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.
Audi's MMI controller sits right behind the shifter and is fairly easy to learn.
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.
Surround sound in the Q7 can be directed to either the front or the rear seats, but not the whole cabin.
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.
The Q7's 4.2-liter V-8 provides plenty of power--350 horsepower at 6,800rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,500rpm--but doesn't like to show off about it. As we've found with other Audis, stomping the gas pedal doesn't produce immediate acceleration. There's a little hesitation as the car takes care not to spin the wheels faster than it can go--no burnouts allowed. While we appreciate a refined driving experience, the acceleration delay can be disappointing. The Q7 is also a heavy car, weighing in at 5,269 pounds, a lot of mass for any power plant to push. Although it moved along fine on the freeway, in city driving the car lumbered around.
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.
With the adaptive air suspension option, the Q7's height can be set from the cabin.
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.
Side Assist turns on a light on the side of the mirror frame when a car is in the Q7's blind spot.
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.