The six-speed transmission on the Q7 gives it plenty of gears to choose from, and the shifting feels pretty seamless--it doesn't hunt for gears. But it also illustrated the acceleration delay pretty clearly. On the freeway it settled into sixth gear, and when we stomped the gas, the center readout showed the transmission moving to fourth. But the car didn't really start moving until a moment later. The sport mode didn't feel particularly different from the drive mode around town, and after trying out the Tiptronic manual gear selection a couple of times, we tended to let the transmission do what it wanted.
The six gears, variable intake on the engine, and Audi's FSI direct-injection system didn't seem to help the mileage much. The EPA rating for this car is 14mpg city and 19mpg highway. In our mixed city and freeway driving we observed 13.8mpg, although our testing involves some heavy-footed maneuvers. It is relatively clean, getting a LEVII/BIN5 rating for emissions, but also is rated at 11.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, which is below average. A smaller 3.6-liter V-6 is also available, but its mileage isn't much better, at an EPA rated 16mpg city and 20mpg highway.
The Q7 features Audi's well-regarded quattro all-wheel-drive system, which dynamically moves torque to the wheels that need it. The adaptive air suspension that came on our Q7 also has an off-road mode, which puts the car as high as it will go. This gear may play into some light off-road conditions or snow, but doesn't make the Q7 a boulder crawler. The quattro and the Dynamic setting on the suspension helped the car a bit on tight corners, but it's far from a sports car. The steering also felt particularly light. Our conclusion around the office was that Audi overpowered the steering to compensate for the size of the vehicle and for more luxury, rather than sporty, handling.
For safety technologies, the Q7 includes an impressive roster and one particular innovation. First, the quattro system counts heavily in the accident avoidance department. Along with that, it also has antilock brakes, an electronic stability program, and hill descent control.
But Side Assist is the big innovation on the Q7. This system uses radar to monitor the Q7's blind spots. If it detects a vehicle, it turns on a yellow light in the right- or left-side view mirror frame. If the driver hits the turn signal for the side that's lit up, the yellow light flashes. In practice, Side Assist works very well. It gives ample warning when cars are going faster to either side of the Q7, but doesn't bother with cars that the Q7 is passing. As with most safety technologies, Side Assist is programmed conservatively and will detect cars in the side lanes just behind the Q7. In heavy traffic, we had to ignore the flashing and move into the next lane over anyway. Radar-based adaptive cruise control is also available on the Q7, although our test car didn't come with it.
With the Q7 in reverse, the rearview camera kicks in. Audi overlays the camera display with a blue distance warning and lines that curve to show where the car will go depending on how the wheels are turned.
The Q7 is very well covered in the airbag department. It uses dual-stage front airbags and side airbags for both front seats. It also has side curtain airbags that stretch all the way to the third jump seats in the cargo area. The Q7 hasn't been rated for front or side impacts yet, but we would expect five stars due to the airbags, crumple zones, and side impact beams. Its rollover rating is only four stars, but few, if any, SUVs make it to five in that category.
Audi offers four years or 50,000 miles for the basic warranty, and adds four years of roadside assistance, a nice added perk. Additionally, the first scheduled maintenance within 12 months or 5,000 miles is free.
A pricey ride
It's a little hard to justify the 2007 Audi Q7. Our 4.2-liter version started with a base price of $49,900. A few expensive options, such as the adaptive air suspension ($2,600), navigation ($1,800), panoramic sunroof ($1,850), and the technology package that included Side Assist ($2,400) combined with a few other odds and ends to run the price all the way up to $64,520. We like the luxury interior, but we didn't like driving the car around town. It's not the best vehicle for long road trips because its mileage is poor and the lack of MP3 support takes away some of the entertainment options.
We like that it has a premium stereo, navigation, Bluetooth cell phone integration, and voice command, but we have complaints about most of these systems. The power train does what it's supposed to do but delivers poor fuel economy, and it won't deliver power immediately. The quattro system and handling are excellent, and the safety tech is innovative. People considering an Audi Q7 should also seriously look at the Mercedes-Benz R350 and the Lexus RX 350.