The Audi Q7 is a big SUV that's big on refinement, comfort and features. The Q7 is derived from the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, but the Q7 rides on a longer wheelbase. The Q7 is also longer overall than the other two, and it is the only one to offer three-row seating. There are many other differences. We've noticed the Q7 offers a more compliant ride than the Cayenne or Touareg and it's more stable at high speed though less agile both in terms of handling and parking.
The 2011 Audi Q7 benefits from major engine and transmission changes. The 2011 Q7 is available with two new supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engines plus a 3.0-liter TDI turbodiesel V6. All 2011 Audi Q7s are matched to a new 8-speed automatic transmission for better performance and better fuel economy. (A V8 is no longer offered.)
The gas engines are both supercharged 3.0-liter V6s, the standard unit at 272 horsepower, and the new S Line Prestige version at 333 hp. The 3.0-liter diesel delivers 225 hp and 406 pound-feet of torque. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and up steep hills, and the diesel's impressive torque gives it an advantage over the gas engines. The diesel is also the easiest on fuel, and the logical choice for those planning on towing.
Every Audi Q7 comes with seven seats and all-wheel drive. Audi has decades of experience with quattro all-wheel drive. Safety features include a blind-spot warning system.
The Audi Q7 competes with other seven-seat luxury SUVs, such as the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Volvo XC90. The smaller Lexus GX470 and the more comparable Lexus LX570 are more expensive.
We found the Q7 a paragon of driving elegance and interior refinement.
The Audi Q7 looks like an Audi SUV, with lots of curved surfaces, distinctive lights and a big face. In fact the Q7, at more than 200 inches long, is probably bigger than you think.
The grille is Audi's ubiquitous single-frame piece, bisected by a broad band for license plate mounting, and flanked by multiple horizontal layers of grilles and lights to soften the sheer bulk. The LED daytime running lights and turn signals of higher-line models stand out more, and the generic contrast-color lower panels of the base gas models give way to painted panels on the S Line gas and all TDI versions.
Crisp side-view styling with arched fenders and a roofline like a French curve also visually lessen the generous dimensions of the Q7. The substantial exterior mirrors and housings are among the largest on a vehicle in this class, handy for towing, not so good for seeing around. Two stylish, full-length metal rails on the roof provide anchor points for accessory crossbars for securing cargo on the roof. Gas and diesel models use different wheel styles, and if we're cleaning we prefer the simpler spokes of the gas model.
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. The large hatch is powered.
Cold weather features include pull-type door handles that are easy to use with gloves, heated windshield washer nozzles, available headlight washers, and wide-sweeping windshield wipers that, when not in use, rest on an area heated by the interior vents in order to prevent freezing.
The Audi Q7 cabin was designed for flexibility. The Q7 offers numerous passenger and cargo arrangements with separately folding sections in both second and third row seats. Styling and ambiance will be familiar to Audi owners, efficient without being staid and attractive, not flashy. Leather upholstery and wood trim are both standard, while aluminum inlays are available.
The Q7 seats seven with the standard third-row seat. (The five-passenger version was dropped when the smaller Q5 arrived.) All the rear seats fold flat to expand the cargo artea, up to 72 cubic feet behind the driver.
The front bucket seats are superb with power adjustment in most directions. The driver's seat is comfortable and most drivers should find the driving position nearly perfect. Leather covers the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, which features redundant audio controls, and hard plastics are found only where appropriate for scuff resistance and easier cleaning. Getting in and out is easy thanks to large doors and a reasonably low floor.
The second-row 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 or forward to keep an infant seat within easier reach, and the second-row seatbacks recline up to 10 degrees for more relaxed comfort.
Third-row seats are for kids or smaller adults, with head and legroom notable less than even the second row seats, a condition common in many seven-seat crossovers. For tall third-row passengers consider the Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition or Land Rover LR2, or any passenger midi-van.
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 (MMI) that handles many functions is on its third generation. And perhaps most significantly, it delivers an impactful 3-D navigation map display, thanks to a powerful new NVIDIA automotive graphics-processing chip. The system also delivers real-time Sirius traffic reporting (only as accurate as the satellite feed…we sat still on “green” interstates) and features voice-activated destination-input control. Voice inputs such as, I'm hungry, I need gas and I need coffee will automatically direct the driver to the nearest location where the driver's needs can be satisfied. While designed to reduce the amount of buttons on the dashboard while adding even more features, the downside of this MMI is that it adds layers of complexity, requiring 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 a 180-watt AM/FM/CD unit with eleven speakers, a 270-watt, seven-channel 14-speaker Bose upgrade and a 1001-watt Bang & Olufsen system with 14-channel amplification and speakers. Sirius satellite radio and iPod integration are standard. The Bose upgrade is a good one and does an admirable job filling the cabin, while the B&O system is as sonically stunning as the aluminum speaker grilles and stand-up tweeters. 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, and doubled on the steering wheel. 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.
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 door 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, included with the warm weather package.
Interior cubby storage space is merely adequate. 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. Those in need of more cargo space must consider midi-vans or packing lighter.
Loading cargo into the Q7 is facilitated by a wraparound tailgate that reveals a very wide opening. Particularly clever is the load assist feature of the optional air suspension 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.
The Open Sky System is 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, albeit a big heavy one. The fully independent suspension delivers a comfortable ride and controlled handling. Road imperfections are managed without becoming annoying 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. Perhaps not as cushy as a Lexus RX nor as stiff as the BMW X5 or Infiniti FX, the Q7's ride hits the sweet spot many luxury SUV shoppers desire.
Under hood is where the big news is for 2011. The previous 3.6-liter V6 and 4.2-liter V8 have been replaced by supercharged V6 3-liters, and every Q7 steps up from a 6-speed automatic to a new 8-speed automatic.
Premium and Premium Plus Q7 get a 272-horsepower version of the new 3-liter V6, which is just as smooth as its predecessor, gives up 8 hp but adds 29 lb-ft of torque and doesn't need to be revved as much. Combined with the added gears in the transmission this yields a quicker Q7 (0-60 mph in about 8 seconds) and improved fuel economy (16/22).
The S Line Prestige model uses a higher-boost-pressure version for 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, again down slightly from last year's V8. But with fewer revs needed and more gears, acceleration doesn't suffer and economy is better: It scores the same 16/22 EPA rating as the 272-hp version but if you use the extra 60 hp in a heavier car, you will use more gas.
The 3.0-liter V6 TDI diesel delivers ample power, providing seamless and nearly soundless thrust. The real story here is the TDI's massive 406 pound-feet of torque at just 1750 rpm and EPA ratings of 17/25 mpg. With this diesel engine's flexible power, immediate sturdy acceleration is always on tap no matter how fast the engine is turning. It is less than one second slower 0 to 60 mph than the base gas model, but feels at least equal in daily driving.
This characteristic makes the TDI an unusually reassuring and stress-free driver, and that is despite Q7 TDI's very considerable heft of more than 5,000 pounds. Under strong acceleration, the diesel makes a throaty growl, yet in neutral-throttle cruising, only the most discerning ear will hear anything different. And furnished with the optional Towing Package, capable of hauling 6,600 pounds, the torque-heavy diesel will be happy in its work. The TDI 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 efficient filters, the exhaust is often cleaner than the smoggy ambient air that went into the engine (look in the tailpipe, it won't be black). The TDI should last longer than a comparable gasoline engine, which should pay dividends in resale value and long-term ownership value.
The 8-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. 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 or sandy surfaces. For steep, slippery grades, hill descent control automatically maintains (as long as the tires have traction) a 12-mph speed by applying the brakes to individual wheels without driver input, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering.
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 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 Q7's 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. It cuts a decent U-turn, tighter than some five-seat compact crossovers. Only in close-quarter handling such as small or parallel parking spots and narrow drive-throughs does the Q7's size become evident.
The Adaptive Air Suspension uses electronically controlled, air-filled bags 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 9.4 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 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 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 anything near its limit with your Q7 or don't need the height adjustments. 21-inch wheels and fat, sticky tires are available with the S Line and offer maximum grip, but ride quality will suffer somewhat, chains may not be usable, and the tires alone will run from $1400-2000 to replace.
A Q7 is mildly capable off the highway. With short overhangs, decent vertical wheel travel and electronic traction technology, Audi says it can ford up to 20 inches of water and can climb a 31-degree slope. That said we would limit off-road adventures to sand dunes, gravel or muddy roads or desert by-ways. If you adventure into more severe terrain, a Land Rover LR2, Dodge Durango, Lexus LX or Infiniti QX would be more appropriate.
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 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. Many similar 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 delivers luxury, comfort, safety, and capability. It offers significant towing and flexible capability and mild off-road performance. It seats seven and offers a high seating position that commands an excellent view of the road ahead. The Q7 is richly infused with Audi's luxurious style and habitually high-grade interior materials and design.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Ted West, Kirk Bell, Mitch McCullough and G.R. Whale contributed to this report.