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Audi Q7 – An Industry Benchmark Beyond Its Interior

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.


Audi’s Absence in SUV Market Cost Sales and Market Share – Q7 Provides Critically Important Entry
The explosion of luxury nameplate sales has been primarily fueled by SUVs and Audi was in no position to reap any of these sales rewards with only the Allroad to do battle with the likes of the X5 and RX 300. Now after nearly a decade, Audi has decided to join the fray with the Q7, its first real SUV. The company has taken a last-in-but-best attitude about its first and most important SUV. Derived from the same platform that gives us the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Q7 is larger than both. Riding on a 118.2″ wheelbase (almost a half foot longer than the Touareg/Cayenne duo) the Q7 is only fractionally shorter than a new 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe. Unlike the two vehicles with which it shares its platform, the Audi is offered with three rows of seats that can give the capacity for as many as seven people. But in spite of its larger size, the Q is only fractionally heavier (less than 70 pounds) than either the Touareg or Cayenne (V6 for V6 or V8 for V8). Reported weight for the V8 Q7 is still a far from light 5,269 pounds.


Q7 Launches With V8 – Adds Other Powertrains Later
Speaking of engines, on paper the Audi and VW share V8 engines but the devil is in the details. Both are 32 valve 4.2L DOHC powerplants but the use of FSI direct fuel injection in the Audi yields and additional 40HP over the Touareg for an impressive 350HP @ 6800rpm. Like the Touareg, the Q7 features a six-speed automatic gearbox as the only transmission offering. While the Touareg comes with a low range as part of its standard kit, this feature isn’t available on the Q7. While electronic Hill Descent Control is fitted to the Audi, Q7’s primary focus is that an SUV that spends the vast majority of its time on-road rather than off. Which pretty much sums up the real world driving environment for luxury German SUVs.
The 350HP 4.2L bent-eight will be the only engine available in the Q7 when in launches is a couple of months. Come September the V8 will be Joined by a 280HP FSI 3.6L V6 that has been lifted from the 2006 Volkswagen Passat. While part of the same engine family, this Audi V6 is both larger in displacement and more powerful than the base V6 presently in the Touareg. It is expected that the 3.6L out of the Q will replace the standard 3.2L V6 in the Touareg in Fall 2006.

Multiple Seating and Interior Configurations Available
The option list for the Q7 is extensive for European specification models and will be pared down with many of the extras packaged into groups. The Q will be available in a choice of 5- 6- or 7-seat interior configuration. The five seater uses as 60/40 split-fold bench in the second row that has for inches of fore/aft travel. This leaves 27.4 cubic feet of loadspace behind the second row. The six passenger configuration fits two reclining bucket seats in the second row with a pair individual fold-flat seat in the third. Although the back row will accommodate average sized adults for a limited period of time, they are really best for folks 5′ 4″ or shorter. Getting back to the third row takes some effort for the less than nimble even with the easy-entry function of the second row. With the back chairs in use there is still a useable 11.3 cubic feet of storage space. The seven seater substitutes the bench from the 5-seat model for the pair of second row individual seats. With all seats folded the Q7 can carry up to 88 cubic feet of loot. In a critical miss, the Q7 lacks a power operated 3rd row seat. But, then again, so do the new GMT900 entries.
Yes, there are cupholders galore. one for each outboard seating position, as a matter of fact. And although I can imagine no good reason for doing so, each door can accommodate a 1.5L bottle of your favorite thing to spill. A power tailgate is optional on the 3.6 and standard on the 4.2L Q7. It can be opened and closed using a switch in the driver’s door, the remote control and via buttons on the tailgate itself.

Q7 Technology Yields Impressive Dynamics
Every car we were able to drive was equipped with the optional air suspension. This system replaces the Q7 four coil springs with air bladder units. With air suspension, the Q7’s ground clearance is variable, with the ability to raise the car for improved ground clearance. The system also lowers the car at freeway speed for a measurable reduction in drag and can be used to manage roll control when cornering. Because of the progressive spring rates of the air suspension system, the ride is very good. Ride is far superior to either the newly introduced second generation Mercedes-Benz ML and the BMW X5. Dynamic handling is also superior to the Mercedes.
In a change from what has been Audi custom for the post quarter of a century, the Q7 (like the latest Audi S4 and RS4) uses a 40%-60% torque split rather than the traditional 50-50 split of previous longitudinal Quattro-equipped vehicles. As a result, the car is noticeably more responsive in the twisties being easier to rotate when driving at speeds far beyond what in sensible. in this realm. the Q7 feels far more like a BMW than an Audi. ESP as been standard across the Audi range since 2001, but the system on the Q7 has ha a few ticks added to its act. The first of these is the previously mentioned Hill Descent Assist. First developed by BMW back when they owned Land Rover, the system optimizes brake performance and traction control for going down steep inclines and allows the and-lock ABS brake system to be shut off for enhance stopping on gravel or freshly fallen snow. On Q7s equipped with the optional towing bracket, the ESP unit adds a trailer stabilization program that is claimed to significantly reduce the risk of a fishtailing trailer by through of targeted brake intervention on the towing vehicle. Audi lists a standard 5,500 pound trailer load limit that can be raised to 6,600 when an optional towing accommodation package is ordered.


Side Assist – What’s That?
Another option that was at first met with some skepticism goes by the name Side Assist. Like the Audi, BMW Mercedes and high-end Lexus adaptive cruise control systems, Side Assist uses millimeter-wave intelligent radar technology. In the case of Side Assist the sensor package and software has been specifically designed for lane changes. The system monitors vehicles in or approaching both the right and left side blind spots using two 24-gigahertz radar sensors in the rear bumper. The sensors are said to have a range of up to 50 meters (about 164 feet). The info from the sensors is processed by the side assist ECM and if another vehicle is the critical zone at more or less the same speed or is approaching fast from the rear, yellow LEDs on the inner surface of the mirror housing light continuously. You only notice the LEDs only when looking in the mirror. They are unobtrusive when looking forward. with a car in the monitored area, if you use the turn indicators, the LEDs illuminate brighter and start flashing. Trust me, even if you just glance in the side mirror you’ll notice these. Driving around Phoenix and the eastern suburbs on the freeway the system proved itself more than a little valuable. Especially in some heavy afternoon (but still pre-rush hour) traffic.

Bewildering Option and Package Choices will Require Close Study of Offerings to Guarantee Proper Q7
Other items on the option list are a bewildering choice of alloy wheels in 18-, 19- and 20-inch diameters, adaptive (radar) cruise control with selective brake apply mode, a rear view park assist system with visual guidance (not unlike the system offered on some Infiniti models), a giant panoramic sunroof, Audi’s take on keyless starting (Advance Key), Bose surround sound system, DVD navigation, four-zone air conditioning. If you are fortunate enough to live where it snows regularly the Q7 has one features, a standard feature that is worth its weight in gold… smart windshield wipers. Rather than use the traditional wiper mechanism that uses a single direction of rotation electric motor driving an eccentric crank to reverse wiper direction, the motor electronically reverses the wipers direction of rotation. To prevent the wiper from deteriorating, the wiper blades are placed in a different direction after each use. At temperatures below 39°F the motor lifts the wipers slightly off the windshield. When parked this way they’re heated by underhood air and can’t freeze to the windshield. Cripes, I’ve been living in the Midwest too long.

Although Audi showed a Hybrid Q7 at the Frankfurt motor show in Fall 2005, the company is more serious about adding diesels to the North American product line. So serious is the company’s commitment to oil-fueled vehicles we would NOT be surprised to see a TDi powerplant in the Q7 lineup within the next 18 months. Currently the Q is marketed with a 233HP 3.0 V6 TDi common rail injection engine. With appreciable less on tap than the 3.6L gasoline six’s 280HP, the diesel spins out an eye-watering 368ft-lb of torque from as low as 1750rpm. Audi also has a powerful and torque-packed 4.2L turbodiesel in the wings for Europeean Q7s that could well make it to these shores. In the future Noeth American Q7 intenders can look forward to a performance-oriented S-Line model and sometime in 2007, a sizzling 5.2L V10 Q7 with well over 450HP under its hood.
Even without the V10 or the torque-packed oil-fueled V8, the Q7 works a lot better than the Mercedes ML, BMW X5 and Infiniti FX. It’s roomier than all of ’em and a more rewarding drive too. But this call is made in the absence of price information. The 4.2L V8 Q7 will carry a base sticker price of $49,900 ($50,620 w/destination charges). With a lower level of standard equipment and V6 engine, the Q7 3.6 should come in about $9,000 under the V8. Not cheap but certainly in the hunt with both its German competitors.
From a product standpoint at least, it looks like Audi’s last-in-the-segment-but-best strategy has paid off with Audi establishing yet another industry benchmark.

1 Comment

  • Vitaliy| December 1, 2006 at 11:50 am

    This is a great car i’ll buy one like this

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