March 17, 2008
Text and Photos by: Matt Daniels
After spending a few months on the west coast, it was time for the Q7 to return to the Rocky Mountains. AudiWorld Managing Editor Jason Teller flew out to the Bay Area in late January to bring the Q7 back to its home base in Denver. The trip was uneventful with the exception of a speeding ticket outside Reno, NV. Of note, the Adaptive Cruise maxes out at a setting of 95mph. The speeding ticket would have been much, much worse if the cruise could have been set at 100mph or above.
In anticipation of a few more months of winter we decided that a refresher course in winter driving conditions would be appropriate. To that end, a day of ice driving was scheduled at the Audi Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter Adult Ice Driving class at Georgetown Lake. The class consists of a morning classroom session and afternoon exercises on the frozen lake and is geared toward experienced adult drivers.
While the stock tires on the Q7 had proven adequate for most driving conditions, an investment in a set of snow tires for the school and the overall Colorado winter conditions would be beneficial. The set of 295/35VR-21 Pirelli Scorpion Ice & Snow were ordered from Tire Rack at a total cost of $1,099.52. Once the tires arrived, they were mounted and balanced on the stock rims at a local tire shop. We were actually lucky to receive these tires since 21″ snow tires are anything but ubiquitous. Having waited a little too long into the winter season it was only our great relationship with Tire Rack that made this possible since these snows were literally impossible to find locally or otherwise.
The night before the scheduled February 9th Ice Driving School, Jason had to back out unexpectedly and asked me to take his place. While I had had plenty of chances to see Q7’s over the years, including an undisguised pre-production model well before they had been unveiled, something has conspired against me actually driving one up to that point.
The day of the ACNA School proved to be one of the nicest of the year. The morning was beautiful and provided great weather to get acquainted with the Q7 for the first time. My initial impressions were that it’s extremely easy to drive considering its size – feeling more like a mid-sized sedan than the portly SUV that it is. The 4.2-liter V8 was more than adequate to get the heft moving in the mountains and the suspension made the ride nice and smooth. The transmission shifts smoothly, although I’ve since noticed it to be a little sluggish, accompanied with harsh gear changes, when it has been sitting outside overnight in the cold.
One feature I thought was going to be a gimmick, rather than a useful feature, was the Adaptive Cruise control. However, once I hit the I-70 ski traffic, which at one point slowed me down to an average speed of about 5mph, I discovered that the this feature is a wonderful option. During this slow section of I-70 I set the Adaptive Cruise control and as long as the traffic was moving it would keep me at a safe distance from the car in front of me. It would even bring the Q7 to a complete stop if necessary. I’ve found this feature to be excellent during rush hour when you normally wouldn’t be able to use cruise control and it is sorely missed now that I’ve returned the Q7 to AudiWorld.
In Georgetown I found the meeting location with help from the navigation system, although it wasn’t really needed. I also discovered that the wind had picked up in Georgetown with wind gusts up to 70mph forecasted for the day, which would make the afternoon exercises interesting for the large Q7.
The morning classroom session got off to a late start due to a number of people, like me, who were caught off-guard by the traffic. At 45 minutes, the classroom session was short but covered a good deal of valuable information that would be needed for the day: the major differences between front, rear & all-wheel drive systems and their effect on car control and weight transfer techniques.
After being assigned our run groups, we made our way over to the frozen lake where we spent the rest of the day. Lining up outside the lake entrance, the heavy wind gusts made their presence known by giving us a temporary white-out in the parking lot. The wind would be a constant battle throughout the day, and a lot of credit has to be given to our instructors who truly toughed it out all day long. At times the wind was literally strong enough to blow a person across the ice surface.
The morning ice exercises consisted of skid control, slalom and emergency lane changes, all made the more interesting by the wind swept smoothness of the frozen lake. While speeds rarely got above 20 mph, even the slightest change in direction could send a vehicle into a slide. These exercises allowed enough repetitions to get a good feel for the Q7 and eventually I could keep it pretty much completely under control or worst case bring it back under control quickly when it did slide out too far.
After breaking for lunch at a local restaurant the group returned to the lake for exercises that combined a number of the earlier drills into longer, more challenging ones. First up for my group was practicing the “Scandinavian Flick” which is a weight transfer technique that is commonly used by rally car drivers. While this may not seem too practical for everyday use, it did help in getting a feel for countersteering the Q7. The Q7 proved its versatility when it was used to demonstrate this technique with four students and the instructor on board. I can’t say I completely got the hang of this technique with the Q7, but it was fun to practice. The wind also didn’t help out, since once the Q7 started to slide, the wind would catch the sides and blow it off course.
During this part of the day, I apparently freaked the Q7 out a little, because an “ESP Fault” in the display screen and the EPS wouldn’t reengage (it was turned off most of the day). The owner’s manual wasn’t too helpful in deciphering this code, and after a couple of hours I was starting to get a little worried. But then, just as suddenly as it had broken, it fixed itself later in the day and hasn’t been a problem since. After the day was over, another Q7 driver had reported having EPS problems as well, but I was never able to talk to them long enough to get the details of their problem.
Later in the afternoon the Q7 once again proved to be a valuable asset when it was given the task to tow an A8 that had gotten high centered in a snow drift which had formed during the day. Clearance wasn’t an issue for the Q7 and the added towing package provided a convenient place to connect the tow strap.
The Q7 finished the day with a long autocross style course, which provided a chance to bring together all the skills we had learned during the day together. Again, speeds never got above 20-30mph, but it was still tremendous fun. Being able to take a large vehicle like the Q7 and slide it around the ice in a somewhat controlled manner was unexpectedly amusing. The ACNA School provided valuable experience for getting familiar with the Q7 and the lessons learned came in handy during the following weeks as a number of snowstorms hit the Denver area.
For the next few weeks the Q7 performed many day-to-day driving operations: commuting to work, hauling kids to school, volleyball practice and grocery shopping to name a few. One day at work I was able to fill it with five co-workers during lunch and while we all fit, I can’t say that the two that had to get into the third row wanted to do it again.
Other features I’ve learned to like about the Q7: the backup camera does come in handy, except when it’s covered in snow and ice, which has been a common occurrence. The seat heaters work amazingly well; in fact, this is the first car I’ve been in where they get too hot for my personal tastes. I enjoy the Sirius Satellite radio enough that I’ve never brought in my own music to listen to, although I have found myself wishing for an iPod auxiliary input.
When I first took delivery of the Q7 from Jason, he informed me that the Side Assist feature wasn’t working, and hadn’t worked for some time. The lane-assist feature lights up LED lights on exterior mirrors to warn you when another vehicle is in your blind spot. After a couple of weeks of driving the Q7 I discovered a button with a mirror icon on the driver’s door. Wondering what it did, I pressed it, and next thing I knew the lane-assist feature was working. Jason later disavowed all knowledge of how this could have happened since he swore he had tried the button earlier, so the malfunction shall remain a mystery. While it is working again, the Side Assist is one feature of the Q7 I do feel is more of a gimmick, as I don’t trust it much and still find myself checking over my shoulder anyway.
Other than regular maintenance, the Q7 hasn’t needed to visit the dealership and is just about due for another regular service. Currently it has covered just over 15,000 mostly trouble free miles, although some minor issues have come up; faint rattles, the hood release lever broke off once, but easily snapped back on, and a few times the radio/MMI has been shut off when getting in the car – which results in the back-up camera not automatically turning on. This could be an operator error, although we don’t recall ever purposely turning off the MMI when getting out of the car. We also had to have the rear hatch adjusted at the dealer early on, something we hear is common in Q7’s manufactured around the time that our Long Termer was.
Gas mileage is something left to be desired, as I only managed 15.6mph during my time with the vehicle. At one point, I figured I was spending over $10 a day for my commute to work, which is 21 miles each way.
The Q7 has proven to be a great addition to the Audi family and has performed its daily tasks with no major issues. Even my wife says she loves the Q7, which is pretty rare for her. It’ll be hard to go back to living with our VW van for family hauling, and even harder for me to go back to my beater Audi for my commute to work.
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