With the launch of the 2007 Audi Q7, Audi proves that it's either a maverick or completely clueless when it comes to current automotive trends. A big gas-guzzling 4x4 SUV in 1996, yes, but in 2006? Crossovers are the current hot trend. Of course, this is not to say that Audi can't build a big 4x4 SUV. From our experience with the Q7, Audi can build a very fine SUV, which is not at all surprising given Audi's legendary quattro all-wheel-drive system. And those Audi fans who have been waiting years for an SUV, no matter how few they may be, finally get what they want.
In our test period with the 2007 Audi Q7, we went through alternating fits of love and frustration with the car. We could complain about the acceleration hesitation from the big 4.2-liter V-8, then wax poetic about the luxurious interior. Immediately after cursing the navigation system, we would praise the car's highway manners. The Q7 is a seriously mixed bag, with many good points offset by many minor and major faults.
The exterior of the Q7 captures this SUV's schizophrenic nature--a nicely curved roofline makes it look like a wagon from the side, but a massive front fascia surrounding brawny grill, headlights, and vents hints at bulldozer from the front. Our Q7 came with 20-inch five-spoke alloy rims, which gave it a refined sense of sturdiness. The bulbous rear end of the car has a space-age feel, added to by the power-lift gate, which opens and closes at the push of a button.
The mother of all sunroofs
Audi reaffirms its high-end status in the American market with the luxurious interior of the Q7. It may fall a little short of the Mercedes-Benz R350, but not by much. The leather on the seats is smooth, thick, and well-fitted, dashboard materials feel substantial, and wood accents add a touch of refinement. All of the switch gear moves with precision. But as we drove over potholes and other rough pavement, we noticed a rattling sound coming from the rear. After investigating, we attributed the rattle to sunshades that pull up over the rear door windows. While these sunshades are a nice touch, they make the car sound like it's falling apart.
Our Q7 came with the mother of all sunroofs as a $1,850 option. It stretches over the front and middle rows of seats and has a powered interior cover. And there's another, smaller sunroof over the cargo area that can be tipped up with a button in the front roof console. No, cargo does not need a view through the roof--it's for the two jump seats that fold flat into the cargo area. The middle row also folds flat, making a pretty large cargo area. Because our Q7 came with the $2,600 adaptive air suspension option, a button in the cargo area lowers the car for easier loading, although we didn't find the car terribly high up to begin with.
On previous Audis we've reviewed, we've given high points for the MultiMedia Interface (MMI). It's present in the Q7, but it's getting outstripped by the competition. The controller still has its precise feel, and the four-button/one-knob arrangement is still easy to learn, but it has the drawback of not allowing panning of the navigation map, which in turn makes it impossible to choose a destination based on a map location. A better option would be something like the joystick/knob COMAND interface on the Mercedes-Benz R350, which does let the driver move the map around.
And while the MMI makes inputting specific destinations relatively painless, we found the voice prompt tone of voice a little too forceful. Its nagging sound made us frequently scramble to cancel route guidance, but that proved difficult. Once guidance was activated, the only method we could find to cancel it was by deleting the destination, instead of being able to use a more intuitive Cancel button. During the latter half of our review period, we just turned voice prompts off. Destination input is under a menu labeled Route, which we also didn't find particularly intuitive. And unlike more-modern navigation systems, such as that found on the current generation of Acuras, the points-of-interest database doesn't include retail stores. It does have wineries, a must-have for the well-heeled Audi buyer.
A 14-speaker, 270-watt, 10-channel Bose audio system comes standard with the Q7. Although its technical specifications seem impressive, we've heard better. The system includes Bose's Dolby 5.1 Centerpoint surround-sound technology, but the system didn't sound as immersive as the Mark Levinson stereo in the Lexus IS 350. And, strangely, surround sound could be set only for the front seats or the rear seats. The MMI audio-settings screen also included a Normal, nonsurround setting that most Q7 buyers will probably use, making the Centerpoint surround sound a waste. While sitting in the front seats, we found the front surround setting to produce very crisp sound, yet it lacked rich bass and felt biased towards the center fill speaker mounted in the dash. On the Normal setting, audio filled the cabin well, but fell short of perfection.
The stereo system also includes a six-CD changer, which unfortunately does not play MP3 CDs. Nor does the system include an auxiliary input, although a cnet:link ext="http://news.cnet.com/More+iPods+to+ride+in+2006+cars/2100-1041_3-5853269.html">dealer-installed iPod kit should be available. The audio system did read CD-Text, something we noticed with a newer CD we loaded into the changer. We also had Sirius satellite radio installed in our Q7, which comes with a six-month subscription, as a $550 option.
Although we found fault with both the navigation and stereo, the third part of the tech trinity, the Bluetooth cell phone integration, worked exceptionally well. We easily paired our trusty Motorola V551 phone to the system, and calls came through clearly. Furthermore, the system made our recent call information available on the car's LCD almost immediately, and shortly after had our entire phone address book available. Placing hands-free phone calls is exceptionally easy, and made even more convenient by the voice-command system. This system allows voice dialing with a touch of the steering wheel-mounted button. It proved accurate, but unfortunately doesn't control other car systems.