Based on the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, the Q7 is a paragon of driving elegance and interior refinement. The Q7 rides on a longer wheelbase, however, and it has a more compliant ride than the Volkswagen and Porsche. The Q7 is also longer overall than the other two, and it is the only one to offer three-row seating.
To make its cabin more luxurious and inviting, Audi has equipped the Q7 with features not found on the Touareg or Cayenne. And when the weather turns sour, the Q7 benefits from Audi's decades of experience with quattro all-wheel drive. The Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen each use their own drivetrains.
The Audi Q7 is priced to compete with the Cadillac SRX, Lexus GX 470, and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.
With all-wheel drive, a choice of three powerful engines and the classiest interior in the segment, the Q7 deserves serious consideration when shopping for a luxury SUV. High-technology features such as its blind-spot warning system add to safety and convenience in the Q7.
The Q7 is available with a 3.6-liter V6, a 4.2-liter V8, and a 3.0-liter TDI diesel turbocharged dohc V6.
The 3.6 V6 for 2010 now qualifies as a 50-state ULEV Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle. The 3.6-liter V6 delivers 280 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The 4.2-liter V8 produces 350 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque.
The 3.0 diesel makes 325 horsepower at 3750 rpm and a very robust 406 pound-feet of torque at 1750 rpm. Not only does it deliver generous torque, it also has remarkable fuel economy. It is EPA-rated at 17 mpg City, 25 mpg Highway, which is 30 percent better fuel economy than a comparable V6 gasoline engine. The diesel model is known as the Q7 TDI and is said to be the world's cleanest diesel sport utility vehicle. It meets emissions regulations in all 50 states, and offers 600 miles of driving range on a single tank. The TDI diesel qualifies as a 50-state ULEV Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle.
The Q7 3.6 Premium Plus ($50,150) upgrades to Navigation, LCD color displays, real time traffic reporting, rearview camera, ultrasonic park assist, Bose 14-speaker audio, memory seats, panoramic sunroof, power rear sunshade, deluxe mirrors, and other features. Prestige features body-colored bumpers, 20-inch wheels with 275/45R20 all-season tires, automatic headlights, keyless ignition, leather-wrapped steering wheel with multi-function buttons. S-Line ($55,850) features S-line body-colored bumpers, 20-inch wheels with high-performance 275/45R20 tires, automatic headlights, shifter paddles, aluminum interior trim.
The Q7 3.0 TDI Premium ($50,900), Premium Plus ($56,900), Premium Plus S-Line ($58,900), Prestige ($60,900), and Prestige S-Line ($62,900) are equipped similarly.
The Q7 4.2 quattro Prestige ($61,000) and Prestige S-Line ($62,200) include the above features plus four-zone automatic climate control, navigation system with voice recognition, memory for the driver's seat and exterior mirrors, keyless access and starting, remote engine starting, Bose sound system, power rear liftgate, steering-linked adaptive bi-xenon headlights, P275/45R20 tires, and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.
Safety features on all Q7 models include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags, front side seat-mounted torso air bags, and side-curtain air bags that span all three rows of seats. Active safety features include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, Hill Descent Control, traction control, electronic stability program with rollover sensing, and quattro all-wheel drive. A tire-pressure monitor is standard. Rear-seat side torso air bags are optional, as is the Audi Side Assist blind spot warning system.
For 2010, the grille is finished in glossy black with vertical chrome stiprs, and Audi's trademark LED eyebrows accompany the newly specified xenon headlights. The blunt front end features Audi's signature bold grille flanked by menacing headlights at the leading edge of the sculpted hood. A heavily stylized front end deftly helps mask the formidable mass of the Q7's nose. Fog lights are set into the lower moldings.
Crisp side-view styling with articulated fenders and an arching roofline also do much to visually lessen the generous dimensions of the Q7. The newly updated 2010 exterior mirrors and mirror housings are perhaps the largest we've ever seen on a vehicle in this class. They should come in very handy when towing. Two stylish, full-length metal rails on the roof provide anchor points for accessory crossbars for securing cargo on the roof. For 2010, the lower side panels' finish vary from model to model: a contrasting lower panel paint scheme for the V6, full body paint with chrome for the TDI diesel and S line appearance treatment for the top-of-the-line 4.2 V8 quattro models. Updated 2010 front and rear bumpers are featured on all models.
The Q7's rear view is dominated by updated, high-mounted horizontal taillights with LED illumination and fiber-optic/LED turn signals. The cut line for the tailgate sweeps outward around the taillights to become a styling element of its own.
Lower moldings are rendered in a durable, unpainted, chip-resistant material that is color-keyed to the paint above. With the available S-Line appearance package, they are replaced by more aggressively styled lower moldings that are painted to match the body.
Cold weather features include pull-type door handles that are easy to use with gloves and wide-sweeping windshield wipers that, when not in use, rest on an area heated by the interior vents in order to prevent freezing.
The Q7 seats six or seven with the standard third-row seat. (A five-passenger version is no longer available.) A six-passenger arrangement is available with second-row bucket seats separated by a center console, and the third-row bench behind it.
The front bucket seats are superb with power adjustment in most directions. The driver's seat is comfortable and most drivers should find the driving position nearly perfect. Leather upholstery is standard on all models. Leather also covers the three-spoke steering wheel, which features redundant audio controls. Getting in and out is easy thanks to large doors and a reasonably low floor.
The second-row 40/20/40 split rear bench seat allows cargo and passenger flexibility. This bench seat allows second-row passengers to slide rearward up to four inches for extra legroom, and the second-row seatbacks are designed to recline up to 10 degrees for more relaxed comfort. A benefit of the bench seat is that there is no center console to get in the way when it's folded down for cargo.
The six-passenger configuration comes with second-row bucket seats separated by a large console with storage and cup holders. The latter arrangement feels more upscale. We found the second-row bucket seats more comfortable than the bench seats. It also makes the third row feel less confining, thanks to better forward vision. However, the bucket seats with center console diminish cargo capability and dog friendliness, so consider this carefully before ordering second-row buckets.
Interior trim speaks of high quality, with padded surfaces everywhere one can touch and virtually no hard plastics. Three different kinds of wood are available, as is patterned aluminum trim. The mix of materials conveys a level of luxury that matches, if not exceeds, the Q7's price.
The gauges are clear and bright with an information display between the speedometer and tachometer which cycles through several menus via buttons on the steering wheel. Redundant navigation messages are also communicated through this display, even when the dashboard screen displays something else, a useful feature. The stalk-mounted cruise controls and the switches for the wipers and lights have a supple, expensive feel.
New for 2010 is the inclusion of a powerful new 3G MMI, or Multi-Media Interface. This upgraded MMI controls the stereo and other functions. And perhaps most significantly, it delivers an impactful 3-D navigation map display, thanks to a powerful new NVIDIA automotive graphics-processing chip. The system also delivers indispensable, real-time Sirius traffic reporting and features voice-activated destination-input control. Voice inputs such as, I'm hungry, I need gas and I need coffee will automatically direct the driver to the nearest location where the driver's needs can be satisfied. While designed to reduce the amount of buttons on the dashboard while adding even more features, the downside of this MMI is that it adds layers of complexity, requiring considerable time and practice to operate smoothly. The system features a central control dial and some 15 buttons to control the climate, audio, phone, and navigation systems, as well as relevant vehicle system information. The controls are situated on the horizontal surface behind the shift knob. In addition to the added complexity, using the MMI often requires a longer look away from the road.
Stereo choices for the Q7 include an AM/FM/CD unit with eight speakers, an AM/FM/6CD unit with 14 Bose speakers, and a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen system with 14 speakers. Sirius satellite radio is standard on all but the base model. We found the 14-speaker Bose system to be outstanding; sound remains clear at high volume and the system has a lot of power. While most of the audio adjustment functions are incorporated into MMI, the controls used most often, such as the volume and seek functions, are adjusted with clearly labeled buttons and knobs mounted sensibly and attractively on the center console, just in front of the armrest. The system also responds to voice commands.
The Rearview Camera and Parking System incorporates a camera in the liftgate to provide a view behind the vehicle when backing up. The image is clearly projected on the screen, with parking guide lines showing the path the vehicle would take given the steering wheel angle at the time. As the wheel turns, the guide lines change accordingly. We found this to be an extremely useful feature. It's especially valuable when backing up to a trailer, allowing the driver to position the receiver ball directly below the trailer hitch. It's also a great safety feature, whether backing out of the driveway or out of a space in a crowded shopping center parking lot, because it can help the driver spot people or objects difficult to see otherwise. It makes parallel parking easier and more efficient, helping the driver to back within an inch of the vehicle behind.
Dual-zone automatic climate controls are nothing new for this segment, but Audi made an effort to provide ventilation while reducing draftiness when the vehicle is being heated or cooled rapidly. Hence, the Q7 has an abundance of generously sized vents, including a diffused air vent at the base of the windshield in the front, as well as vents in both the B-pillar and the rear of the center console for second-row occupants. Four-zone climate control is optional, featuring two zones in front and two zones for the second-row passengers, nice but not inexpensive.
Interior cubby storage space is merely adequate. The glove box is tiny, but features a handy air duct that draws in air from the climate control system to help prevent melting lip balm or lipstick on hot days. Additional storage is found under the armrest and in pockets in the doors. The Q7 is available with up to six 12-volt power points, including one in the tailgate, as well as 10 cup holders, including molded bottle holders in each door.
Cargo space is on par with other luxury SUVs with three rows of seats. There isn't much space behind the third row, so hauling anything but groceries will likely require that at least one half of the 50/50 split third-row seat be folded away. But, thanks to the sliding second-row seats and flat-folding seat stowing, the Q7 makes the most of its 72.5 cubic feet of available space. Five-passenger models feature an additional storage compartment behind the rear seat.
Loading cargo into the Q7 is facilitated by a wraparound tailgate that reveals a very wide opening. The available power tailgate is handy, especially when walking to the vehicle with an armload. Particularly clever is the load assist feature that lowers the rear of the vehicle approximately three inches at the touch of a button in the cargo area, handy when loading dogs as well as groceries. Numerous tie-down hooks and floor tracks are designed to fit accessory cargo securing devices available at Audi dealerships.
The Open Sky System is a full-length, three-panel panoramic glass moonroof that brightens the interior significantly. About 5.5 feet in length, the system consists of three tinted glass panels spanning all seating areas. The front section slides back over the fixed second section for full exposure for front seat occupants; another glass panel over the third-row seat and cargo area tilts up for added ventilation. A power retractable sunshade helps keep heat down on hot days.
The 3.0-liter V6 TDI diesel delivers ample power, providing seamless and nearly soundless thrust. The real story here is the TDI's massive 406 pound-feet of torque at just 1750 rpm. With this diesel engine's flexible power, immediate sturdy acceleration is always on tap no matter how fast the engine is turning. This characteristic makes the TDI an unusually reassuring and stress-free driver, and that is despite Q7 TDI's very considerable heft of 5,512 pounds. Under strong acceleration, the diesel makes a throaty growl, yet in neutral-throttle cruising, only the most discerning ear will hear that this is a fossil-burner. And furnished with the optional Towing Package, capable of hauling 6,600 pounds, the torque-heavy diesel will be happy in its work. The TDI produces about 25 percent less carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline engine and reduces nitrogen oxides by up to 90 percent when compared to past diesels. And, with its efficient filters, the exhaust coming out the tailpipe can contain less particulate matter, that nasty black soot, than the ambient air that went into the engine. The TDI should last longer than a comparable gasoline engine, which should pay dividends in resale value and long-term ownership value.
The 280-hp V6 gasoline engine is more than adequate for most drivers, with plenty of smooth acceleration available despite a high curb weight of 5,080 pounds. The V6 emits a satisfying growl under full throttle but goes virtually silent when coasting or cruising.
The forceful 350-hp 4.2-liter V8 offers more power than most drivers need and impressive acceleration numbers (0-60 in just 7.0 seconds, according to Audi).
Fuel economy with the 3.6-liter V6 is an EPA-estimated 14/20 miles per gallon City/Highway. The 4.2-liter V8 is thirstier, rated at 13/18 mpg City/Highway. The 3.0 TDI diesel is EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts so smoothly it's almost imperceptible except during full-throttle acceleration. The Sport mode provides faster shifts and automatically holds gears a bit longer for more responsive performance. If the driver wants to shift manually, the Tiptronic manual shift feature is selected by moving the shift lever to the right, then tapping it up or down as desired. The multi-information display in the instrument cluster clearly displays the selected gear.
Quattro all-wheel drive works full time and requires no driver input. Normally, power is delivered to the front and rear wheels in a 42/58 percent split to create a rear-wheel-drive bias for confident dry-weather handling. When driving conditions become such that traction becomes compromised, the torque split is automatically adjusted between the parameters of 65/35 to 15/85 percent, front-to-rear.
Electronic stability control, or ESC, manages wheel slip by applying the brake at the slipping wheel without interrupting power deliver to the wheels with grip. The system helps maintain stability in corners by lightly applying the brakes to individual wheels when the vehicle's path doesn't match the driver's intentions. The Q7's electronic stability control system is enhanced with an off-road mode that can be switched on to allow some slip for smooth power delivery on gravel roads. For steep, slippery grades, Hill Descent Control automatically maintains a 12-mph speed by applying the brakes to individual wheels without driver input, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering.
Towing capacity starts at 5500 pounds for all models but rises to 6600 pounds with the optional towing package. The Adaptive Air Suspension features a trailer mode that helps manage the unique physics of towing. The Adaptive Air Suspension is self-leveling, so when towing you're not blinding other drivers with your low beams. The Q7 also has a Tow mode for the electronic stability control calibrated to counteract swaying motions that can become dangerous when pulling a trailer. With its longer wheelbase, the Q7 should make a better tow vehicle than would the Volkswagen Touareg.
The Q7's power steering is speed-sensitive, reducing the amount of assistance at higher speeds to deliver more road feel. Steering isn't as heavy as that in the BMW X5, for example, but nor is it as light as that of the GMC Yukon. On-center feel is outstanding, with steering inputs met by quick response, and it's just 2.7 turns of the steering wheel from lock to lock.
Handling is superb for a vehicle of this size. The Q7 is only two inches shorter than a Cadillac Escalade and actually has a longer wheelbase. Nonetheless, it feels much smaller, reacting readily to quick changes of direction. Only in close-quarter handling, such as in parking lots or parallel parking, does the Q7's size become evident.
The Adaptive Air Suspension uses electronically controlled, air-filled shocks in place of traditional steel springs and allows the driver to select one of three firmness settings, as well as raise the vehicle to a ground clearance of 8.5 inches for deep snow or off-road driving. The Comfort setting allows the suspension to absorb more road impacts for a relatively smooth ride at all situations. The Automatic mode offers compliance during straight-line travel, but stiffens up during cornering for tauter handling. The Dynamic mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches to a ground clearance of 6.5 inches, which lowers the center of gravity and enhances aerodynamics. Generally, we found the Q7's ride to be acceptable though firm, even in the softest Comfort setting. That's typical of a German sedan. We preferred the Automatic setting during normal driving in the 4.2 models we've driven because Automatic offered the best ride and handling balance. The Dynamic setting was noticeably stiffer; rewarding during enthusiastic driving, but hard enough that we switched back to Automatic or Comfort for around-town motoring.
We also drove the 3.6 Premium model with 20-inch wheels and without the air suspension. In a tough test on pockmarked Chicago roads the Q7 proved to be firm but never harsh. It ironed out the small stuff well and significantly limited the harshness of sharp bumps and potholes. The base suspension is a good choice if you won't tow with your Q7 or don't need the height adjustments.
We haven't driven a Q7 off road, but are confident it's up to the task. We were very impressed by the off-road capability of the shorter but similar Volkswagen Touareg on technical trails at Moab, Utah. And we were very impressed with the handling of the Porsche Cayenne when driven at competition speeds on gravel roads in Texas. The Q7 has short overhangs, generous vertical wheel travel and amazing traction technology, and promises to be quite capable. Audi says it can ford up to 20 inches of water and can climb a 31-degree slope. In short, it will go places most drivers would never consider attempting. Its longer wheelbase means the Q7 isn't quite as capable in rugged terrain as the Touareg, but it should be more than sufficient for all but the most serious off-road driving.
The brakes feature four-wheel discs, ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Brake Assist, all of which can help the driver maintain control after slamming on the binders. We found the Q7's brakes terrific: They were responsive, with a firm yet communicative pedal. There was no hint of brake fade whatsoever on our spirited drives.
Adaptive Cruise Control goes a step further than conventional cruise control systems by using radar to maintain a constant distance between the Q7 and the vehicle ahead, accelerating and braking as necessary. The Q7's system is unusual in its ability to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, and then accelerate again all the way to speeds up to 90 miles per hour without any driver input. The Q7 driver can specify how aggressively the system will operate, from sporty to leisurely. Most systems from other automakers will not stop the car completely.
Side Assist employs a radar sensor mounted in the rear bumper to monitor the presence of vehicles occupying or entering the Q7's blind spots. The presence of a vehicle traveling alongside the Q7 within the 16.5-foot range of the sensor will prompt subtle amber LEDs to illuminate in the corresponding outside mirror housing. If a turn signal is switched on, indicating a pending lane change, the LEDs become brighter and start to flash. The system is active at speeds above 35 mph and can be deactivated. We found this system works well, helping alert us to cars in our blindspots while driving on L.A.'s I-405, one of the nation's busiest freeways. The system can be turned off when not desired.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Ted West, Kirk Bell, and Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.