For the lazy automotive writer, it would be tempting to label the 2007 Audi Q7 as another "me, too!" luxury SUV, plug in a clichéd "Q Ship" headline and retire to the local bar for 5 o'clock happy-hour wings.
After all, Audi is pretty much the last luxury automaker to offer an SUV (Jaguar is now the lone holdout), and the Q7 is built at the same facility that produces the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. But Audi officials are quick to point out that the Q7 shares only a small percentage of its parts with its relatives.
Audi's engineers and designers also strived to make the Q7 distinct and provide it with some truly innovative features. In regards to nomenclature, "Q" has been designated for all future Audi SUV-related products and "7" refers to the SUV's approximate positioning between the A6 and A8 sedans.
The Q7 is what we would describe as a crossover SUV, with a unibody structure for stiffness and crashworthiness. Compared to the Touareg, the Q7 is about the same width but rides on an extended wheelbase and is 13 inches longer. And as is typically the case with SUVs, the growth spurt has been utilized to provide room for an optional third-row seat.
Its suspension is fully independent and features a double-wishbone design at every corner. Up front, the wishbones are made from aluminum to reduce unsprung weight. Audi is offering the Q7 with a traditional steel spring setup or an optional air spring system with electronically controlled dampers.
Between the two, the air suspension is the one to get all geeked up over. The driver can select different modes for specialized on-road or off-road performance. At high speeds, the system lowers the Q7's ride height to reduce its center of gravity and aerodynamic drag. Off-road, the ride height elevates to improve body clearance.
In addition, damper operation is tied into the different modes, and body roll is actively monitored and minimized during cornering through the control of damping force. Compared to an air suspension-equipped Touareg, the Q7 is more on-road-oriented and trades some maximum ground clearance for better handling dynamics.
In terms of handling, the air suspension-equipped and V8-powered Q7 we drove was surprisingly competent given its weight. On curvy roads, the SUV was secure and exhibited minimal body motions. In fact, we had a niggling feeling that a few drivers might find the Q7's ride quality to be a bit too sporty for normal driving.
We also took the Q7 on a dirt road. The road, alas, was a bit of a disappointment, as it provided the opportunity to kick up huge clouds of dust and do World Rally Championship navigator imitations but not much in the way of testing ground clearance. Then again, we don't expect Q7 owners to do much more off-roading than this, as the Q7 is not meant to be a serious boulder-bashing machine.
RS4-related V8 and plenty of features
To get the Q7's not-so-insubstantial weight of 2.5 tons moving, there are two engines available. The larger of the two, and the one that will be in all North American Q7s to start out with, is a new 4.2-liter V8. Related to the engine in the RS4 high-performance sedan, it features direct fuel injection, a new two-stage variable intake manifold and modifications to improve lubrication during off-road situations. Audi rates it at 350 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and a maximum of 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm.
As a reduced-cost alternative, a 3.6-liter V6 will become available in the second half of 2006. It's the same engine used in the 2006 Touareg and is rated at 280 hp at 6,200 rpm and 265 lb-ft of torque from 2,500 rpm to 5,000 rpm.
For both engines, power is channeled through a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission to all four wheels. In this particular application of Audi's quattro system, the normal front-to-rear torque split is 42-to-58.
Acceleration is on par for a luxury crossover SUV. Official 0-to-62-mph acceleration times are 7 seconds for the V8 Q7 and 8.2 seconds for the V6. For comparison, Mercedes-Benz lists a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds for the 2006 ML500. The last BMW X5 4.4i we tested hit 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. Audi also says the Q7 can tow 6,600 pounds when properly equipped, which is considerably more than the 3,500-pound limit for the Cadillac SRX and Infiniti FX45.
On the inside, the Q7's dash layout is similar to the one in the A6. Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI), which features a console-mounted controller that allows the driver to adjust and select many of the car's features, is standard. MMI options are viewed on both the center stack's main screen and on the smaller screen in the gauge cluster. And as is the case with all modern Audis, the quality of the interior materials and detailing is extremely high.
As mentioned earlier, the Q7 can be had with a third-row seat, which bumps maximum occupancy to seven. The seats in the second row can be adjusted fore and aft and have a recline feature. Seating in the third row, as one might expect, is rather tight in terms of headroom for adults. Dropping the second and third rows for a flat load floor reveals 88 cubic feet of cargo space. A BMW X5 tops out at 69 cubic feet.
Most of the typical luxury and safety features expected on this class of vehicle are either standard or optional. The Q7 also boasts three special options not found on the typical SUV: an extended sunroof, an advanced adaptive cruise control system and Side Assist.
The three-section panorama sunroof extends nearly the entire length of the roof. Adaptive cruise control (ACC) uses radar to monitor and maintain the Q7's position in traffic and, in certain situations, can even bring the Q7 to a complete stop without any input from the driver. Also associated with ACC is a two-stage warning system that alerts the driver when a vehicle ahead has braked suddenly. Side Assist is another driver aid. It also utilizes radar but in this case notifies the Q7's driver when other motorists have entered the vehicle's blind spots by lighting up yellow LEDs in the exterior mirror housings.
Sort of like sending payments through online banking, both ACC and Side Assist require a bit of faith that they are working properly. Caught in heavy highway traffic, we turned on the ACC system. Though we will certainly assess it more thoroughly in a full road test, our initial observations confirmed that it does indeed work as advertised. Side Assist will probably be more useful for Q7 owners on a daily basis. It minimizes the need to turn one's head for lane checks and should help drivers who don't position the Q7's mirrors properly.
A competitive crossover SUV
Overall, we're impressed with the Q7. Certainly, there are many choices available for luxury SUVs these days. For buyers interested in the crossover type, the 2007 Audi Q7 should be one to check out. Its interior is top-notch, its feature content is attractive and its handling is vastly better than traditional seven-passenger SUVs.
Pricing for the V8 is set to start at $49,900, which pits the Q7 directly against the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and the next generation of BMW's X5. Only a comparison test will give us a winner out of that trio but for now the Audi Q7 has proved that it's more than just a "me, too!" SUV.