Audi hits luxury-performance SUV
target with new Q7
By John Gilbert, special to SNS
NEWARK, N.J. (SNS) Ė Sport utility
vehicles didnít make a lot of sense to Audi a few years ago, as
the German company rolled out a progression of high-tech and
well-crafted sedans and sports-performance models. That was then,
as they say, and this is now.
Audi is unveiling the Q7, mother ship to the entire
line, and a large SUV built to command a profitable alternative to
keep Audi customers away from those Escalades and Denalis.
Wolfgang Hoffmann put it all in simple terms when he
first introduced the Q7 to the North American media in New Jersey a
few weeks ago. "SUVs make up 60 per cent of the market in the U.S.,"
he said. "And we didnít have one.
Pretty simple. Large premium SUVs are often large
trucks with a great variance in amenities and performance, and if Audi
is looking for a proverbial home run, the Q7 touches all the bases of
performance, safety, style, and versatility.
"A lot of loyal Audi customers have one or two cars,
and a luxury SUV," said Hoffmann. "Twelve to 15 percent of customers
who left the Audi brand for their last purchase did it because we
didnít have an SUV."
The General Motors command of the large-SUV segment
is legendary, with the Tahoe/Yukon leading to the Cadillac Escalade,
which led back to the Denali, a luxury version of the Yukon for the
GMC division. All are newly redone for 2006.
"There are three generations of SUVs," said
Hoffmann. "First was the two-box design, which was a truck, with a
ladder-frame structure, designed to be rugged for heavy work and
off-road use. Next came the crossover SUVs in the í90s, built on car
platforms with the safety of car-like control, comfort, quality and
Now we are about to start the third generation Ė
Combining size, strength, luxury, safety and off-
and on-road performance takes some doing, but the Q7 calls those bets
Ė and raises the ante with its high-technology engine.
The Q7 has the latest generation of Audiís potent
4.2-liter V8, which Ė along with Audiís superb 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Ė made a list of top-10 engines in the world for 2006. The latest
version goes to four valves per cylinder with chain-driven dual
overhead camshafts, and direct injection.
Direct injection has
the effect of making engines feel more powerful than their size
indicates, with fuel economy expected only from much smaller
displacement. The direct-injection Audi V8 makes 350 horsepower
and 325 foot-pounds of torque, with 85 percent of its torque
unleashed from 2,000 RPMs and on up.
Despite a curb weight of 5,467 pounds, the Q7 will
sprint from 0-60 in just under 7 seconds, with an electronically
governed top speed of 130 mph.
A narrow-angle 3.6-liter V6 will be available later
this year, with 280 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque. The V6
model takes 8 seconds to reach 60, but the bigger difference is the
price of the two.
The large performance/luxury class vehicles, such as
the Escalade or Denali, cost $60,000 and more. The Q7 with the V8
starts at $59,900, while the same vehicle with the V6 starts at a
comparative bargain $49,900.
Over a thousand V8 model Q7s were presold before any
advertising even started, and projections are for the Q7 to be one of
Audiís best-selling models, even in its first year.
Because the V8 model was the only one available at
introduction time, all of our preliminary findings are on that
vehicle. Towing capacity is 5,500, or 6,000 with the towing package.
The Q7ís handling is superb, with double-wishbone
suspension on all four wheels, and settings for comfort, normal or
sport, and a steering system with lower boost at higher speeds, the Q7
has the road manners of a top sporty sedan.
"But," said chief engineer Frank van Meel, "we
didnít want to make a car that looked like it would do well off the
road, then break your axle when you tried it."
The optional air suspension can adjust ground
clearance from 6.5 to 9.5 inches, and it is complemented by ESP, an
electronic stability program that allows the driver to lock the wheels
to spin all four when necessary, and adds hill descent assist, which
lets you creep down steep embankments without riding the brakes.
The same six-speed automatic transmission, with
wide-spaced gears for on-road smoothness, can hunker down and perform
when the going gets rugged, too.
the subtle but significant changes Audi is making is to the
previous quattro standard of 50-50 torque feeding both axles. On
the Q7, the standard mix is 60 percent of the torque to the rear,
40 percent to the front.
That is more of what Mercedes and BMW have been
advocating over the years than what Audi has steadfastly used to
complement its front-wheel-drive base set-up.
Interestingly, BMW and Mercedes have altered their
all-wheel-drive mix to allow more power to the front at the same time
Audi is moving more power to the rear in its quattro.
But when the system detects any slippage, the torque
split alters itself, moving up to 65 percent to the front, or up to 85
percent to the rear.
When it comes to deciding on a $60,000 vehicle, it
is obvious that certain features might be pivotal. The Escalade, for
example, is basically a Tahoe with all sorts of creature amenities
that make it the premier prestige SUV. That well-earned title will be
threatened by both the new Mercedes GL and the Audi Q7.
The Q7 has the tall, vertical grille that denotes
all the new Audis, and on a large truck-like vehicle, Iíd say it looks
better than on the cars, where itís still a bit controversial. A
strong, high-strength steel frame and body are topped by a sleek
roofline, which houses three rows of seats. You could house seven
occupants, or two, plus enormous quantities of stuff.
With seven aboard, and all seats upright, there is
still 10.87 cubic feet of storage available behind the third seat.
With just the third row folded flat, it jumps to 42 cubic feet, and if
you fold down second and third rows, you can reach 72.5 cubic feet for
Obvious features include a choice of burl walnut,
olive ash, or Japanese tamo for real wood interior trim, plus a
back-up camera system, four-zone climate control, and an optional
panoramic sunroof that is a three-section picture window to the sky.
Adaptive cruise control lets you maintain a set
interval behind the vehicle ahead, and will slow you to a complete
stop if need be. Braking Guard uses a radar warning system to send a
signal if the vehicle ahead brakes harder than your braking attempt,
and if need be, it adds brake force.
Adaptive lights also shine around corners ahead, and a
radar-guided parking system gives you a rear video readout on the
navigation screen, with different color grid lines to help guide
you to safe and accurate backing up and parallel parking.
Some other companies have some of those same
features, but one that I think is unprecedented is the Q7
side-warning detector, which uses radar to note an overtaking
vehicle, and if it moves into the vehicleís blind spot, a panel of
LEDs on the side mirror light up as a warning to the driver.
Externally, Audi calls the Q7 styling "coupe-like,"
and boasts of dynamics that adapt well to both on-road and off-road
use, and "multifunctionality." I think that means it can handle
various functions, but Hoffmann stretched function to what I claim is
an 18-letter journalistic record with "multifunctionality."
The ability of a vehicle to have functions has led
to adding "functionality" to the automotive PR lexicon. Hoffmann also
referred to Audiís "DNA," another of the auto PR-speak buzzwords.
Every journalist I know cringes when "DNA" is used
to link models, whether or not a connection exists. Precious few, if
any, auto PR types even know that Deoxyribonucleic acid is the
structure of molecules forming two lines, whose paths intertwine in a
double-helix to bond two complementary components, thus forming the
chemical basis for linking heredity.
Hoffmann used DNA to prove the same company that
makes the A3, A4, A6, A8 and TT sports car is now making a
Director of marketing Stephen Berkov said: "We need
some reasons why SUVs are still OK. We think the Q7 proves that
performance can be efficient, safety can be exhilarating, design can
be beautiful, and functionality can be elegant."
For Audi, thatís not a badÖuhÖDNA. But the Germans
made a major concession to build the Q7 primarily for the U.S. market
by installing six cupholders and four more water bottle holders. "We
put in six cupholders," said Hoffmann.
"That was always a battle with the engineers.
They said, ĎWhat are these Americans DOING in their
Editor's note: John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.