As I wrote this, the Audi Q7 TDi we had been evaluating for the past week had just left. Some of us shed tears. Others did not. I am on the “did not shed tears” side of the equation and I’ll take you through my dry-eyed rationale.
The Q7 TDi is a nicely styled, outstandingly crafted vehicle, powered by what we consider its best powertrain – the 3.0L V6 turbo diesel with 225-horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, in the Q7, this engine has to pull 5,512 pounds (5,512 !!). Off the line at part throttle the Q7 TDi feels stuck in the sand. Once you are rolling, if you go pedal to the metal, the torque kicks in and the Q7 feels great. I guess this is something you could forgive or get used to, but out-of-the-box the Q7 feels sluggish for having so much torque.
AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards results are in. AutoPacific’s awards collect the opinions of OWNERS. There is no subjectivity added by AutoPacific at all.
Truck-Based Traditional SUVs Most Satisfying
As usual, there are expected winners and unexpected losers, but let’s take a look at some overall results that will surprise many of you.
The vehicle type with the highest Vehicle Satisfaction Score is the Traditional Sport Utility Vehicle category. These are truck-based SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade
, Toyota Sequoia
, Ford Explorer
, Toyota 4Runner
, Kia Sorento
, HUMMER H3
and Toyota FJ Cruiser
. In fact, the Toyota Sequoia was the top scoring vehicle – car or truck – in AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction results.
Car-Based Crossover SUVs More Satisfying than Cars, Minivans, Pickups
The second highest scoring category was the Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle category. These are car-based SUVs like the Audi Q7
, BMW X3
, Acura RDX
, Buick Enclave
, GMC Acadia
, Hyundai Veracruz
, Suzuki XL-7
, Ford Edge
, Saturn Vue
, Toyota RAV4
and Nissan Rogue
. Crossovers are the response by the automakers to make more user-friendly SUVs and in 2006 Crossover SUVs began outselling Traditional SUVs… a trend that will not be reversed.
Rated substantially behind SUVs are Cars, Minivans and Pickups.
Clearly, even in times of high and increasing fuel prices, SUVs are here to stay. Their Swiss Army Knife utility guarantees they will be a central part of a high many family fleets in the future. The continuing jihad against SUVs has failed again!
Audi Chooses Shanghai to Introduce Concept Previewing Upcoming Small Crossover SUV
Audi‘s second SUV is a smaller entry set to go into production next year in Ingolstadt, and will be named Q5 when it reaches dealerships. As the production date gets closer, Audi floated a preview in the form of the Cross Coupe Quattro concept at this year’s Shanghai auto show. Yes, that’s right. Audi gave a worldwide introduction of a major concept at a Chinese auto show. Audi was not alone in making major product news in China this month and we’ll only see more introductions in Shanghai and Beijing as the Chinese market grows.
The Audi Cross Coupe Quattro Concept face embodies Audi’s latest big-mouth grilles and clearly pulls from the Q7. As such, it is likely pretty close to the production Q5′s face, though the concept’s extremely fast rear roofline will get raised for production. A taller rear roofline will also improve the looks, to our way of thinking. Among the interesting features on the Cross Coupe Quattro is a power-folding fabric roof, a la the 2008 Jeep Liberty. The interior shows a new direction for Audi, and the initial photos promise that they haven’t lost their touch for creating great-looking interiors.
Lexus Brings a New Engine and a New Look to Its Flagship SUV
Lexus’ next LX, renamed LX 570 for its 381HP 5.7L V8 engine, was revealed at the 2007 New York auto show. The increased power, which also bumps towing capacity to 8500 pounds (up 2000 pounds), will be delivered with the help of a new six-speed automatic transmission. The new look brings the LX into the brand’s latest design family and generally updates its look significantly inside and out; having last had a major redesign for the 1998 model year, the SUV was looking dated. The new LX manages to bring its looks into this century without losing its basic style. You’re not likely to confuse the LX 570 for a Mercedes-Benz GL, or Audi Q7, or Land Rover Range Rover, or even Cadillac Escalade.
The new chassis and suspension underneath the new look is updated to today’s level of tricks. Lexus had already offered active height control and an adaptive variable suspension, but improved these elements with the 2008MY. The new system gives a greater range of motion and is cross-linked, allowing wheels to react to the action of opposing wheels as well as to driving surfaces. The system employs a valve at each corner as well as a center or master valve to detect extension or deflection of each wheel. The system, Lexus says, reduces body roll by more than thirty percent and changes ride height quickly. The chassis lowers by about two inches for ingress/egress and returns to normal height under acceleration. On the highway, the system will lower the front about an inch and the rear about a half inch.
The LX 570 improves off-road and off-pavement performance with several sets of electronic aids. The same active height system that adjusts vehicle height for freeway travel and that makes it easier to get in and out also maximizes ground clearance by raising the SUV by about three inches when the low range is selected. Further easing off-road performance, which most LXs likely see precious little of, is a Crawl Control feature. Selectable in low range, Crawl Control increases throttle control to help keep the vehicle at the appropriate low speeds, allowing the driver to focus on steering through the path or over obstacles. Crawl Control uses a set of virtual locking differentials to minimize tire slip and maximize chassis behavior. Without canceling the Crawl Control mode, the driver can use the brakes for slowing vehicle speed and increase or decrease speed by adjusting a speed selector switch. There’s also multi-terrain ABS technology, for reduced stopping distances on slippery surfaces.
Back in November 2005, a VehicleVoice Blog commented on the existence of a periodic jihad on sport utility vehicles in the USA and worldwide. The introduction of General Motors’ GMT900 SUVs – the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, plus the Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV have set the earth-is-flat crowd wailing again.
Audi Q7 Latest Target of SUV Jihad… This Time From British – Austrian Axis
But June 2006 intro of the Audi Q7 in the USA following its earlier introduction in Europe also will be watched closely. As Audi is about the last major brand to add an SUV to its lineup, it is a fresh target for the anti-SUV crowd. The March 2006 issue of CAR Magazine is a case in point. Georg Kacher, a 6-foot, 13-inch Austrian based in Germany, writes, “Big, heavy, chunky, aggressive, unwieldy – SUVs deplete our resources, tear up the countryside and flatten whatever they hit.
So why does a company like Audi, renowned for advanced engineering enter this bad karma segment?”
Because the market is allegedly craving a mud-crawler made in Ingolstadt, and because Audi firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game.”
As with many non-USA automotive journalists and even American buff book scribes, Kacher’s loathing of SUVs is mis-directed.
SUVs respond more to customer pull than manufacturer push. After the demise of station wagons (or estates as the Europeans so lovingly call them) and the image black hole called Minivans, came sport utility vehicles. These jack-of-all-trades vehicles carry people and stuff with aplomb. Well… more aplomb today than at any time in the past when they were admittedly crude trucks with a closed in cargo area. They go anywhere, anytime, with anyone, carrying anything within reason. They come in all flavors from the late and not particularly lamented Ford Excursion to the Suzuki Vitara. Populated between the Excursion and Vitara are SUVs of every ilk. Some are suited for suburban streets only. Some are rock crawlers. Some are designed to tow horse trailers and boats.
The beauty of SUVs is the breadth of choice within the segment. The SUV buyer has the luxury of choosing between more brands and more models than ever before. Like the overall auto industry, the larger SUV segment is atomizing into smaller and smaller niche entries.
Choice is good and Audi is welcomed.
Is Q7 the Benchmark the Industry Expects?
Audi has always been a technology innovator ranging from making full-time all-wheel-drive available across its range decades ago to the first application of an aluminum spaceframe for a production model. In recent years, Audi has been a benchmark in the execution of its interiors. Tasteful, elegant, functional… Audi interior could not be matched by anyone including BMW and Mercedes. Well, can the Q7 achieve benchmark status with its interior and move beyond that with its overall product excellence? Let’s find out.
Ever since the 1996 Audi A4 appeared, Audi’s have garnered a reputation of having the best executed interiors in the business. The company has more than earned this reputation over the last decade with each new model being better designed and better built than the version that preceded it. Over the last three years, the company has taken cost out of interiors of its volume models, but to Audi’s credit this has been done in a fashion that has proven to be all but unnoticeable to the customer and many competitors as well.
Audi NOT a Fast Follower Into SUV Market
One area where Audi hasn’t been at the forefront of the industry is the Sport Utility Vehicle market. While archrivals BMW and Mercedes were chasing down and defining the concept of the German premium nameplate SUV Audi decided to take another, far more timid direction… the SUV-trimmed station wagon. Audi’s Allroad was essentially an A6 wagon with a smattering of the cosmetic trimmings of an SUV. Overfenders, gray cladding and bumpers, air suspension for increased ground clearance and a few bits of aluminum at the front and rear to give the illusion of scrape guards was the limit of the company’s venture into the lucrative and exploding luxury SUV market. By using the same formula pioneered by Subaru when it dressed up its Legacy wagon with some SUV fluff and created the original Outback, Audi effectively stayed out of the X5-ML-RX 300-MDX battle but did so at the expense of total volume.