2011 Audi Q7 Expert Review:Autoblog
Entering Its Silver Years With A Supercharged Six
Life for us mammals is comparatively finite. Lacking the luxury of a mid-cycle refresh, the average human in the United States can expect to live about 80 years before their clock stops ticking. That isn't too terrible in the grand scheme of things. After all, the typical mountain lion is lucky to get 20 years as a feared predator while most guinea pigs go quietly after just eight years in the household cage. Mammals don't have many options when it comes to getting old.
Not so with the automobile. With few exceptions, the average lifecycle of a passenger vehicle is a short five to seven years. However, instead of sitting idle as its beloved machinery ages into senility, manufacturers treat passenger vehicles to mid-cycle makeovers with new fascias, upgraded electronics and more efficient engines. The intent is to breathe new life into models and make them more appealing lest they get lost amid a sea of younger designs.
The Audi Q7 is in the middle of its fifth model year – pushing 60 in human years. And fresh off a facelift just last year, the full-size SUV receives a complete heart transplant for 2011. The new supercharged V6 is not only engineered to make the seven-passenger vehicle more competitive in a difficult market, but to carry Audi's first crossoffer towards its eventual retirement. Or behind the shed.
The Q7 was a fresh new face when it debuted at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show, despite sharing unibody platforms with the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. However, unlike its five-passenger relatives, the Q7 rode on a stretched wheelbase allowing room for a third-row seat. When it rolled into showrooms for the 2007 model year, Audi's new Q7 was offered with either a standard 3.6-liter V6 or an optional 4.2-liter V8. A 3.0-liter turbodiesel variant, badged the Q7 TDI, arrived Stateside in 2009.
Last year, both Porsche and Volkswagen introduced their second-generation Cayenne and Touareg models on new, freshly-engineered, lightweight platforms. Logic dictated that Audi would also spawn a new Q7 model. Instead, the Q5 and all-new Q3 received the bulk of attention and the second-generation Q7 was pushed out another few years. Stonewalled but not completely forgotten, Audi treated its big SUV to a facelift for the 2010 model year with new styling incorporating front and rear LED illumination, fresh wheel designs and upscale cabin enhancements.
Despite last year's overhaul, the 2011 Q7 once again went under the blade. The standard 3.6-liter V6 and optional 4.2-liter V8 powerplants were dropped in favor of the more flexible and fuel efficient supercharged 3.0-liter V6. The six-speed automatic transmission was replaced by an eight-speed 'box and the cabin got a once-over for good measure.
Our "Orca Black Metallic" tester is a 2011 Q7 3.0T S line Quattro Tiptronic. Just to break down that jumble, it's a top-of-the-line gasoline model with a base price of $59,775 (including $875 destination). With standard Audi MMI Navigation Plus, Bluetooth phone connectivity, blind spot detection, parking assist with camera and a 14-speaker Bose audio package, the sole option on our seven-passenger SUV was the cold weather package ($500), which added heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel. By avoiding the overkill Bang & Olufsen sound system ($6,300), adaptive cruise control ($2,100) and adaptive air suspension ($2,600), the total sticker price was kept to a reasonable $60,275 (including destination). That figure compares very favorably against the seven-passenger BMW X5 xDrive35i Sport Activity ($59,875 including destination), Mercedes-Benz GL450 ($62,825 including destination) and Toyota Land Cruiser ($69,730 including destination), but it's significantly steeper than the seven-passenger Acura MDX, which starts at just $43,815 (including destination).
The "S line" provides a sportier look to match the improved performance of the engine, says Audi. Aside from the obvious 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in fat 275/45R20 tires, the upgrades include unique S line front and rear bumpers, side skirts, interior doorsills and the obligatory badging. The suspension and brakes are unchanged.
The significant news for 2011 is found under the hood. That's where the naturally-aspirated six- and eight-cylinder powerplants were tossed aside in favor of the automaker's supercharged 3.0-liter TFSI V6. The blown six-cylinder, which is also fitted to the S4 and new A7, delivers 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque in standard trim. However, to replace the V8, the engine has been tuned to develop 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque in the S line guise. Regardless of tune, a new eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is bolted to the back of each engine. With less displacement and more gear ratios, fuel economy improves to 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway (the 4.2's numbers were 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway). Acceleration to 60 mph comes up in just 6.9 seconds, says Audi.
Chocolate usually isn't our first color-of-choice for an automotive interior, but Audi pulls it off surprisingly well. The "Espresso Brown" leather and trim in our tester was color-coordinated with black textured plastic, dark brown walnut wood inlays and brushed aluminum trim below the window sills. Overhead, a solid gray headliner surrounded a three-panel panorama glass sunroof (standard above mid-grade Q7 models), all combined to give the cabin an inviting, warm overtone.
We are very familiar with Audi's new A6, A7 and A8 sedans. Unfortunately, their superlative cockpits make the Q7's switchgear an age-defining wrinkle. While high quality in operation and feel, the overall appearance is old school in both layout and execution. For example, the ignition key is the overly familiar Volkswagen Group metal switchblade. However, the standard (and redundant) Advanced Key means the electronic access and authorization system allows the physical key fob to stay in the driver's pocket or purse at all times – hit the "Start Engine" button to start the engine and then hit the entirely separate "Stop Engine" switch to kill the ignition. Audi's MMI infotainment controller is also aged, with the earlier and more confusing human interface (the Q7's "Return" button is the A7's "Back" button) and the steering wheel lacks the newer and more modern functionality of its sedan siblings.
Most won't notice, and few will care, as both driver and front passenger get first class treatment thanks to the standard 12-way power-operated and heated front seats with lumbar support. The cushions are a bit flat and they don't offer much in the way of lateral support, but they are well padded and very comfortable for the long haul. There is also generous seat travel for those looking to stretch. Second-row occupants enjoy bountiful legroom, four-zone climate control and heated seats in our S line tester. Tinted privacy glass and manual sunshades reduce glare (and serve a dual role of keeping prying eyes from peeking into the cabin in parking lots). The third row of seats, however, is very tight. It offers more room than the third row in the BMW X5, but that isn't a bragging point. Small kids may like them for the novelty, but a twelve-year old we put back there refused to go the second time we pointed towards the back-back. Even though the second row does slide slightly forward to increase legroom, adults will feel imprisoned sitting over the rear tires.
After the supercharged six was fired up, a traditional gear selector coaxed the Q7's transmission into Drive. With a stomp of the accelerator pedal the Audi sprinted off the line with eye-opening confidence – surprising as the curb weight is a hefty 5,192 pounds. There was plenty of torque at low speeds and it all went to the pavement thanks to Audi's standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which is designed to prevent any wheel slippage under all but the worst conditions. Around town, the eight-speed gearbox was smooth, doing a commendable job of keeping the supercharged six in the middle of its power band without excessive hunting. Of course, things weren't as spirited at speed on the highway when aerodynamic drag and two-plus tons of mass were working against acceleration. Our fuel economy was rather poor in the city cycle (we averaged about 14 mpg), but improved greatly on the highway when the on-board computer consistently delivered readings in the low 20s. That said, our highway economy numbers generally matched the EPA ratings.
The Q7 driving experience is unique. And that's meant as a compliment. In contrast to the BMW X5, Volkswagen Touareg and Mercedes-Benz M-Class (or G-Class, for that matter), the Audi doesn't wallow like a typical SUV. It drives like a tall car. And just as quiet to boot.
The handling was heavy, but never sloppy. It tracked straight on the highway, and it tackled canyons and onramps ardently. Its underpinnings are solid, and the wide stance and aggressive wheel and tire package only serve to help. Like most competent family-oriented SUVs today, the passengers are going to hurl long before the Q7 exceeds its capable grip.
Braking was also another strong suite. The Q7 is big, but standard six-piston front calipers and four-piston rear calipers (both sourced from Brembo) delivered fade-free stops time and time again. The braking system, complete with ventilated rotors and massive pads, is shared with the Porsche Cayenne. Brake dust is an annoyance, but a small price to pay for the performance they deliver. When properly equipped, the Q7 is rated to tow 6,600 pounds.
As the Q7 prepares to enter its sixth year of production, the question that's keeping Audi executives up at night is whether or not it can remain competitive rolling on its first-generation platform – until possibly 2014 – while its adversaries introduce fresh new product. The Cayenne, Touareg and M-Class are all new, and the third-generation X5 and MDX are expected within 18 months.
We're confident the Q7 has the resolve and appeal to compete with the rest of the pack. Its allure is tough to ignore, with its richly-detailed, isolated cabin and ability to coddle passengers with ease. Throw in its comprehensive standard electronics and foolproof Quattro all-wheel-drive system, top it off with a torque-rich supercharged six that delivers on both fuel economy and power, and Audi's SUV has a few more years in it. If just...
New Car Test Drive
New engines for big luxury SUV.
The Audi Q7 is a big SUV that's big on refinement, comfort and features. The Q7 is derived from the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, but the Q7 rides on a longer wheelbase. The Q7 is also longer overall than the other two, and it is the only one to offer three-row seating. There are many other differences. We've noticed the Q7 offers a more compliant ride than the Cayenne or Touareg and it's more stable at high speed though less agile both in terms of handling and parking.
The 2011 Audi Q7 benefits from major engine and transmission changes. The 2011 Q7 is available with two new supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engines plus a 3.0-liter TDI turbodiesel V6. All 2011 Audi Q7s are matched to a new 8-speed automatic transmission for better performance and better fuel economy. (A V8 is no longer offered.)
The gas engines are both supercharged 3.0-liter V6s, the standard unit at 272 horsepower, and the new S Line Prestige version at 333 hp. The 3.0-liter diesel delivers 225 hp and 406 pound-feet of torque. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and up steep hills, and the diesel's impressive torque gives it an advantage over the gas engines. The diesel is also the easiest on fuel, and the logical choice for those planning on towing.
Every Audi Q7 comes with seven seats and all-wheel drive. Audi has decades of experience with quattro all-wheel drive. Safety features include a blind-spot warning system.
The Audi Q7 competes with other seven-seat luxury SUVs, such as the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Volvo XC90. The smaller Lexus GX470 and the more comparable Lexus LX570 are more expensive.
We found the Q7 a paragon of driving elegance and interior refinement.
The 2011 Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium ($45,700) comes with leather upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, 272-hp supercharged 3.0-liter V6, 12-way power adjustable front seats, heated front seats, sliding 40/20/40 split-folding reclining second-row seats, 50/50-split folding third-row seat, wood interior trim, MMI and color screen, 180-watt AM/FM/CD/iPod stereo with eight speakers, Sirius satellite radio, trip computer, compass and outside temperature indicator, universal garage door opener, rear park sensors, leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, power tailgate, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors with reverse tilt, remote keyless entry, alarm/engine immobilizer system, cooled glovebox, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles, cargo cover, automatic headlights, front and rear fog lights, roof rails, and 255/55R18 tires on alloy wheels.
The 2011 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Premium ($50,900) comes with the turbodiesel engine and is similarly equipped except for 19-inch wheels and slightly wider tires. Options include navigation ($2,500) and panorama roof ($1,850).
The 2011 Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium Plus ($51,700) and Q7 3.0 TDI Premium Plus ($56,900) add navigation, park assist with rearview camera, bi-Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, auto-dimming power-folding mirrors, panorama sunroof, and Bose surround sound HD radio. Options include the warm weather package ($1,300), 20-inch wheels, and a moonroof delete option. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
The 2011 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Prestige ($62,900) adds headlight washers, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, Advance key, adaptive headlights, blind-spot warning, ventilated front seats, and a Warm Weather package with four-zone climate control, rear window shades, deep-tint panorama roof. Prestige comes with unique bi-color 20-inch alloy wheels and 275/45R20 all-season tires.
The 2011 Audi Q7 3.0 Prestige S-Line ($58,900) features a 333-hp version of the supercharged V6. It comes with S-Line body trim, 20-inch S-Line wheels and 275/45R20 all-season tires. The 2011 Q7 3.0 TDI Prestige ($62,900) has the same features but with the diesel engine.
Options include a towing package with 6,600-pound tow rating ($550), a cold weather package of heated rear seats and steering wheel ($500), rear side airbags ($350).
Safety features on all Q7 models include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags, front side seat-mounted air bags, and side-curtain air bags that span all three rows of seats. Active safety features include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, hill descent control, traction control, electronic stability control with rollover sensing, and quattro all-wheel drive. A tire-pressure monitor is standard. Rear-seat side torso air bags are optional, as is the blind spot warning system.
The Audi Q7 looks like an Audi SUV, with lots of curved surfaces, distinctive lights and a big face. In fact the Q7, at more than 200 inches long, is probably bigger than you think.
The grille is Audi's ubiquitous single-frame piece, bisected by a broad band for license plate mounting, and flanked by multiple horizontal layers of grilles and lights to soften the sheer bulk. The LED daytime running lights and turn signals of higher-line models stand out more, and the generic contrast-color lower panels of the base gas models give way to painted panels on the S Line gas and all TDI versions.
Crisp side-view styling with arched fenders and a roofline like a French curve also visually lessen the generous dimensions of the Q7. The substantial exterior mirrors and housings are among the largest on a vehicle in this class, handy for towing, not so good for seeing around. Two stylish, full-length metal rails on the roof provide anchor points for accessory crossbars for securing cargo on the roof. Gas and diesel models use different wheel styles, and if we're cleaning we prefer the simpler spokes of the gas model.
The Q7's rear view is dominated by high-mounted horizontal taillights with LED illumination and fiber-optic/LED turn signals. The cut line for the tailgate sweeps outward around the taillights to become a styling element of its own. The large hatch is powered.
Cold weather features include pull-type door handles that are easy to use with gloves, heated windshield washer nozzles, available headlight washers, and wide-sweeping windshield wipers that, when not in use, rest on an area heated by the interior vents in order to prevent freezing.
The Audi Q7 cabin was designed for flexibility. The Q7 offers numerous passenger and cargo arrangements with separately folding sections in both second and third row seats. Styling and ambiance will be familiar to Audi owners, efficient without being staid and attractive, not flashy. Leather upholstery and wood trim are both standard, while aluminum inlays are available.
The Q7 seats seven with the standard third-row seat. (The five-passenger version was dropped when the smaller Q5 arrived.) All the rear seats fold flat to expand the cargo artea, up to 72 cubic feet behind the driver.
The front bucket seats are superb with power adjustment in most directions. The driver's seat is comfortable and most drivers should find the driving position nearly perfect. Leather covers the tilt/telescoping steering wheel, which features redundant audio controls, and hard plastics are found only where appropriate for scuff resistance and easier cleaning. Getting in and out is easy thanks to large doors and a reasonably low floor.
The second-row 40/20/40 split rear bench seat allows cargo and passenger flexibility. This bench seat allows second-row passengers to slide rearward up to four inches for extra legroom or forward to keep an infant seat within easier reach, and the second-row seatbacks recline up to 10 degrees for more relaxed comfort.
Third-row seats are for kids or smaller adults, with head and legroom notable less than even the second row seats, a condition common in many seven-seat crossovers. For tall third-row passengers consider the Lincoln Navigator, Ford Expedition or Land Rover LR2, or any passenger midi-van.
Gauges are clear and bright with an information display between the speedometer and tachometer which cycles through several menus via buttons on the steering wheel. Redundant navigation messages are also communicated through this display, even when the dashboard screen displays something else, a useful feature. The stalk-mounted cruise controls and the switches for the wipers and lights have a supple, expensive feel.
The Multi-Media Interface (MMI) that handles many functions is on its third generation. And perhaps most significantly, it delivers an impactful 3-D navigation map display, thanks to a powerful new NVIDIA automotive graphics-processing chip. The system also delivers real-time Sirius traffic reporting (only as accurate as the satellite feed…we sat still on 'green' interstates) and features voice-activated destination-input control. Voice inputs such as, I'm hungry, I need gas and I need coffee will automatically direct the driver to the nearest location where the driver's needs can be satisfied. While designed to reduce the amount of buttons on the dashboard while adding even more features, the downside of this MMI is that it adds layers of complexity, requiring time and practice to operate smoothly. The system features a central control dial and some 15 buttons to control the climate, audio, phone, and navigation systems, as well as relevant vehicle system information. The controls are situated on the horizontal surface behind the shift knob. In addition to the added complexity, using the MMI often requires a longer look away from the road.
Stereo choices for the Q7 include a 180-watt AM/FM/CD unit with eleven speakers, a 270-watt, seven-channel 14-speaker Bose upgrade and a 1001-watt Bang & Olufsen system with 14-channel amplification and speakers. Sirius satellite radio and iPod integration are standard. The Bose upgrade is a good one and does an admirable job filling the cabin, while the B&O system is as sonically stunning as the aluminum speaker grilles and stand-up tweeters. While most of the audio adjustment functions are incorporated into MMI, the controls used most often, such as the volume and seek functions, are adjusted with clearly labeled buttons and knobs mounted sensibly and attractively on the center console, just in front of the armrest, and doubled on the steering wheel. The system also responds to voice commands.
The Rearview Camera and Parking System incorporates a camera in the liftgate to provide a view behind the vehicle when backing up. The image is clearly projected on the screen, with parking guide lines showing the path the vehicle would take given the steering wheel angle at the time. As the wheel turns, the guide lines change accordingly. We found this to be an extremely useful feature. It's especially valuable when backing up to a trailer, allowing the driver to position the receiver ball directly below the trailer hitch. It's also a great safety feature, whether backing out of the driveway or out of a space in a crowded shopping center parking lot, because it can help the driver spot people or objects difficult to see otherwise. It makes parallel parking easier and more efficient, helping the driver to back within an inch of the vehicle behind.
Dual-zone automatic climate controls are nothing new for this segment, but Audi made an effort to provide ventilation while reducing draftiness when the vehicle is being heated or cooled rapidly. Hence, the Q7 has an abundance of generously sized vents, including a diffused air vent at the base of the windshield in the front, as well as vents in both the door pillar and the rear of the center console for second-row occupants. Four-zone climate control is optional, featuring two zones in front and two zones for the second-row passengers, included with the warm weather package.
Interior cubby storage space is merely adequate. The glove box is tiny, but features a handy air duct that draws in air from the climate control system to help prevent melting lip balm or lipstick on hot days. Additional storage is found under the armrest and in pockets in the doors. The Q7 is available with up to six 12-volt power points, including one in the tailgate, as well as 10 cup holders, including molded bottle holders in each door.
Cargo space is on par with other luxury SUVs with three rows of seats. There isn't much space behind the third row, so hauling anything but groceries will likely require that at least one half of the 50/50 split third-row seat be folded away. But, thanks to the sliding second-row seats and flat-folding seat stowing, the Q7 makes the most of its 72.5 cubic feet of available space. Those in need of more cargo space must consider midi-vans or packing lighter.
Loading cargo into the Q7 is facilitated by a wraparound tailgate that reveals a very wide opening. Particularly clever is the load assist feature of the optional air suspension that lowers the rear of the vehicle approximately three inches at the touch of a button in the cargo area, handy when loading dogs as well as groceries. Numerous tie-down hooks and floor tracks are designed to fit accessory cargo securing devices available at Audi dealerships.
The Open Sky System is a full-length, three-panel panoramic glass moonroof that brightens the interior significantly. About 5.5 feet in length, the system consists of three tinted glass panels spanning all seating areas. The front section slides back over the fixed second section for full exposure for front seat occupants; another glass panel over the third-row seat and cargo area tilts up for added ventilation. A power retractable sunshade helps keep heat down on hot days.
On the road, the Q7 behaves like an Audi, albeit a big heavy one. The fully independent suspension delivers a comfortable ride and controlled handling. Road imperfections are managed without becoming annoying jolts or booming sounds in the cabin. Even at high speeds, interior noise level is low enough for conversation to be held without raising one's voice. Perhaps not as cushy as a Lexus RX nor as stiff as the BMW X5 or Infiniti FX, the Q7's ride hits the sweet spot many luxury SUV shoppers desire.
Under hood is where the big news is for 2011. The previous 3.6-liter V6 and 4.2-liter V8 have been replaced by supercharged V6 3-liters, and every Q7 steps up from a 6-speed automatic to a new 8-speed automatic.
Premium and Premium Plus Q7 get a 272-horsepower version of the new 3-liter V6, which is just as smooth as its predecessor, gives up 8 hp but adds 29 lb-ft of torque and doesn't need to be revved as much. Combined with the added gears in the transmission this yields a quicker Q7 (0-60 mph in about 8 seconds) and improved fuel economy (16/22).
The S Line Prestige model uses a higher-boost-pressure version for 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, again down slightly from last year's V8. But with fewer revs needed and more gears, acceleration doesn't suffer and economy is better: It scores the same 16/22 EPA rating as the 272-hp version but if you use the extra 60 hp in a heavier car, you will use more gas.
The 3.0-liter V6 TDI diesel delivers ample power, providing seamless and nearly soundless thrust. The real story here is the TDI's massive 406 pound-feet of torque at just 1750 rpm and EPA ratings of 17/25 mpg. With this diesel engine's flexible power, immediate sturdy acceleration is always on tap no matter how fast the engine is turning. It is less than one second slower 0 to 60 mph than the base gas model, but feels at least equal in daily driving.
This characteristic makes the TDI an unusually reassuring and stress-free driver, and that is despite Q7 TDI's very considerable heft of more than 5,000 pounds. Under strong acceleration, the diesel makes a throaty growl, yet in neutral-throttle cruising, only the most discerning ear will hear anything different. And furnished with the optional Towing Package, capable of hauling 6,600 pounds, the torque-heavy diesel will be happy in its work. The TDI produces about 25 percent less carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline engine and reduces nitrogen oxides by up to 90 percent when compared to past diesels. And, with its efficient filters, the exhaust is often cleaner than the smoggy ambient air that went into the engine (look in the tailpipe, it won't be black). The TDI should last longer than a comparable gasoline engine, which should pay dividends in resale value and long-term ownership value.
The 8-speed automatic transmission shifts so smoothly it's almost imperceptible except during full-throttle acceleration. The Sport mode provides faster shifts and automatically holds gears a bit longer for more responsive performance. If the driver wants to shift manually, the Tiptronic manual shift feature is selected by moving the shift lever to the right, then tapping it up or down as desired. The multi-information display in the instrument cluster clearly displays the selected gear.
Quattro all-wheel drive works full time and requires no driver input. Normally, power is delivered to the front and rear wheels in a 42/58 percent split to create a rear-wheel-drive bias for confident dry-weather handling. When driving conditions become such that traction becomes compromised, the torque split is automatically adjusted between the parameters of 65/35 to 15/85 percent, front-to-rear.
Electronic stability control, or ESC, manages wheel slip by applying the brake at the slipping wheel. The system helps maintain stability in corners by lightly applying the brakes to individual wheels when the vehicle's path doesn't match the driver's intentions. The Q7's electronic stability control system is enhanced with an off-road mode that can be switched on to allow some slip for smooth power delivery on gravel or sandy surfaces. For steep, slippery grades, hill descent control automatically maintains (as long as the tires have traction) a 12-mph speed by applying the brakes to individual wheels without driver input, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering.
Towing capacity starts at 5500 pounds for all models but rises to 6600 pounds with the optional towing package. The adaptive air suspension features a trailer mode that helps manage the unique physics of towing. The air suspension is self-leveling, so when towing you're not blinding other drivers with your low beams. The Q7 also has a Tow mode for the electronic stability control calibrated to counteract swaying motions that can become dangerous when pulling a trailer.
The Q7's power steering is speed-sensitive, reducing the amount of assistance at higher speeds to deliver more road feel. Steering isn't as heavy as that in the BMW X5, for example, but nor is it as light as that of the GMC Yukon. On-center feel is outstanding, with steering inputs met by quick response, and it's just 2.7 turns of the steering wheel from lock to lock.
Handling is superb for a vehicle of this size. The Q7 is only two inches shorter than a Cadillac Escalade and actually has a longer wheelbase. Nonetheless, it feels much smaller, reacting readily to quick changes of direction. It cuts a decent U-turn, tighter than some five-seat compact crossovers. Only in close-quarter handling such as small or parallel parking spots and narrow drive-throughs does the Q7's size become evident.
The Adaptive Air Suspension uses electronically controlled, air-filled bags in place of traditional steel springs and allows the driver to select one of three firmness settings, as well as raise the vehicle to a ground clearance of 9.4 inches for deep snow or off-road driving. The Comfort setting allows the suspension to absorb more road impacts for a relatively smooth ride at all situations. The Automatic mode offers compliance during straight-line travel, but stiffens up during cornering for tauter handling. The Dynamic mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches to a ground clearance of 6.5 inches, which lowers the center of gravity and enhances aerodynamics. Generally, we found the Q7's ride to be acceptable though firm, even in the softest Comfort setting. That's typical of a German sedan. We preferred the Automatic setting during normal driving because Automatic offered the best ride and handling balance. The Dynamic setting was noticeably stiffer; rewarding during enthusiastic driving, but hard enough that we switched back to Automatic or Comfort for around-town motoring.
We also drove the Premium model with 20-inch wheels and without the air suspension. In a tough test on pockmarked Chicago roads the Q7 proved to be firm but never harsh. It ironed out the small stuff well and significantly limited the harshness of sharp bumps and potholes. The base suspension is a good choice if you won't tow anything near its limit with your Q7 or don't need the height adjustments. 21-inch wheels and fat, sticky tires are available with the S Line and offer maximum grip, but ride quality will suffer somewhat, chains may not be usable, and the tires alone will run from $1400-2000 to replace.
A Q7 is mildly capable off the highway. With short overhangs, decent vertical wheel travel and electronic traction technology, Audi says it can ford up to 20 inches of water and can climb a 31-degree slope. That said we would limit off-road adventures to sand dunes, gravel or muddy roads or desert by-ways. If you adventure into more severe terrain, a Land Rover LR2, Dodge Durango, Lexus LX or Infiniti QX would be more appropriate.
The brakes feature four-wheel discs, ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Brake Assist, all of which can help the driver maintain control after slamming on the binders. We found the Q7's brakes terrific: They were responsive, with a firm yet communicative pedal. There was no hint of brake fade whatsoever on our spirited drives.
Adaptive Cruise Control goes a step further than conventional cruise control systems by using radar to maintain a constant distance between the Q7 and the vehicle ahead, accelerating and braking as necessary. The Q7's system is unusual in its ability to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, and then accelerate again all the way up to 90 miles per hour without any driver input. The Q7 driver can specify how aggressively the system will operate, from sporty to leisurely. Many similar systems from other automakers will not stop the car completely.
Side Assist employs a radar sensor mounted in the rear bumper to monitor the presence of vehicles occupying or entering the Q7's blind spots. The presence of a vehicle traveling alongside the Q7 within the 16.5-foot range of the sensor will prompt subtle amber LEDs to illuminate in the corresponding outside mirror housing. If a turn signal is switched on, indicating a pending lane change, the LEDs become brighter and start to flash. The system is active at speeds above 35 mph and can be deactivated. We found this system works well, helping alert us to cars in our blindspots while driving on L.A.'s I-405, one of the nation's busiest freeways. The system can be turned off when not desired.
The Audi Q7 delivers luxury, comfort, safety, and capability. It offers significant towing and flexible capability and mild off-road performance. It seats seven and offers a high seating position that commands an excellent view of the road ahead. The Q7 is richly infused with Audi's luxurious style and habitually high-grade interior materials and design.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Ted West, Kirk Bell, Mitch McCullough and G.R. Whale contributed to this report.
Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium ($45,700); 3.0 TDI Premium ($50,900); 3.0 TFSI S Line Prestige ($58,900).
Options As Tested
MMI navigation ($2,500); towing package ($550).
Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI Premium ($45,700).
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