By CL request, a review of the new Audi Q7.
In a Nutshell: Not the best-looking SUV, and somewhat pricey, but solid, well-built, and pleasant to drive.
Audi, recently, in response to the popularity of the Mercedes M-Class, BMW X3/X5, Volvo XC90, VW Touraeg, and Porsche Cayenne, introduced an all-new SUV, the Q7. The Q7 not only gives Audi a representative in the ever-popular and ever-burgeoning world of premium European-designed wagon/SUV's, but, like the way the Volvo XC90 solved the problem of the XC70 Cross-Country not being enough SUV for some people, the Q7 generally solves the problem of the Audi All-Road not being enough SUV for some Audi owners either. The Volvo XC70, Audi All-Road, and similiar vehicles like the Ford Freestyle and Subaru Outback, are not really SUV's.......they are basically just station wagons raised a few inches for added ground clearance and with slightly different suspensions.
So, the Q7 has some of its roots in the VW Touraeg-Porsche Cayenne platform, but in many ways is a unique vehicle different from its two corporate cousins. As just mentioned, it sits somewhat higher off the ground than its Audi All-Road brother, and, though not a hard-core off-roader like a Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover, or Hummer, has some mild off-road capability as well (The Touraeg has more). Four different versions of the Q7 are offered...a 3.6, 3.6 Premium, 4.2, and 4.2 Premium. Base 3.6 models start around $40,000; loaded 4.2 Premium models can run well over $60,000 and are real budget-busters. As I was asked to test a Q7 but not given any specific engine or model request, I chose a relatively middle-of-the-line 3.6 Premium model with the Convenience package.....the way that many potential buyers are likely to look at Q7's. Though a mid-level model, my test vehicle listed for a not-so-econobox figure of more than $50,000. So, for this vehicle, take your checkbook to the dealership with you, or make sure that you have a good credit rating.
This vehicle doesn't sell for chump change, but, in general, you get your money's worth....I'll go into that more in detail below. Though there are a few substandard plastic parts inside, and the front end of the vehicle, in my opinion, is downright hideous with that barn-door grille, it is obvious that Audi didn't turn this vehicle over to the bean-counters and cost-cutters before it was released. There are a number of signs of quality both inside and out, though the now-traditional unreliability of German-designed electronics is something to keep in mind. The overall fit and finish is well above average both inside and out, numerous safety features are included, and the Quattro AWD system, along with Subaru's, is one of the most proven on the market. I addition, this vehicle was, despite a rather firm ride, and steering effort that was a little too low for my tastes, a pleasure to drive....and handle.
So, let's look at the Q7 now in more detail:
Model Reviewed: 2007 Audi Q7 3.6L Premium
Base Price: $45,900
Panorama Sunroof: $1850
Convienence Package: $1200
Sirius Satellite Radio $550
Destination Charge: $720
List Price as Reviewed: $50,220
Exterior Color: Light Silver Metallic
Interior: Black Leather with Walnut wood trim.
Drivetrain: 3.6L longitudinal-mounted DOHC V6, 280 HP @ 6200 RPM, 266 ft-lbs. torque @ 2750 RPM,
6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, Quattro full-time AWD system with ESP (Electronic Stability Program).
Slick, smooth-as-a-baby's-butt steering.
Superlative handling, by SUV standards, with right-now steering response.
Flat cornering with minimal body roll.
Quick brake response with no sponginess.
Generally low noise level.
Better-than-average exterior paint finish with little orange peel.
Solid, high-quality, body sheet metal.
High-quality leather seats.
Generally high-quality materials inside....with a few exceptions.
Stretch-out legroom in the rear seat.
Room enough under the hood for V6 engine work.
Many luxury features inside.
Rear heated and reclining seats.
Superlative hardware and materials in the rear cargo area.
Excessive weight hampers acceleration with V6.
Quite firm (but not harsh) ride.
Ugly, oversized grille.
Low rear roofline and sunroof cuts into rear-seat headroom.
4.6L V8 models quite pricey.
Complex, frustrating, hard-to-use MMI system.
Flimsy-feeling, plastic, steering-column stalks.
OK stereo but not up to those of others in this price class.
Power-Steering effort too low.
Weird pricing system for exterior paint colors.
Poorly located brake pedal.
Overly complex climate and radio controls on NAV version.
Tiptronic transmission not as smooth-shifting as DSG.
Well, as you've probably guessed by now, I'm not a big fan of this vehicle's front-end styling. The overall shape, as you walk up to it, is pleasant enough, and it is immediately recognizable as an Audi product. Actually, is not a bad-looking vehicle behind the grille and headlights, but the front end, in my opinion, is awful. The enormous, trapezoid-shaped grille, glaring right at you from between and below the two sweep-back headlights, is like Linda Lovelace getting ready to......well, never mind. Whoever designed that monstrosity deserves a place in the Automotive Hall of Shame with Chris Bangle and the guy who decided to import Yugos......Malcolm Bricklin, I believe.
OK...so much for my opinion of it. I realize, however, that it was done this way for a reason. All current U.S.- market Audi products have this grille, and it was purposely designed to bring back the image of the famous 1930's Auto-Union (Audi's forerunner) racing cars, with their rear-mounted engines and THEIR oversized grilles. Yes, some people LIKE that grille..... I won't deny that. More power to them. I'm just not one of them, that's all. Nor am I a fan of Audi's MMI......more on that later. And it's not that I just dislike large grilles, either......the Chrysler 300 manages to do a similiar oversized grill with a LOT more class and looks.
I found the rest of the exterior, though, to be quite attractive and well-built. All of the exterior hardware and trim was first-rate, well-attached, and made of superior materials....Audi sure didn't cut any costs there. The body sheet metal and all of the panels, hood, doors, and liftgate (power-operated) had a solid, high-quality feel to them, and the quality of the paint job was well above average, though not quite to Toyota-Lexus standards. The paint colors offered were the usual funeral-home hues, but a nice Cobalt Blue Pearl and Garnet Red Pearl are offered (see the Audi web site). Audi, however, like most German makes, (and Dodge/Chrysler) charges extra for some colors, but they do it in a different, and rather strange way. Other German brands give you solid colors free and charge extra for metallics and pearls. Audi gives you the one solid color (white) free, charges extra for SOME metallics and pearls, and doesn't for others. Go Figure. Anyhow, I found the exterior quite impressive, except for the shape of the grille. The materials used give the impression that they won't just fold up like paper in an accident.
Under the gas strut-braced hood, which opens and closes with a tank-like thud, the north-south, longitudonally-mounted 3.6L V6 is an excellent fit, with plenty of room to work around the back, sides, and even in FRONT of the engine. Audi engineers have cleverly designed the 3.6 so that the pulleys, belts, hose outlets, etc......on the front of the engine are nearly flat...they leave plenty of space between the radiator, fan housing, and the front of the block. I can't recall the last time I've ever seen a north-south engine designed like that. The poor guys in the service bays that have to work and bang their knuckles on today's overcrowded engine compartments are going to like this one....and so will some do-it-yourselfers at home.
Open the nice, solid doors and get in. The vehicle, as a purpose-designed SUV, sits fairly high off the pavement, yet low enough that step-in height is not bad at all. Stainless steel running-boards are offered as an option, separately, left and right, at $769 EACH (!) but, in my opinion, are not necessary for all but the shortest people. Once inside, you are treated to multi-power-adjustable, multi-memory, well-shaped seats with a nice, high-quality leather feel to them. Legroom is fine in the front seats, but the headroom under the complex, multi-adjustable power sunroof and its thick housing is not the best....you have to adjust the seat way down for a big guy with a baseball cap like me. But once the seat is down, there's no problem. In the back seats, there is limo-like rear legroom, even with the front seat adjusted for a guy my size. Headroom, though, is worse than in front, mainly due to the slightly downward-sweep of the rear roofline and the secondary, smaller moonroof and sun shade over the rear seats. Fortunately, unlike with many other vehicles, this problem is resolved by the reclining rear seats (you don't see THAT every day)...tall people can ease the 50-50 seatbacks down so that their heads clear the roofline.
Much has been written in the automotive press about the high quality and classiness of Audi interiors, and not without reason. Yes, there are a few flimsy-feeling and poorly-designed plastic pieces (I'll get to those in a minute), but it is clear that Audi doesn't let bean counters design their interiors....especially in this vehicle. The dash materials, steering-wheel leather, door trim, wood paneling, console control *****, seat hardware, door and window switches, etc...are all first-rate, and don't like on some vehicles, feel like they are going to fall right off. Go around back, open the power-operated liftgate, and what do you find inside? MORE quality. The cargo floor panel works and slides in and out just as smooth as a duck's back, and on the sides, in special, recessed, mini-holes, are REAL, thick-hinged, METAL loops coated with, yes, REAL chrome. The hardware holding the closed panel in place is painted metal, too....not plastic. Underneath the panel is the now increasingly-common (on wagons and SUV's) multi-compartment secondary cargo tray. The rear seats and cargo area, like on most similiar vehicles, adjust in many different configurations for different cargo and hauling needs....and, as mentioned above, also have rake adjustment so tall rear passengers can recline and clear the low roofline. The rear seats each have their own individual 6-stage seat heaters as well.
Back up front, the primary gauges are clear, well-designed, as with most vehicles these days, and have the usual black/white faces with red needles. Everything pretty much has a solid feel except for the cheap, flimsy-feeling plastic steering-column stalks (a seemingly chronic thing these days in German-designed cars) and some of the buttons in the center of the dash. The Q7, like most Audi products, comes with the MMI (Multi-Media Interface) computer **** on the console, which is more or less a clone of BMW's I-Drive, and almost as complex and frustrating. The **** itself has a solid feel and seems to be made of nice materials, but the display itself, in a NAV-Like center-dash screen, drove me up the wall just trying to do simple things like adjusting radio volume, stations, fan-speed settings, etc..... although, to be fair, radio volume can be adjusted with the steering-wheel control as well. Ah, yes, for the days of simple, no-nonsense ***** and switches where you knew exactly what you were doing at any given second and didn't have to pretend you were Spock and Chekov on Star Trek.
Now, before you MMI and I-Drive fans start tossing things at me, yes, I KNOW that there are some of you who LIKE this sort of computerized console and dash-mounted junk. Again, like with the oversize, El Jumbo grille, if you like it, fine.........more power to you. Just don't count me in those numbers.
Audis are getting more and more of a reputation these days in the auto press as Driving Machines, and good competition to BMW. Is that newfound reputation justified? Yes....and No....as we will now see.
Take the plastic-cased key housing, push the chrome button on it, and, like with other VW/Audi products, the metal ignition key flips out like a jacknife. The metal key goes in the ignition switch, old-style (no push-buttons on the 3.6 models). The engine starts up and idles reasonably smooth and quiet (not quite a Lexus LS460, of course), Get the seats, mirrors, and belts adjusted, and slip the 6-speed Tiptronic transmission into gear. This relatively large, long, and heavy (5020 lb) vehicle is surprisingly agile in the parking lot, has a good turning radius for its size, and I was able to manuver it through some pretty tight spaces and corners in the lot getting it out to the road. Once on the road, the 5000 lb. weight takes its toll on the somewhat overburdened V6....even with the help of the transmission's 6 gears. The 3.6 has enough power for normal, sedate driving on relatively level surfaces and light loads, but for a full load in hilly terrain, the 4.2 V8 might be a better choice despite its higher price tag....and the 3.6, as I described earlier, is itself is no Cheapie. The Quattro AWD system, so good otherwise in inclement weather, also takes its toll on acceleration with its weight and drag. After driving the Dodge Nitro last week, with its tin-can-loud exhaust and engine drone, the much quieter nature of the Q7's 3.6 was a pleasure. Not LS460 levels, of course, but smooth and quiet more or less befitting the price.
The Tiptronic transmission, especially when cold, did not have the superbly smooth, instantaneous shifting of Audi's own DSG (Direct-Shift-Gearbox) transmisson, nor could I find the DSG listed for the Q7 as an option....perhaps the engineers have not figured out a way to bolt it to either the 3.6 or 4.2 and Quattro like they have with the 3.2. Still, there is nothing wrong with the Tiptronic. It is not as buttery-smooth as the DSG, but with its quick, firm shifts, it makes the most of the V6's torque trying to haul this two and a half-ton vehicle around. The shifter itself could be a little more solid-feeling, though...it, along with the steering-column stalks and a couple of dash buttons, was one of the few cheap-feeling pieces inside.
The ride is generally quiet, partly due to good sound insulation and the excellent quality of the body construction. It is a fairly good highway cruiser on smooth roads but is a little stiffly-sprung for rough roads and sharp bumps, which are heard and felt as thumps. This is with the standard 18-inch wheels...the 19-inchers and lower-profile tires on some other Q7s (and available as an option on the 3.6) could be expected to be a little stiffer.
The brakes are one of the Q7's best features, especially by the El Sponge-o, wet-noodle braking standards on many American SUV's. The brakes have a firm feel, with almost no sponginess, instantaneous response, good modulation, and evenness of response. German drivers, apparantly, will not put up with second-rate brakes. The only thing I disliked about the braking system is something that I find on a lot of vehicles...my big, size-15 clodhoppers sometimes get hung up momentarily on the underside of the brake pedal when I lift my foot off the gas. This makes difficult to do heel-and-toe shifting, but on a vehicle like this, with a Tiptronic and no clutch, you're not going to be heel-and-toeing anyway.
Now,for the BEST part............the handling. On a twisty road is where new Audis come closest to being BMWs. Even this big, heavy SUV had, for its size and weight and high center of gravity, just superlative handling. One must remember that the Q7 comes from the also-superb Porsche Cayenne Platform. Not only was the cornering flat and steering response virtually instantaneous, but the power steering had a feel just as smooth and slick as molasses...the only fly in the ointment was too little effort in the power steering and too-little road feel. If Audi engineers would give the power steering just a little less boost at lower speeds and a little more steering effort, it would be as perfect as almost any BMW's....the front suspension, for cornering, is just about ideal, and would probably be even better with the optional 19" wheels.
So...the verdict? Overall, the Q7 is an interesting mix of high-quality construction, a rather high price, semi-sports-car handling, all-weather traction, versatility, luxury, and classiness. Though, like other German cars, the electronics may not hold up well, overall, its German Black Forest Elf quality reminds one vaguely of the way that BMWs and Mercedes products were built some 20-30 years ago, before the disastrous quality slide of recent years. I, personally, would toss the grille, the MMI, and a few of the interior plastic pieces in the trash, give the power steering just a little more effort, and change the exterior paint colors and their pricing a little, but would easily keep just about everyting else....Audi, overall, has done a good job with this vehicle, and, while pricey, there are far worse ways to spend your hard-earned automotive dollars.