goes virtually silent when coasting or cruising. The throaty 350-hp 4.2-liter V8 offers more power than most drivers need and even more impressive acceleration numbers (0-60 in just 7.0 seconds, according to Audi).
The 3.0 TDI diesel is a real workhorse, yet is also unobtrusively quiet and delivers remarkable fuel efficiency. According to Audi, it produces about 25 percent less carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline engine and reduces nitrogen oxides by up to 90 percent when compared to past diesels. And, with its filters, the exhaust that comes out the tailpipe can contain less particulate matter – that nasty black soot – than the ambient air that went into the engine. Finally, it's expected to last longer than a comparable gasoline engine, which will pay dividends in resale value and long-term ownership value.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts so smoothly it's almost imperceptible except during full-throttle acceleration. The Sport mode 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.
Quattro all-wheel drive works full time and requires no driver input. Normally, power is delivered to the front and rear wheels in a 42/58 percent split to create a rear-wheel-drive bias for confident dry-weather handling. When driving conditions become such that traction becomes compromised, the torque split is automatically adjusted between the parameters of 65/35 to 15/85 percent, front-to-rear.
Electronic stability control, or ESC, manages wheel slip by applying the brake at the slipping wheel without interrupting power deliver to the wheels with grip. The system 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 electronic stability control 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, Hill Descent Control automatically maintains a 12-mph speed by applying the brakes to individual wheels without driver input, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering.
Fuel economy with the 3.6-liter V6 is an EPA-estimated 14 miles per gallon City and 20 Highway. The 4.2-liter V8 is thirstier, rated at 13/18 mpg City/Highway. We've noted the 3.0 TDI diesel is EPA-rated at 17/25.
Towing capacity starts at 5500 pounds for all models but rises to 6600 pounds with the optional towing package. The Adaptive Air Suspension features a trailer mode that helps manage the unique physics of towing. The Adaptive Air Suspension is self-leveling, so when towing you're not blinding other drivers with your low beams. The Q7 also has a Tow mode for the electronic stability control calibrated to counteract swaying motions that can become dangerous when pulling a trailer.
The power steering is speed-sensitive, reducing the amount of assistance at higher speeds to deliver more road feel. 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. On-center feel is outstanding, with steering inputs met by quick response, and it's just 2.7 turns of the steering wheel from lock to lock.
Handling is superb for a vehicle of this size. The Q7 is only two inches shorter than a Cadillac Escalade and actually has a longer wheelbase. Nonetheless, it feels much smaller, reacting readily to quick changes of direction. Only in close-quarter handling, such as in parking lots or parallel parking, does the Q7's size become evident.
The Adaptive Air Suspension uses electronically controlled, air-filled shocks in place of traditional steel springs and allows the driver to select one of three firmness settings, as well as raise the vehicle to a ground clearance of 8.5 inches for deep snow or off-road driving. The Comfort setting allows the suspension to absorb more road impacts for a relatively smooth ride at all situations. The Automatic mode offers compliance during straight-line travel, but stiffens up during cornering for tauter handling. The Dynamic mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches to a ground clearance of 6.5 inches, which lowers the center of gravity and enhances aerodynamics. Generally, we found the Q7's ride to be acceptable though firm, even in the softest Comfort setting. That's typical of a German sedan. We preferred the Automatic setting during normal driving in the 4.2 models we've driven because Automatic offered the best ride and handling balance. The Dynamic setting was noticeably stiffer; rewarding during enthusiastic driving, but hard enough that we switched back to Automatic or Comfort for around-town motoring.
We also drove the 3.6 Premium model with 20-inch wheels and without the air suspension. In a tough test on pockmarked Chicago roads the Q7 proved to be firm but never harsh. It ironed out the small stuff well and significantly limited the harshness of sharp bumps and potholes. The base suspension is a good choice if you won't tow with your Q7 or don't need the height adjustments.
We haven't driven a Q7 off road, but are confident it's up to the task. We were very impressed by the off-road capability of the shorter but similar Volkswagen Touareg on some technical trails at Moab, Utah. And we were very impressed with the handling of the Porsche Cayenne when driven at competition speeds on gravel roads in Texas. The Q7 has short overhangs, generous vertical wheel travel and amazing traction technology, and promises to be quite capable. Audi says it can ford up to 20 inches of water and can climb a 31-degree slope. In short, it will go places most drivers would never consider attempting.
The brakes feature four-wheel discs, ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Brake Assist, all of which can help the driver maintain control after slamming on the binders. We found the Q7's brakes terrific: They were responsive, with a firm yet communicative pedal. There was no hint of brake fade whatsoever on our spirited drives.
Adaptive Cruise Control goes a step further than conventional cruise control systems by using radar to maintain a constant distance between the Q7 and the vehicle ahead, accelerating and braking as necessary. The Q7's system is unusual in its ability to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, and then accelerate again all the way to speeds up to 90 miles per hour without any driver input. The Q7 driver can specify how aggressively the system will operate, from sporty to leisurely. Most systems from other automakers will not stop the car completely.
Side Assist employs a radar sensor mounted in the rear bumper to monitor the presence of vehicles occupying or entering the Q7's blind spots. The presence of a vehicle traveling alongside the Q7 within the 16.5-foot range of the sensor will prompt subtle amber LEDs to illuminate in the corresponding outside mirror housing. If a turn signal is switched on, indicating a pending lane change, the LEDs become brighter and start to flash. The system is active at speeds above 35 mph and can be deactivated. We found this system works well, helping alert us to cars in our blindspots while driving on L.A.'s I-405, one of the nation's busiest freeways. The system can be turned off when not desired.
The Audi Q7 represents a winning combination of comfort, style and space. It offers significant towing and hauling capability and serious off-road performance. It can seat up to seven and features a tall roof for lots of headroom and a high seating position for a commanding view of the road ahead. All of this is infused with Audi's luxurious accommodations and high-grade interior materials and design.
Steve Siler filed our initial report from Scottsdale, Arizona; with NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago, and Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.