For years, Audi has offered an allroad quattro wagon that was almost an SUV. At least, it displayed SUV-like styling cues and a heightened stance, even though it otherwise looked like a regular Audi wagon.
Finally, the German automaker has gone all the way into the sport-utility-vehicle world with the brand-new Q7. Powered by a 4.2-liter FSI V-8 engine that develops 350 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, the Q7 uses a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Quattro all-wheel drive provides a 42/58-percent front/rear torque split under normal driving conditions.
Seven-passenger seating is standard, and alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires, but 19- and 20-inch tires are available. Capable of towing 5,500 pounds, the Q7 can be equipped with an Open Sky panorama glass sunroof as well as adaptive cruise control. Automatic Adaptive bi-xenon headlights are standard, along with leather seating surfaces, a power tailgate, and automatic dual-zone climate control.
Audi reports that the Q7 has earned five-star crash-test ratings for both frontal and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Admionistration. Three-row side curtain airbags are standard, as is an Electronic Stability Program with rollover sensing. An optional Side Assist system can monitor blind spots.
Impressively quiet overall, the Q7 emits only a moderate engine drone during hard acceleration. The automatic transmission is generally smooth, but shifts may drag, Passing - while vigorous enough - means waiting a moment or two for a downshift or two to occur, as the transmission ponders which gear to stop in. Although the dashboard gas-mileage indicator may show optimistic figures, fuel economy isn't quite so appealing.
Steering/handling is typical SUV: on the humdrum side. So, don't expect the clarity and precision for which Audi passenger cars are noted. The five-position Adjustable Air Suspension is helpful, but even Comfort mode falls short of gentle when the pavement turns rougher. Occasionally, too, a bump or pavement flaw produces a momentary sensation of instability and letting loose. It's an illusion, yet a disconcerting phenomenon.
Although the Q7 doesn't look gigantic from the outside, it feels rather sizable inside, with plenty of passenger space. An immense console separate the front occupants. Drop something on the passenger side, reachingfrom the driver's seat to retrieve it might be impossible. Unless you're an acrobat, there's no chance.
Cargo space is good with the third-row seat folded down, but not so satisfactory with the seat up. The Q7's stylish profile means the liftgate doesn't raise enough to clear some people's heads, so be careful not to bump against the sides of the curvy lid. Power up/down operation is handy, though you need to push a button on the liftgate to lower it.
Excellent instruments are fully lit for very easy legibility. Ample glass and good mirrors contribute to fine visibility. One oddity: the glovebox button is positioned apart from the glovebox door, closer to the center of the dashboard. More seriously, non-intuitive control knobs are a major annoyance. Audi's MMI rotary-knob control setup might be easier to grasp than BMW's iDrive, but not by much. Both serve as impediments to easy motoring, rather than assists.
All told, while the Q7 is versatile and civilized, it's not as alluring as most Audi models.
Technology is abundant in the Q7, but it's also on the expensive side, with a sticker price of $49,900 (plus destination charge). An Adaptive Air Suspension adds $2,600, while the Technology Package (including Rear Parktronic and camera, and Audi Side Assist) adds another $2,400. Add $1,850 for a Panorama sunroof, $1,800 for a navigation system, and $1,600 for 20-inch twin spoke cast alloy wheels, and the price easily approaches or passes the $60,000 mark. An available S Line package includes sport seats and 21-inch alloy wheels.
This fall, Audi has an answer to any price objections: a lower-cost Q7 with a 3.6-liter V-6 for $39,900 (plus destination charge). The V-6 produces 280 horsepower, and six- or seven-passenger seating is an option. Premium editions of both models will be available.