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    By Kris Hansen

    When conducting our road tests, many times we find ourselves focusing on the maximum performance of a car, or the various technological items that make the car special, such as the sexy body, or the sumptuous interior. With this Q7 though, we decided to do things a little differently. Not becuase we don’t think the Q7 is worthy of other kinds of admiration, far from it, but in this case we had cause to use the car for a trip to New York to attend the New York International Auto Show. So, while we’ll pay attention to the good stuff under the skin, we’re not going to dwell on them this time, instead focusing on what most buyers will see when they meet the Q7.

    Most people would think that driving from a quaint Vermont town to the middle of Manhattan sounds like pure torture, mixed with a healthy dose of insanity. Generally speaking we’d agree, but we recently made that exact drive in the 2011 Q7 3.0T, and we found the experience to be quite enjoyable as amazing as that sounds, all thanks to the 2011 Q7 3.0TFSI.

    There’s something to be said for having more than enough room for whatever you and your passengers might want to bring along on an extended road trip, and this is espeically true when deailing with young children. With seating for up to 7 (while retaining decent luggage capacity), this is a perfect family vehicle for any length trip really. Even though we didn’t utilize the 3rd row of seats for the majority of our trip, we did discover that people over 5 feet tall are a bit cramped in those seats, unless the person is especially thin, flexible, and has smallish feet. Reason being, the space between the seats is merely adequate for knees, and there isn’t a lot of room under the second row of seats for feet. Leg room in the second row is also compromised somewhat when the 3rd row is utilized, because in order to use the 3rd row of seats, the second row seats need to be slid forward a bit. If front seat passengers are willing to help out, this is not as big of a deal. Suffice it to say, you’re not likely to put 7 large adults in a Q7.

    Audi has apparently never been overly interested in installing 900 cup holders and too many storage bins in their cars like some of the other American brands(and quite frankly, we’ve never really paid all that much attention to them, so maybe Audi is on to something), perhaps feeling that those kinds of things don’t belong in a car, but the Q7 has very large storage bins in each of the door panels, which also contain oversized cup holders which will swallow 1 liter bottles with ease. There are 2 cup holders in between the front seats in the large center console, as well as in the second row arm rest (and in the 3rd row). These are merely sufficient though, we’re not sure a scalding hot cup of coffee belongs in them, as they don’t seem to be very robust. And with that, we realize that we spent too much time fussing with the cupholders in this car, but such is the life of a family car. The Q7 has lots of little nooks to stow things, a very nicely designed multi compartmented center console, a false floor in the rear covering a removable tray where wet or dirty items can be stowed. All of this comes in handy on the road with kids.

    Luggage space is beyond generous, we can’t imagine bringing enough luggage to fill a Q7. Seemingly needless to say, golf clubs and skis and other bulky items fit in the Q7 with room to spare.

    Thanks to the heated electrically adjustable and leather covered seats, passenger comfort is supreme. At first glance, the Q7 seats appear to be board flat and un-supportive, but that’s not the case. They certainly aren’t deeply bolstered like more sporty seats, but they’re very comfortable and not confining in any way. More importantly, they are easy to get into and out of, which helps with a tall vehicle like this. If the seat bottoms were deep, one would have to climb up and down too much to get in and out. We’d like to see an optional seat that’s more like the A6 seat which has a slide out thigh support, but that’s our only wish for the front seats, especially when the optional vented seats are fitted.

    In back, the roomy 40/20/40 split bench seat is again quite flat looking, but it’s perfectly comfortable, and the backrests actually recline a bit which adds to the long haul comfort. The seats are comfortable enough for young passengers to take their usual nap, and that makes parents happy. Because of the long flat roofline, headroom in the back seat is tremendous, and thanks to the 118 inch wheelbase, rear seat legroom is excellent.

    Even though we didn’t focus deeply on many of the high-tech bells and whistles that the Q7 is packed with, the excellent navigation system is something we relied on heavily during our trip. The Q7 retains the older style layout for the MMI controls which first appeared in the D2 A8 and C6 A6, though under the covers, the system has been updated with the 3rd generation MMI. Improvements to the system are primarily the new 3D graphics (and speed). The navigation system is capable of displaying buildings and other landmarks in major metropolitan areas. Audi also provides a small joystick atop the main MMI dial, which allows the user to scroll around the map to find points of interest or alternate routes. To our delight, we found that this latest generation is very good at finding the “right” way to go, which, when in unfamiliar areas, is very important – the last thing anyone wants is for their NAV system to send them to bad parts of town, and we were spared from any unfortunate detours the entire time.

    For a high riding vehicle, the Q7 manages to drive more like a car than a truck. It is extremely stable at highway speeds, and it is not dramatically tossed around by crosswinds. On twisty roads, the Q7 handles very well. The tall tires, which soak up every kind of bump and pothole, do tend to roll over a little during hard cornering, but that doesn’t diminish the car’s overall stability. If anything, it’s just a little less crisp than if it were fitted with lower profile tires. Steering feel is typical Audi, with no slop in the wheel, and the effort is nicely weighted. The Q7 responds very predictably to steering inputs, and does provide good feedback to the driver.

    In the city, avoiding kamikaze taxis and potholes is fun and easy thanks to the commanding view afforded by the towering ride height and massive expanses of glass. With quick and accurate steering, instant torque from the 275hp 3.0T engine, and mention the superb brakes, the Q7 reacts quickly to stabs at the pedals and tugs at the steering wheel. The ride is very comfortable thanks the long wheelbase, and tall tire sidewalls. The Q7 also turns extremely sharply for a vehicle of its length, something that also comes in handy in tight quarters.

    Even though by European standards the Q7 is a large vehicle, it’s not as big as it seems. Its only 3 inches longer than Ford’s new Explorer for example, having the same width mirror to mirror, and is 2 inches lower overall height. This means it will fit in almost any garage, residential or commercial. When compared to Audi’s own A6 Avant, its only 7 inches longer, and 1 full inch NARROWER. We know, it’s surprising to us as well. So if the Q7 is not a gigantic behemoth, where then does all of the extra interior space come from? For starters, the extra headroom goes a long way. The Q7 has over 2 inches of headroom advantage over the already roomy A6 Avant, and over 1 inch additional in hip and shoulder room. It feels very roomy indeed. Adding to the airy feeling of course is the optional panorama sunroof which brightens up the interior tremendously, and actually adds headroom to the interior, unlike traditional sunroofs which consume several inches in some cases.
    Luggage capacity with all rear seats up is 10 cubic feet. That’s only 2 cubic feet less than an A4 sedan’s trunk. With all of the seats folded, the interior capacity is 144 cubic feet. This car is positively cavernous.

    Our Q7 was of the non-S-line variety, which meant its 3.0TFSI V6 (supercharged, direct injected) engine is somewhat detuned at 275hp (295lb/ft torque) compared to 333 hp (325lb/ft) in the S-line version. We’re not 100% sure that the extra HP is needed, but who are we to turn away extra horses?

    In either state of tune, this marvelous engine is mated to the buttery smooth yet quick shifting 8 speed Tiptronic transmission. Off the line, the Q7 digs out of the hole very nicely for a vehicle of its size. No, it won’t set the world on fire with its acceleration, but it gets up to speed solidly, and with very little drama. We suspect the lower state of tune helps contribute to the average fuel consumption of around 21.5 mpg, which we though was just great considering the older 4.2 V8 powered versions of this car were known to drink gasoline like it was going out of style at around 15mpg, if you were lucky. The 8 speed transmission contributes to this we suspect, as the engine is very relaxed at highway speeds. Normally we feel compelled to boss the Tiptronic gearboxes around a little, but with the 8 speed, we find that it shifts fast enough, doesn’t hunt, and just seems to read our minds, so we just leave it in D and let Audi’s programming do its thing, which 99% of the time, is correct anyway.

    Once we escaped the confines of the Big Apple, we had the chance to sample the Q7 in a much more rural setting. Even though we left a relatively warm New York spring, Vermont was still gripped by a late winter, and our Q7 had the chance to play in some April snow. We are firm believers in proper tires for snow driving, and the tires that were fitted to the Q7 were not dedicated snow tires. Make no mistake, a car of this size will perform incredibly well with good snow tires, but can be a little scary without them. See, no matter how good your ABS and traction control systems are, they can’t overcome the laws of physics, and when tires run out of grip, there is not much you can do to get it back. We ventured up a road which is not maintained during the winter, and while the Q7’s traction control and quattro all wheel drive performed admirably, there were a few moments where the big car seemed like it was losing the battle with mechanical grip. With better tires however, this drive would have been as exciting as crossing the parking lot at the nearest shopping center, minus the runaway shopping carts.

    We’re really big fans of the Q7. Even though to some it’s too large to be a car, and others it’s too small to be a truck, and it’s not really an extreme off-road vehicle, and it’s not particularly sporty, it does what it was built to do, which is move people and their belongings from place to place safely and in any and all weather conditions. It does that incredibly well. We know we’d love to have one in our garage!

     


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