photos courtesy Audi
May 5, 2008
Toronto, Ontario – The reaction was the same pretty much wherever I went. "Good heavens," friends would say as I pulled up to pick them up. "Look at the size of that thing!"
As a guy, that’s not such a bad thing to hear – but they were talking about the size of my Audi Q7, a big German beast of an SUV, the biggest Audi the world’s yet seen and a vehicle that, thanks to its height and width, stands out like a sore thumb, creeping through downtown traffic. It may be elegant and tastefully designed in typical Audi fashion, but in these climate-obsessed days, it stands out as politically incorrect.
Under its smooth, curving roofline – with three separate sunroof panels in my tester! – are three rows of seats. Room in the first and second rows is positively limousine-like, with plenty of room to stretch your legs and lots of space above the tops of your heads. The third row isn’t quite as spacious: it’ll do just fine for children, but adults wouldn’t want to sit there for anything other than a quick trip. With the third row of seats up, cargo space is reduced as well. You couldn’t carry, for instance, seven people and all of their stuff at the same time. Buick’s Enclave offers similar third-row accommodations to the Q7 but more cargo space; only the massive Mercedes GL-class offers adult room in all three rows and enough cargo volume to haul a similar amount of luggage.
The quality of the interior, though, is all Audi. Wherever your fingers roam, they caress beautifully-finished pieces of plastic, real wood and brushed aluminum. The design and layout of the dash and centre console is at once beautiful and logical, with a central controller on the console for the high-mounted MMI system’s screen (the system itself is no easier or harder than most competitors’ systems, but it does offer a higher level of iPod integration than pretty much anybody, allowing full access to all your playlists and options, while charging through the cable in the centre console). My tester felt solid, too, with no squeaks or rattles, even from the gigantic multi-paned sunroof.
Which was all the more impressive, because, fitted with an optional 20-inch wheel and tire package but not Audi’s adjustable air suspension system, my Q7 rode pretty stiffly. While it’s never uncomfortable, the Q7 does feel pretty uncompromising in town as the huge front wheels deflect this way and that over bumps and pavement ridges. At highway speeds, it smoothes out significantly, offering just the right balance of body control and comfort. And while it’s impossible to call anything this big or heavy sporty (that is, unless you’re talking about a Porsche Cayenne Turbo), the big Audi steers and corners with impressive fluency. There’s very little body roll, all things considered, and you get plenty of road feel through the four-spoke steering wheel.
Behind the Q7’s tall horseshoe-shaped grille lies Audi’s familiar FSI 4.2-litre V8 and six-speed automatic transmission, which drives all four wheels through the company’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. From a company that’s been building all-wheel-drive cars for more than 25 years, the system’s operation is as smooth and as seamless as you would hope; in regular driving, torque is split almost evenly between both axles, with the ability to divert more power forward or backward when needed. The transmission, which has a quick-acting shift-it-yourself facility, is smooth and unobtrusive in its operation.
The V8, which is currently the most powerful engine in the Q7 lineup, can sometimes feel strained in this application. While it still revs eagerly and makes a delicious exhaust snarl while doing so, it is, if anything, a bit sporty, a bit too high-strung in its tuning for a vehicle that weighs almost 2,700 kg. Because the engine’s power is concentrated up high in the rev range, you end up driving the Q7 fairly hard to make decent progress, negatively impacting fuel economy: even in highway cruising, it was hard to do any better than a fairly shocking 16 L/100 km; I averaged just over 18 L/100 km in mostly urban driving. As a point of comparison, Mercedes-Benz’s more expensive three-row GL450, which is even bigger and heavier than the Q7 4.2, feels fleeter than the Audi; its V8 sucks back about the same amount of gas but provides a lot more low-end torque and thus better responsiveness in everyday situations.
If you want power, low-end responsiveness and better fuel economy, a 3.0-litre diesel Q7 arrives in January. Experience with it (and a thundering 4.2-litre diesel V8) earlier this year suggest that it’ll be well worth the wait, with the low-down grunt necessary to haul around such a large, heavy package as well as vastly improved fuel economy and improved tailpipe emissions, thanks to the use of a urea-injection system in the exhaust. It’s a surprisingly smooth runner, too, with very little of the clatter that you’d normally associate with diesels, even on startup. Doll it up with 21-inch RS4-style wheels and an S-line package and nobody has to know you’re driving a diesel; you even get massive chrome exhaust pipes, which stay remarkably clean because the exhaust is as well.
I have a feeling, though, that even in diesel form, that the sight of a Q7 will still bring shock and surprise to many an onlooker. That’s okay, I guess. If your requirements stretch to hauling three rows’ worth of passengers without much need to haul that much stuff at the same time (or, indeed, if you need to haul a lot of stuff but only two rows’ worth of people), why not do so in high Audi fashion? Because while the Q7 is compromised – what vehicle in this class isn’t, in some way? – it’s still beautiful as well as it is big.
Pricing: 2008 Audi Q7 4.2
|(Driver assistance package with lane departure warning, $850; headlight washers, $200; technology package, $2,900; towing package, $750)|
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturer’s web site