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Ten Second ReviewAlthough it's hardly low key, the Audi Q7 is a vehicle with hidden qualities. A great long distance cruiser, the vast Q7 can shrug off family duties easily and comes with an impressive range of petrol and diesel engines. Others are more nimble and certainly easier to park, but few 4x4 rivals feel quite as well built or as well thought through as the Q7.
BackgroundConfidence is not something that's in short supply at Audi these days and if one model characterises this mushrooming self assurance, it's the Q7 luxury 4x4. Audi arrived rather late to the premium SUV party and it seemed that no sooner did it get its coat off and elbow its way to the bar, than happy hour abruptly ended. Suddenly this class of vehicle was being frowned upon by the public for its perceived environmental profligacy and a certain overbearing attitude that seemed out of step with the times. It didn't help that the Q7 was designed to be one of the biggest and most ostentatious 4x4s of the lot. On face value, the latest model isn't exactly apologetic but beneath the surface it's an altogether friendlier proposition.
At the time of this model's launch, it had long been something of a mystery as to why Audi hadn't committed to the sports utility vehicle market earlier. With an all-wheel drive pedigree to be proud of, and enough badge equity in the tank to drive premium sales, Audi watched rivals such as BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volvo clean up. Even sister company Volkswagen brought the Touareg to market while Audi twiddled its thumbs. The twiddling stopped and soon afterwards the Q7 arrived. It was big, heavy, imposing and luxurious, a king-sized hunk of car. It looked somewhat at odds with the Audi brand which always aimed to be cool and ever so slightly self effacing but these are hard qualities to replicate in a two tonne SUV.
Driving ExperienceFour engines are available with big petrol units now notable by their absence. The entry-level petrol is the supercharged six-cylinder 3.0 TFSI, developing 268bhp. This sits below a 328bhp version of the same engine with fully 440Nm of torque between 2,900 and 5,300rpm. Of greater relevance to the UK market is the 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel. This engine is available in standard or 'Clean Diesel' guises, with the later using advanced combustion and exhaust after-treatment technologies to boost efficiency further clean up its act.
Finally, there's the muscular 335bhp 4.2-litre V8 TDI powerplant which comes bristling with 800Nm of torque between 1,750 and 2,750rpm. It's the liveliest Q7 up to 60mph with a time of 6.4s and a 150mph top speed. The more powerful of the 3.0-litre petrol engines has a 6.9s sprint that's faster than the old V8 petrol unit and a 152mph top speed.
The Q7 is equipped as standard with quattro permanent four-wheel drive. Its Torsen centre differential directs power to all four wheels, on-road and off-road, which means fast-reacting power to whichever wheel can best deploy it and excellent lateral stability - the prerequisites for optimum driving dynamics and safety. The driver benefits - also thanks to virtually balanced axle load distribution - from impressive agility and steering precision that remains practically free of torque steer even when you drop the hammer in a V8 model.
The standard gearbox is Audi's eight-speed automatic which can be operated through paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Normal or Sport modes can be selected for the automatic shifting and the unit improves fuel economy by five per cent compared to the old six-speed system.
Design and BuildThere are small aircraft carriers that would cut a less commanding dash than the Q7 if parked on a suburban driveway and the latest facelifted models do little to tone down the shock and awe attitude of the original. The suck-you-up-and-spit-you-out front end is enhanced by more shapely bumpers incorporating under-body protectors while the rear gets a natty set of LED light clusters. Inside, the instrument cluster and the controls have been redesigned and nudged up market. The Q7 is 5,086mm long and very nearly two meters wide so despite the inefficiencies of the high riding SUV shape, it still has bundles of room inside. Build quality is up to Audi's usual high standards and the control interface remains arguably the most user-friendly in the sector.
There are three rows of seats that slide and fold in the usual MPV-like fashion. Audi claims 28 seating and loading configurations are available in the Q7 and the seats in the second row are adjustable for fore/aft movement. This allows Audi to not only lay claim to the most generous second row legroom in the class but also - with the second row slid forward and the rear folded - to also pinch first prize for luggage capacity, a huge 775 litres.
Market and ModelThree trim levels are offered - base, SE and S line. There are some surprising omissions from the kit list of the entry-level cars, so be prepared to dip into Audi's pricy options list but the bigger engines are only offered in SE and S-line trim where things get a bit more luxurious. SE models get 19" alloy wheels and Bluetooth mobile phone technology while the S-line adds LED running lights, heated front seats and xenon headlamps. The options list includes a hard disc based sat nav system with music storage functionality, climate controlled front seats and carbon ceramic brakes amongst other expensive niceties.
There are some extremely thoughtful touches to the Q7. The ability to raise the tailgate from the keyfob is one that draws jealous glances from other 4x4 owners. Likewise, the ability to raise the car on its air suspension going from autoroute bullet to monster truck ground clearance in a matter of seconds is also something it's tough to get tired of. What really impresses about the Q7 though is just how accessible all of these systems are. Yes, there are manuals in the glove box that together total over 700 pages but you'll rarely need to consult them. Unlike in a rival BMW or Mercedes, there are very few times when the control systems flummox you.
Cost of OwnershipThere was a time when manufacturers of large SUVs could successfully gloss over environmental and running cost issues but in today's climate, even buyers at this end of the market are keeping a closer eye on the bottom line. The latest Q7 takes steps to up its performance in this regard with its TDI Clean Diesel system that's present on the 3.0 TDI Clean Diesel.
Fittingly, given the Q7's bulk, Audi has employed technology that's been widely used in heavy commercial vehicles for some time which injects a urea solution called AdBlue into the exhaust gasses before they emerge from the tailpipe. The chemical splits harmful nitrogen oxides into harmless water and nitrogen. Together with the advanced combustion technology, kinetic energy recovery and exhaust gas recirculation, it helps the Q7 clean up its act. Combined economy of 33.6mpg and emissions compliant with the Euro VI standard are achieved by the 3.0 TDI Clean Diesel car.
The other Q7 engines do a reasonable job considering the vehicle's prodigious size and the power they're generating. All models feature the kinetic energy recovery system helping them achieve official economy figures of 31mpg for the 4.2 TDI and 26mpg for both versions of the 3.0 TFSI petrol.
SummarySuch is the level of excellence amongst vehicles in its price bracket that whether or not the Q7 is the car for you often comes down to how well you get on with its styling and the Audi brand image. If you need a seven seat vehicle, there are plenty of far less ostentatious alternatives that can get the job done very well, but the Audi Q7 has an imperious presence that some will be magnetically drawn to. As a long distance family wagon, it's brilliant. It mops up the miles in total comfort, with easy to use control systems and electronic features. The interior is rugged and the engines offered are all extremely strong with decent economy from the latest range.
There are downsides to Q7 ownership that you'll have to live with on a day to day basis. The thing is huge. At over five metres long, you'll get used to driving past many parking spaces looking for one you can ease its bulk into. You'll also attract the ire of the eco-warriors should you drive it in town, which can be tiresome. Is the Q7 worth it? The desperate protests in the office when we were 'invited' to give our car back to the press office spoke volumes. Here's a vehicle that's big and clever without ever coming across as an obnoxious smart aleck. It's a trick few big 4x4s pull off.