2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Calgary, Alberta – Right from the start, Audi would like us to get one thing straight: its all-new Q7, the first SUV to bear the brand’s famous interlocking rings, is an entity unto itself. Yes, it bears some resemblance to the Touareg built by its sister company Volkswagen at the same assembly facility, and to the fire-breathing Porsche Cayenne, but only its styling and some 15 per cent of its components are shared.

The Q7 is longer, wider and taller than its distant cousins, and according to our hosts on its Calgary-based press launch, its cabin will become immediately brand-identifiable once customers get inside and start touching and feeling. They’re probably right; this comfortable, well-finished interior may not break any new ground, but by putting this elegant, sedan-style cabin into the Q7, Audi raises it to a level above many utility vehicles whose rugged consoles and controls betray their light truck origins. In keeping with the current trend to three rows of seats, the Q7 can be had in five-, six- and seven-passenger seating; the third row is optional on the V6, and standard on V8 models.

The Q7, named for its Quattro all-wheel drive and its product line-up slot between the A6 and A8, will be offered with two engines: a 350-horsepower 4.2-litre V8 that will reach dealers in June, followed by a 280-hp, 3.6-litre V6 toward the end of the Summer.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

Both feature FSI direct injection fuel technology, and use a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode. Europe will get a diesel version; that’s normally not even a consideration over here, but when questioned, Audi’s representatives said that the company may think about exploring a business case for it, especially in light of the upcoming clean fuel regulations. They also stressed that if an oil burner does arrive, it must put performance first, and not just be the cheapest way of getting from Point A to Point B. (Considering that Audi won the 12-hour race at Sebring with its R10 TDI last March, the first diesel sports car to claim a victory, it isn’t that much of a stretch.) The company also premiered a Q7 hybrid concept in Frankfurt in 2005, which could also be a harbinger of things to come, although no mention was made of its feasibility as a production vehicle in the near future.

Prices are already set for the V8 version: $68,900 for the base model and $79,900 for the Premium version. The V6’s MSRP is not yet carved in stone, but expect the base model to start below $60,000, and the Premium model to be in the mid-$60s.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

Performance is a word that gets used a lot with the Q7, even if the idea of a “performance” vehicle that weighs over two tonnes and has 205 mm of ground clearance might be a little hard to swallow. Audi’s all-new 350-hp V8 makes its debut in the Q7, and will soon replace the 335-hp 4.2 currently used in the A6 and A8. Expect it to make more of an impact in those lighter vehicles; when asked to pull the heavy Q7, the engine delivers a lovely, throaty growl, but fails to provide the push-into-the-seat thrust expected when foot meets floor. (The V6 was not available for testing, but it’s easy to imagine its power-to-weight ratio being even more questionable.) Under normal throttle, especially in city traffic, the V8 behaves as one would expect from a luxury vehicle, taking the Q7 from stoplight to stoplight in the efficient, unobtrusive manner that most premium car buyers want from their vehicles. The transmission occasionally experienced a bumpy transition between second and third, although for the most part it did its job smoothly and seamlessly.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

Audi can call this a performance vehicle all it wants, but there’s no screamer here; instead, it simply whispers luxury.

The Quattro all-wheel drive system has a 42/58 front/rear torque distribution under normal driving conditions, but can transfer 100 per cent to either axle when needed, and can further split that wheel-to-wheel should its electronic stability control program kick in. It provides the expected good traction through hard corners – the few we were able to locate on a drive across Alberta’s sprawling cattle country – and on a long stretch of loose gravel road, the system, along with the truck’s weight, a set of meaty tires and the adaptive air suspension set for off-road, helped the Q7 track as straight as it did on its return to pavement. The Q7 impresses most with the way it drives: feedback is very good, so that you always know what the front wheels are doing. Unlike some SUVs, which are so bloated that you feel like you’re driving encased in a fat suit, the Q7 drives much smaller than it is; you often have to look around to remind yourself just how large it really is.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

The engine may not perform like a sports sedan, but the handling can be mindful of one.

The fully independent suspension is double aluminum wishbone in front and four-link in behind; an optional four-corner air suspension offers five settings, from Comfort and Dynamic to Off-Road, and with an Automatic setting should you prefer to let it decide for itself. The air suspension includes a button in the cargo compartment that lowers the rear by seven centimetres for easier loading, although at this height it really isn’t an appreciable difference.

The base 4.2 model is that in name only; standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, tire pressure monitoring system, electrically-adjustable tilt and telescopic wheel, self-levelling bi-Xenon headlamps, front and rear fog lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, Homelink garage door opener, power liftgate, manual door and liftgate sunshades, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, twelve-way power front seats, leather seating surfaces, and in-dash six-CD changer. All Canadian models receive four heated seats and heated steering wheel that are optional on U.S. models.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

The Premium model adds 19-inch wheels, headlight washers, three-panel panorama sunroof, four-zone climate control, navigation system with parking system and rear-view camera, keyless lock and engine start, and full leather upholstery. Sirius satellite radio, standard on the U.S. Premium model, is an option in Canada.

In either trim level, the Q7 is very comfortable, although the large riser on the passenger front seat prevents tucking one’s legs up. Second-row riders enjoy almost limousine status, with considerable legroom and a ten-degree reclining adjustment. If there’s a third row of seats, the second row can be moved forward or backward, to optimize legroom in whatever row is being used.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

As with many three-row configurations, the final set of seats will be comfortable only for small children. The second row folds and slides forward, but it’s still very difficult to access the third row, and legroom is almost non-existent, even with the second row pushed ahead. In their favour, the 50/50 third seats fold flat with a minimum of fuss: once you release them, their head restraints drop automatically, with no need to fold or remove them separately, to help provide up to 1189 litres (42 cu. ft.) of cargo space. A cargo cover can’t be used when the third row is in place, but it would be difficult to store one wide enough to fit between this big vehicle’s rails; the answer is an ingenious hinged one, which folds in half and easily stores in an under-floor compartment when not in use.

The Q7 is packed with safety features: electronic stability control with rollover protection, off-road mode with hill descent assist, side thorax airbags, three-row airbag curtains, front and rear fog lights, and standard first-aid kits. As well, bumper-mounted taillights come on when the liftgate is opened; since the standard taillights are located in the liftgate, these auxiliary lights ensure that the vehicle can be seen by other motorists.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

The Q7 also contains several technological gadgets, including Audi Side Assist; the company claims to be first out of the gate with it, although Volvo will offer a similar version on the S80. The system uses radar to check for vehicles coming alongside in the Q7’s blind spots; when it detects one, an LED light, angled so it’s visible only by the driver, illuminates in the appropriate side mirror. Should the driver then activate the turn signal, the light flashes a warning. The light’s intensity can be adjusted through the MMI (Multi Media Interface, the computer screen used to access the vehicle’s various systems), which I didn’t have an opportunity to do; the light as set on my tester wasn’t bright enough to catch my eye in sunlight, although when I hit the turn signal, the flashing light was.

2007 Audi Q7
The Q7’s park assist system shows when the vehicle is backing up straight.

2007 Audi Q7
The park assist system, showing the direction the wheels must be turned in order to back straight into a parking spot. The gold lines will line up with the blue rectangle when the vehicle is straight. Click image to enlarge

The system has a pre-set speed threshold, to prevent it from staying lit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and it can be temporarily turned off via a switch on the door.

The navigation screen contains a rear-view camera with an “advanced parking” feature; when you’re backing into a space, a blue rectangle indicates the area where the vehicle should end up, overlaid with orange lines that show the vehicle’s projected travel, given the angle of the front wheels. Align the lines with the rectangle’s edges by turning the wheels, and the Q7 is ready to back straight into the space.

I also had a chance to drive a tester equipped with Audi’s second generation of Adaptive Cruise Control. The system uses radar to sense when the Q7 is coming up behind other vehicles, and will slow down or speed up to maintain a pre-set distance. It’s very easy to operate; the stalk works the same way as most systems for set, cancel, accelerate and resume; a toggle on top of the stalk allows you to increase or decrease the space it will leave between you and the car in front, between 1.0 and 2.3 seconds.

The system also includes a sophisticated warning system if the driver does not react in time to a vehicle ahead braking hard; a two-stage warning begins with a chime and a red flashing signal on the instrument panel. If that doesn’t wake you up, the system triggers a short jolt, generated by a fast build-up of pressure in the brake system. I tried it out when coming up behind a truck at a light, but only got as far as the chime; we all have instincts, and mine is not to put my grille into the other fellow’s bodywork.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

All of these systems work well, and it’s certainly something to appreciate all the research and technology that goes into them, but I often wonder where it’s all going to stop. Although Audi is adamant that these are just assist systems and are not a substitute for responsible driving, it’s easy to picture a highway filled with drivers writing notes and taking phone calls, confident that their vehicles will slow down when required, or warn them if they don’t bother checking for other cars when they change lanes.

Side Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control are optional on all models except for the base 3.6; the advanced parking system is unavailable on the 3.6-litre, optional on the 3.6 Premium and 4.2, and standard on the 4.2 Premium. On the 4.2 base model, the rear-view camera, side assist, advanced key (keyless entry and engine start) and voice recognition can be bundled into a “Technology Package”, for $3,250.

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

Given the Q7’s place in the line-up, Audi has given it numerous standard or optional luxury touches: real wood inlays, LED footwell lights, Bose surround sound system, ten beverage holders, and wipers that park in a different position each time to reduce rubber deterioration, and automatically lift slightly off the windshield when parked in cold weather, to keep them from freezing to the glass.

Audi’s marketing plan is simple: it wants to go after everybody. In its presentation, the company identified the obvious contenders, including the BMW X5, Mercedes ML- and GL-Class, Acura MDX, Volvo XC90,

2007 Audi Q7
Click image to enlarge

Infiniti FX35/45 and Porsche Cayenne (although, oddly, not the Touareg). Beyond that, it’s also looking at buyers who might move up from small SUVs such as the BMW X3; the “alternative segment”, including the Mercedes R-Class and Volvo XC70; and the “extended core segment” of such vehicles as Infiniti QX56, Land Rover, Cadillac SRX and Lexus RX 350. In short, if you’ve ever driven anything with four doors and a hatchback, Audi wants to talk to you.

The Q7 is the Touareg as it should have been built and marketed. As Volkswagen learned with the Phaeton, buyers have difficulty equating a luxury price-tag on a vehicle that carries the same badge as the Beetle. A smaller Q5, based on the A4, has been promised for 2008, and should take Audi successfully into its new venture as a supplier of high-end people movers. The Q7 offers enough luxury to overcome its lack of spirited performance, and if Audi’s already put a diesel and a hybrid under that hood, even just for show, there’s no reason why it can’t solve that by looking sideways at its twelve-cylinder, too.

Specifications

  • 2007 Audi Q7 4.2

Related stories on Autos

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Acura MDX

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 BMW X5
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Infiniti FX35/FX45
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Mercedes ML
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Porsche Cayenne
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Volvo XC90

Manufacturer’s web site

Connect with Autos.ca