March 19, 2005
With literally a half day's notice Audi of America recently invited an exclusive group of journalists for a behind-closed-doors unveiling of their new SUV, the Q7. Although we had caught a very brief glimpse of the Q7 a few weeks earlier at quattro Night in Ingolstadt, this would be AudiWorld's first chance to view the Q7 up close and personal.
No photos were allowed, but an impressive who's who from Audi was on hand to answer questions - Audi AG Chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Executive Vice President of Audi of America Johan De Nysschen, Q7 designer Danny Garand, and Head of Design Audi AG Gerhard Pfefferle to name a few. After a brief introduction by Dr. Winterkorn, the Q7 was uncovered in near-production form.
Based closely on the Pikes Peak quattro concept of 2003, the Q7 will be built on the same platform as the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne. Having said that, its wheelbase is actually almost 6-inches longer than the Touareg and the extra length gives it a stretched and sleek look. The SUV's proportions work so well together that the overall look provides the strong impression of a large A6 Avant. Compared to the Pikes Peak, we noticed very little changes to the sheet metal. Items like the headlights, tail lights, rear view mirrors, and door handles are more traditional rather than the extreme versions found on the concept.
Up front, the grille forgoes the painted horizontal strip from the concept and adopts the standard dark grey found on the rest of Audi's lineup. The chrome strip around the grill is fairly narrow compared to the other models, this helps make the singleframe grille a little less overpowering. LED turn signals are located below the bumper and fog lights are located near the bottom of the front valance. Large front air ducts are currently blocked, but will be open for the larger engines that could be available.
The Q7's profile features the classic proportions of Audi's current Avants; a high shoulder line, narrow window area, sloping roofline toward the rear, and an angled rear window all figure into the design formula. We're told that the sloping roofline isn't as extreme as on the Pikes Peak, but are hard pressed to notice a major change. Unlike the concept, the Q7 offers two roof rails running the length of the roof similar to those found on the new A6 Avant.
The rear of the Q7 offers the greatest departure from the Pikes Peak where once again similarities to the new A6 Avant are prevalent. The taillights are the same basic shape as the Avant, the tips of which end to form the top corners of the license plate opening. The rear bumper features two long and thin reflectors which could possibly be turn signals or rear fog lights. Two exhaust tips protrude through small notches in the rear bumper.
Audi is readily admitting that this will not be a true SUV, rather designing it for on-road use and only light duty off-roading. The 20" wheels clearly drive home this point. For lack of a better term, the Q7 is more of a crossover vehicle rather than a rough-and-tough SUV. The quattro system will be the same torsen based system found on the rest of Audi's line-up (except TT and A3). An air-adjustable suspension will be standard equipment on the models with larger engines and should provide off-road capabilities greater than an allroad quattro. A non-adjustable suspension will be standard equipment on the base model.
The base engine will be a V6, most likely the 3.2 FSI that is found in the A4 and A6. This pre-production model had a V8 installed under the hood with plenty of room in the front of the engine bay to fit a longer engine. In fact, De Nysschen specifically pointed this extra room in the engine compartment out to us and all but confirmed that a V10 will eventually be available. A standard 6-speed Tiptronic was installed on this model with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
Inside, the dash and center layout is nearly identical to the A6. One addition is a single CD slot above the climate control unit - we're told that this is for the navigation disc. Below this CD slot are 6 buttons that appear to possibly control the 6-disc CD changer which is located below the center armrest. Despite the additional controls on the center stack, with more surface area the overall effect seems less cluttered than in the A6. With the North American market in mind, four cup holders are available for the front seats alone (two in the center console and one in each of the front doors).
Middle row seating is easily accessible through the wide opening rear doors. The seating did appear to be a little flat (both the bottom cushioning and the backrest) and the middle position looked like it could be uncomfortable for an adult on longer trips. Considering this was a pre-production model, we'll reserve final judgement on the issue. Legroom was decent and rear passengers have their own set of climate controls with air conditioning ducts in the C-pillars.
What sets the Q7 apart from the Touareg and Cayenne is the fact that it will offer optional 3rd row seating. The center row seat back folds down and slides forward to give access to the rear seating which, in our opinion, will only be suitable for children. The middle row can slide forward to give more legroom for the rear seats, but adults still will not want to sit back there for long. The third row can fold flat when not in use for more rear cargo area; an electric control for folding the third row will be optional. In addition, the middle row can also be folded flat for hauling large items.
There's no denying that Audi is extremely late with its SUV, however judging from our sneak preview we think they have designed an automobile that has a reasonable chance of success. The Q7 offers unique and sporty styling that will set it apart from today's SUV crowd. With a range of engines, transmissions, and options, it will be attractive to many luxury SUV buyers who are looking for something a little different than the rest of the pack.
Audi of America is projecting first year sales of the Q7 to be around 15,000 units, with a potential of up to 50,000 in a few years. The 50,000 a year figure is of course the one which has been previously attributed to De Nysschen, although he was happy to clarify for AudiWorld that that figure represents a future sales goal as opposed to a first year sales projection. Pricing and country specific options have not yet been determined, but we're hearing that the base V6 model will start around $45,000.
Look for the official specs and photos to be released at the Frankfurt auto show this fall, with the U.S. debut to be at Detroit in January 2006.