Thursday, January 18, 2007

DRIVEN: 2007 Audi Q7

Story by Mark Atkinson
Photos courtesy Audi Canada

Being late to the Luxury SUV party at this point could spell lost profits and questions like ‘what’s taken so long? Well, Audi, what’s taken so long?

Four years after corporate siblings Volkswagen and Porsche launched a two-pronged attack on the luxo-sporty SUV market with the Touareg and Cayenne respectively, Audi has taken its sweet time in responding with a ‘wagon-on-stilts’ offering of its own.

However, don’t accuse the 2007 Q7 of being a simple badge swap. No, Audi took the VW/Porsche platform, stretched it, massaged it and made it its own. The engineers at Ingolstadt threw out the bulky and chunky ‘true’ four-wheel-drive system that gave the ‘Tourenne’ some serious off-road credentials, and installed Audi’s own Quattro-based on-road-oriented all-wheel-drive hardware. Clearly the company was acknowledging the car-buying public’s preference to stay on pavement with only the odd cottage road throwing up the occasional challenge.

The styling, based on the Pikes Peak concept vehicle from a couple years back, really is the most aggressive-looking vehicle Audi sells. Pinched, slanting headlights with LED side markers, big gaping intakes and that massive grille all distill into the new corporate DNA. From the side-on view, the Q7 has very little to differentiate it from other Audi wagons other than the big bulging fenders, while the rear features new-shape taillights and, well, that’s about it.

Thankfully, the whole package is designed proportionally as only when you’re walking around it does the Q7 really show its size. Scope the optional 20-inch wheels (or the 21’s in the S-Line pack) with 55-series tires and they look like 17’s on any other car…

Inside, the Q7 is another example of ‘Audi Modern’, with the now ubiquitous grey-on-grey, a smattering of wood (or aluminum), red gauges and great ergonomics. As usual, the buttons all have wonderful tactility and anything that swings or moves is damped. To be honest, it’s starting to get a little boring, and it would be nice to see the company take another step forward with its newest products. The second-row seats have a ton of legroom, and there’s even optional quad-zone climate control and heated rear seats.

The other thing that separates the Q7 is that it can seat seven (in a very tight pinch). The two optional rear-most seats are very small, and the sloping roofline severely cuts into adult headroom. With the seats folded, the Q7 offers an enormous amount of cargo room, but as with other mid-sized SUVs with seven chairs, storage space drops considerably with the extra seats in use.

The Q7 comes in two flavours: 3.6-liter V6 or 4.2-litre V8, both of which come attached to the aforementioned Quattro system through a six-speed automatic transmission.

As you can imagine, the number of available options across the line is stunning. The our loaded V8 tester had just about every option you could throw at it including DVD-based navigation system, adaptive cruise control, 20-inch wheels, a towing package that ups capacity to 6,600 lbs. and adaptive air suspension. A rear parking camera, panorama moon roof and a host of three-letter acronyms and glut of airbags dedicated solely to keeping the passengers safe are all standard equipment on the ‘bent-eight’.

Our V6 tester was optioned to be more engaging to the driver. Missing most of the (heavy) luxury items mentioned above, it also featured the S-Line package, which adds larger 21-inch wheels and tires, sport suspension, different front and rear bumpers, aluminum trim, an S-Line steering wheel with shift paddles and a smattering of badges inside and out.

While the V6 isn’t tremendously powerful (280 hp vs. 350 hp for the V8), the S-Line package really makes the most of the 6300-pound brute. The lighter engine, coupled with the sport suspension and wide, sticky tires made the Q7 3.6 relatively nimble. While there’s relatively little feedback from any of the controls, the Q7 is a moderately entertaining vehicle to drive quickly.

Once you add the weight of the V8 and associated hardware, even the optional air suspension’s ‘dynamic’ setting can’t make the Q7 dance. While the extra power would be useful to those willing to tow small boats or racecars, the less expensive (and much less thirsty) V6 option would be the better option all around. The 3.6 starts at $54,500 with our Premium S-Line-equipped model asked $69,250.

While a Q7 4.2 starts at $68,900, our just-about-loaded tester rang in at a wallet-bending $83,500. Tick all the options and a Q7 4.2 Premium commands a price of $93,250. To truly appreciate the vast number of combinations possible with Audi’s options list, it would be best to browse online and really research what you need and what you don’t.

While it would be difficult to say the Q7 was worth the wait, Audi has put forward a class-competitive vehicle that should resonate well with its intended customers. The only question is how many prospective Touareg and Cayenne buyers will be cannibalized by yet another corporate sibling rather than from the BMW and Mercedes-Benz camps.

For those looking to spend even more ridiculous amounts of money, Audi has recently announced that it has found a new home for its R10 Le Mans racer’s twin-turbocharged diesel V10 engine. Where? Under the Q7’s hood. Yes, really. No word yet on whether or not that model will make its way across the Atlantic. If it does, we’ll supply the party hats.

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