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.
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.