I wasn't home when the media fleet guys dropped off the svelte silver bullet they call the Audi Q7... but my roommate was. Like any car-crazy boy, he just couldn't help himself. He grabbed the key fob and tore out to the driveway -- it was playtime.
"This thing is STUPID with features," his voice screamed into my earpiece when he called to tell me that the Audi had arrived. "I lifted the rear hatch and saw a button -- when I pushed it, the ass dropped three inches. I thought low-riders were supposed to have switches in the cockpit." There are switches in the cockpit, by the way, but we'll get to that later when we discuss the Q7's Adaptive Air Suspension. The ass-dropper in question is the technology's cargo mode, which makes it easier to load and unload the cargo space of the vehicle.
Thankfully, my roomie heeded my warning that the Audi loan agreement specifically states that only the operator (yours truly) and the operator's spouse can drive the vehicle, and he refrained from going on a joyride. He did suggest we get married, however, but then I would have to share.
Welcome to the key audience for the Audi Q7 -- boys (and girls) who love their toys. There are seven -- yes, seven -- owner's manual books for the vehicle's various systems stuffed into the glovebox.
Like the Mercedes R-class, the Q7 credits coupe styling for its design inspiration, sporting a sweeping roofline and aggressive angles that betray the vehicle's speed and agility. The design is a far cry in the right direction from the bulky, beastly outfits of most SUVs on the market, though the Q7's massive and imposing grille and muscular stance leave enough of the Beast in Prince Charming's demeanor for the vehicle to still claim its SUV designation.
The proportions of the Q7 elegantly blend function with style. The wheels are placed as close to the corners of the vehicle as possible, giving the SUV a low-slung look that also improves driving dynamics. The length of the vehicle gives the Audi a streamlined appearance while accommodating seven passengers and providing class-leading cargo space. Finally, a subtle rear spoiler provides both character to the rear end of the vehicle and hosts a third tail light.
Completing the package on our tester were 20-inch cast alloy five double-spoke wheels, which could officially be dubbed, well, "dubs" since their 20 inch diameter meets the definition exactly. While the upgrade from the standard 18-inchers may have altered handling slightly, the suspension and brakes are more than up to the challenge. The result is a more attractive and substantial look, particularly when said wheels are wrapped in 275/45 performance tires, as was the case with our Q7. The absence of run-flats is puzzling, but hopefully the tire pressure monitoring system and inflatable spare will alleviate any problems on that front.
The interior is the epitome of German thoughtfulness in usability, quality and design, making it no wonder that the vehicle snagged Ward's "Interior of the Year" award earlier this year. Based on the A6's interior, the Q7 features brilliant and beautiful jewel-like LED lighting in blue, red and white. The navigation screen is powerfully lit and sports the perfect resolution, whether the driver is changing stations on the Sirius Satellite Radio menu or engaging SquirrelVision (a.k.a. Rear Parktronic and rear view camera) to safely exit the driveway. Our favorite touches include the lights that illuminate the floor space of the vehicle, red illumination of the door handles for easier exit, and screens to cover windows during broad daylight.
The temperature controls are another plus. Via either the Multimedia Interface (MMI) or the temperature controls on the console itself, driver, passenger and each of two rear passengers can control their own climatic destiny. The modes go from fully automatic to fully manual, where users can dictate direction and amount of airflow, seat warmer intensity and overall temperature. Another benefit of newfangled technology like that of the Audi is that one doesn't have to freeze his or her rear end off while defrosting the windshield -- the defroster works independently of the rest of the climate controls.
Also of interest on the climate side of things is the Econ option, which allows the user the opportunity to set the climate controls in such a way that the vehicle prioritizes fuel efficiency over comfort.
The only drawback to the climate controls that we could glean was that, unlike much of the Q7's competition, the seat warmers warm only the bottom, not the back -- a fact that a friend and avid GMC Envoy enthusiast was all too quick to point out.
The cargo capabilities -- both human and not -- with the Q7 are astounding given how compact the vehicle feels while driving it. With the third row of seats folded down, we were able to fit everything from two 100 lb. dogs to three pumpkins, a bushel of apples, two bags of donuts and enough cider to wash them down happily. With the third row of seats set up for passengers, the space proves to be a little lacking, but then again, the occupants most likely to take advantage of the seating arrangements are kids with little legs who can maneuver easily into the tight space.
We did have one complaint about the interior aside from the seat warmers, and this one is of more interest to the ladies reading this write-up -- it is downright impossible to maneuver gracefully in and out of the vehicle while elegantly dressed. We're not sure if adding some retractable running boards or lowering the seats would have helped, but getting into the car requires a slinging movement that just doesn't mix with dress clothes. Consider yourselves warned, girls.
Various safety features pepper the list of technology available on the Q7, the coolest of which include the aforementioned rear back-up camera with accompanying warning dings clueing the driver in to how close she is to things behind the vehicle. Make sure to turn the volume down to appreciate this little perk, however, as the dings do not override the most excellent 14-speaker Bose sound system pumping out the optional Sirius satellite radio.
The blind-spot warning lights integrated into the side mirror assemblies were a welcome addition to the Q7's list of toys as well. Called Side Assist by Audi, the vehicle has sensors that monitor the Q7's blind spot for you, indicating when it is safe to change lanes and when it isn't. The system monitors the speed of cars moving alongside the Q7, and when a vehicle poses a danger, LEDs light up -- but not so bright that the driver is distracted by any means. The system's range is 16.5 feet.
We were pleasantly surprised about how easy it was to use Audi's Multi Media Interface (MMI) system, particularly with all of the backlash iDrive-like systems are receiving these days. Manipulating the system comes intuitively after just a few trips -- scroll using the knob, push down to select, and use the peripheral buttons to change menus. The latter part of the process is best relegated to when the vehicle is at a stand-still, as that action requires some reading and spacial attention.
The GPS navigation system itself is also easy to use, and while some folks may disapprove, Audi lets the driver decide whether navigating and driving at the same time is a bad thing by allowing for the system's use while the vehicle is in motion. While the MMI boots up with the obligatory warning label about how dangerous it is to navigate and drive, further examination shows that the system offers up large print that most drivers will be able to read, say, while tooling down the highway at 85 mph. Not that we'd recommend that, of course. An important feature of the navigation and one that is becoming increasingly popular with navigation systems is the concierge function, which labels the map with icons designating ATMs, hotels, restaurants and gas stations close by.
The Audi is also blessed with Active Cruise Control, which adapts the speed of the Q7 to the vehicle in front to minimize the annoying process of trying to sync up cruise control settings. Other technology offered up on the vehicle include voice-activated phone and navigation, dynamic cornering headlights, intelligent wipers and accident prevention (emergency braking whether you like it or not!).
If we were to choose one thing that is the most striking about the Audi Q7, its that it handles much more like a sports car than its size and weight would suggest. In fact, we would liken it to the linebacker taking ballet class -- and doing a damn fine job at it. Weighing in at a massive 5,500 lbs., the vehicle's agility is surprising despite some understeer. While sticky tires certainly go a long ways, we chalk the handling up to the suspension system, biting brakes and Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system.
Speaking of the suspension system, the Adaptive Air Suspension is truly an experience. Originally engineered for the 2004 Audi A8, the principle behind the system is to keep driving dynamics high and ride comfort at its peak -- two characteristics that automakers and suppliers building traditional suspension systems must tinker with to find a "happy medium."
The system is electronically-controlled with sensors on all four wheels linking into a central control system. For smooth roads at high speeds, the car is lowered and suspension stiffened for stability, comfort and fuel-friendly aerodynamics. For bumpy roads like those you'll find along the service drive of almost any highway around Detroit, the vehicle is given more ground clearance and softer damper settings. For these and any other situation, the sensors pick up on rate of acceleration, vertical wheel movements, braking, steering wheel position and turning angle and adjust accordingly to alleviate vehicle roll.
Based on our test cruising, the system is fantastic. Whether we were taking an exit ramp much too fast or bumping along an unpaved road on the way to the cider mill, we stayed comfortable and in control while still maintaining the fun-factor provided by a good, stiff suspension. There is also the coolness factor inherent in looking back at the vehicle after exiting to see it lower hydraulically back into place.
We will, however, quibble about the Tiptronic function. Like most manumatic transmission options, we can really take or leave the Tiptronic, quite frankly. The lag between gears is too long to do anybody any good, and the full automatic is responsive enough that the manumatic is really just a toy for drivers who feel the need to shift something.
The Electronic Stability Program, however, is a nice performance perk. The juice in the 4.2L V8 is enough to get the tires spinning to the glee of almost every driver, ESP on or off. With safety being a big part of what the Q7 is about, however, it's nice to know that Audi is there for us. On one dark and stormy night, we piloted the Q7 along a deserted stretch of I-96 that was apparently prone to slight flooding, and when the vehicle started hydroplaning, the ESP warning lights flashed and we had the distinct and very welcome feeling that the vehicle was stabilizing itself.
All in all, the Audi Q7 did a great job of winning us over. In fact, the only significant difference between this ride and the Porsche Cayenne is the sheet metal it's wrapped in, the optional 4.5L turbocharged V8 in the Porsche, and $40-50K. The gadgetry, design, handling and interior quality are all comparable enough that we'd spring for the $63,770 4.2L V8 we tested (which comes standard with all-wheel drive, by the way) and use the leftover change on an A3, if we had our choice.
Competition: (Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg) Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benz ML-Class and R-Class, BMW X5 and Volvo XC90
- 4.2L V8 350 hp DOHC, FSI direct ignition
- 6 sp automatic transmission wtih tiptronic and dynamic shift program
- quattro permanent awd with Torsen center differential and asymmetric torque distribution
- ESP wtih roll-over sensing hill descent assist
- 18" alloy wheels with 255/55 all-season tires
- servotronic vehicle speed-sensitive steering
- pre-wiring for optional trailer hitch w/towing capacity of 5,500 lbs
- inflatable spare tire
- tire pressure monitoring system
- prewired for satellite radio (Sirius)
- automatic dual zone climate control
- 14-speaker bose premium sound system, 6disc in-dash cd changer
- mmi advanced system w/7" color screen
- dual 8-way power front seats with four way power lumbar adjustment
- leather trim
- tilt and telescopic electrically adjustable steering column
- wood inlays for center console & doors
- remote keyless locking with controls in folding key (this is way cool, you just get close to the car with the fob and you don't even have to push anything, it just unlocks)
- power tailgate
- memory for driver's seat, mirrors and other adjustments
- 3rd row seating (sort of pointless -- it's got no room and the seats are kind of tacky)
- 2nd seating row fully flat folding with easy entry function, 40/20/40 split, fore/aft and seatback angle adjustments (cool!)
- electronic cruise control
- dual-stage front airbags w/occupant sensing for passenger side
- driver and front passenger side airbags
- sideguard inflatable curtain airbags, including coverage for 3rd row seating (also cool)
- Front and rear 3-point safety belts with automatic pretensioning, front belts with force limiters
- active and passive rollover protection
- lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH) -- what's this?
- side impact protection
- front and rear impact body crumple zones (pedestrian thing?)
- anti-theft vehicle alarm system
- electrically adjustable heated outside rear view mirrors
- daytime running lights
- 4-year/50,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty
- 4-year Roadside Assistance coverage provided by a third party supplier
- 12-month/5,000 mile (whichever occurs first) NO CHARGE first scheduled maintenance
- 12-year limited warranty against corrosion perforation
MANUFACTURER'S SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
- 2007 Audi Q7 4.2 - $49,000
- Light Silver Metallic - No Charge
- Black Interior - No Charge
- 6-speed Automatic Trans w/tiptronic - no charge
- Adaptive air suspension - $2,600
- technology package (rear view camera with rear parktronic, audi side assist, advanced key, voice recognition) - $2,400
- Panorama Sunroof - $1,850
- Audi Navigation System - $1,800
- 20 in 5-twin spoke alloy wheels $1,600
- 4-zone climate control - $950
- cold weather package (heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel) - $850
- Towing Package - $550
- Sirius satellite radio - $550
- Front Plate Filter Panel - no charge
- leather - no charge
- Destination - $720
Total - $63,770