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FASHIONABLY LATE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, May 6, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

FASHIONABLY LATE

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Everyone else has arrived. A quick scan reveals virtually every car company has a sport utility vehicle to offer. Several are enormous monsters of metal and plastic, and some are relatively small. Looking around the market, a few are poster children for a capitalistic society, while some are simply utilitarian. All the local brands are here as are some from Asia, and others from Europe, but one is late to arrive. Audi may be fashionably late to the SUV party, but they evidently like to make a big entrance.

One does wonder what took Audi so damn long. Don't they know a good party when they see it? They produced the Audi All-Road years ago and that's still a tough act to follow. All the foot-dragging indirectly may have been the component to producing a SUV that will at the very least be concerning to the competition. Audi over the years had an ample amount of time to digest the best and worst of all brands. Although this is the first foray into the segment in the USA, you think they have been at this for decades.

Actually, Audi has numerous race wins under its belt, thanks to its incredible Quattro all-wheel drive system. They also have the benefit of carryover parts from Volkswagen, but only to the tune of fifteen percent. In addition, the Germans can pull this off, as they simply have a fantastic team that has produced outstanding sedans for their own brand as well as sports cars for Lamborghini. So why shouldn't they be able to pull this off?

On first sight, the Q7 is a handsome vehicle, and it has enough family traits that it is easy to recognize this as an Audi product. One of the most telling aspects of how well sorted the interior is came from my colleague. His faux pas stating this car has a nice interior rather than calling it an SUV says it all. There are no corners cut or lame excuses as to why the interior is anything less than flawless. Except for the ride height, it is difficult to distinguish this from one of the Audi sedans in terms of design, material or overall build quality. The shape is so smooth that the 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine with the air suspension set into the lowest mode possible, the Q7 registers .34 cd - a best in the SUV category.

The feel of the leather, to the wood trim, and metal details - all reflect what we have come to know and love about Audi. On closer inspection, all the gaps are tight and evenly spaced where one part meets another. The layout uses the brand's Multi Media Interface (MMI), which is one of the easily to use master control units incorporating many functions into a single central display unit. The MMI take only a few moments to get used to, as it is rather intuitive.

The Q7 actually doesn't just parallel the other sedans in content; it brings a few new items to the table. In response to troubles that might be encountered while traveling in reverse due to the size of the Q, Audi provides a new twist to the back-up camera. Beside a camera and audio cues as to collision avoidance, the screen also projects a trajectory of where the SUV will head - given the degree that the steering wheel is turned. The image is reminiscent of the superimposed scrimmage marker lines that are shown on television football broadcasts. I hate to say it, but technology is great. This doesn't replace good driving skills, it enhances them.

Another aide is the new side impact collision warning system that flashes a visual cue that an impact is possible in what might be the driver's blind spot to the either side. The visual warning is built into the side mirror, which is where most drivers would looks prior to changing lanes, again, an elegant means of creating a safer driving experience. A system on-and-off switch resides next to the driver door functions.

Audi also offers a speed sensitive cruise control that should make spotty traffic less annoying. On top of that the majority of the roof is glass, comprised of three panels - totaling around five and half feet long, two that slide back and the third pops upward. The panorama sunroof feature morphs the sport utility vehicle into a multi-person, luxury, sport-tourer just as fast as the window shade on the sunroof can retract.

All this is not just for the smooth, paved urban streets. The Q7 will handle much more diverse conditions. We take to the mountains above San Diego to get a feel of how the Q7 can absorb what mother nature can dish out.

As our elevation increases, the pavement yields to a bumpy, rutted narrow path - at times only suitably wide for travel by just one vehicle. There are no guardrails to prevent an accident. Due to the record rainfall last year, the erosion is extremely noticeable. More than just a few trees look as though they could at any moment fall from their perches above our Q7, either blocking the road, or taking us out completely in the process. It seems luck is on our side today, no accidents, no rain, or waterspouts, just some fog creating a white-out condition along the way to the summit.

City boys like myself don't wander down beaten dirt paths like this too often. In the Audi, it doesn't take issue with my lack of experience. The trick adjustable pneumatic suspension when set in Off-Road mode provides enough ground clearance and absorbing of all the imperfections the ground offers and simply shrugs them off. The steering wheel isn't twitching wildly even as we plunge into nasty crevices. Keeping the Tiptronic automatic transmission in the lower gears does help in maintaining a safe speed.

Being a bit of an urbanite, I don't know if I want to go off-roading in my personal and expensive SUV if I had one. I can see the potential for problems like dents, scratches, or even a tweaked alignment. Nevertheless, this Audi does a superb job of keeping me from making a fool of myself. As the officials from Audi mentioned, the Q7 is able to proceed further than even many of the best factory test drivers are willing to go. I can believe it given my small sampling.

The Audi Quattro system works great both on and off the pavement. The normal torque split is 40/60 front-to-rear, with the ability to vary that a maximum 25 percent greater or lesser to either end of the vehicle. Assisting our foray is the short overhangs that allow for bringing the end around without clipping anything, a big plus. The eight-cylinder motor provides plenty of get-up-and-go, with 350 horsepower and 300 pound-feetof torque.

Deeper into 2006, a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine that puts out 280 horsepower will be available. The six should lose just about a second 0-60, but it hopefully will offer better fuel economy. Looking into the years ahead, we will have the benefit of a diesel engine with more power and even better mileage. The engineers and designers are reshaping what it means to be an SUV. Audi puts the sport in sport utility vehicle.

Sport is one thing, and for Audi purists, it may be the most important item on the agenda. However, conceding to the needs of the soccer moms everywhere, the seating capacity is comfortable for seven. Certainly, the first two rows offer typical Audi first class comfort and room, the third is (as in many other SUVs) the domain of the kids. Even in the seating a few clever deviations from the norm allow for greater room. The third row has a floor that is not flat with the seat bottom, so that you don't have to eat your knees. They accomplished this by careful placement of all components that normally reside under the floorboard in that section.

Also so un-German is the abundant cup and bottle holders throughout. I'm beginning to think they are starting to understand the market in the US - they might not agree totally, but they do understand. Between cup holders and seating for seven, there is no reason to leave the party behind. Load 'em up and take the party on the road.

Even more impressive is when all but the first row of seats are stowed flat; the available cargo is 72.5 cubic feet. This is enough room to stuff most anything imaginable in the rear. Storage is still acceptable when just the third row is stowed, at 42 cubic feet. When all seats are upright the remaining space is just shy of 11 feet. While that might not be able to hold luggage for seven, it is enough to handle most of life's errands and grocery getting. And what it can't stow inside can be towed with a standard 5,500-pound capacity and an optional upgrade to 6,600 pounds.

Standard features include such niceties as Bi-xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting, power tailgate and 18-inch 7-spoke wheels. The premium version includes premium Cricket Leather, 4 zone climate control, heated seats both front and rear as well as steering wheel, DVD navigation with voice control, advanced key, rear Parktronic with rearview camera and Sirius satellite radio.

Audi makes no attempt to burnish a moniker on this calling it anything other than what it is, an SUV. And maybe that's what is so impressive, this so much more than what most offer. The Q7 isn't inexpensive by a long shot. There are plenty of others who offer less pricy vehicles, but few if any can offer this level of performance on and off road. How many can provide that and a sophisticated interior, a muscular power plant, and exceptional styling? This is a tough act to follow.

The Q7 makes up for lost time in a big hurry. Currently, with fuel prices as high as ever maybe this wouldn't seem like the best of times to launch a new SUV. But Audi doesn't appear too concerned with that. What matters isn't necessarily the price of fuel, or for that matter, which brand comes first to the party. What really matters is who's best!

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

007 turns to Q for amazing gizmos, everyone else relies upon a Q7. A perfect example of what a refined, feature laden SUV should be.

For more information please go to www.audiusa.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $49,990, Premium $59,900

Engine type: 4.2-Liter, Aluminum, 90 degree V8, variable intake manifold, continuous camshaft adjustment, DOHC

Horsepower: 350 @ 6,800 rpm (European)

Torque: 325 lb.-ft @ 3,500 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / all-wheel drive

Transmission type: 6-speed automatic with "Tiptronic®" feature

Suspension: Front: Double wishbone independent steel spring suspension Optional 4-Corner adjustable air suspension with five suspension settings

Rear: four link independent steel spring suspension Optional 4-Corner adjustable air suspension with five suspension settings, additional mode to lower rear axle for loading the trunk

Wheels and tires: Front: Standard: 18 x 8.5J Cast alloy, 255/55/18 Bridgestone Dueler HL400 (19" Goodyears, 20" Conti optional) Rear: 18 x 8.5J Cast alloy, 255/55/18 Bridgestone Dueler HL400 (19" Goodyears, 20" Conti optional)

Brakes: Front: Vented discs 13.89" diameter Rear: Vented discs 13.0" diameter

Service brake Dual circuit brake system with diagonal split, Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake pressure Distribution (EBD) and Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP); tandem brake booster

Overall length: 200.2"

Overall width: 78.1" (w/mirrors)

Overall height: 68.4"

Curb weight (lbs.): 5,269

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 14/19

Top Speed, mph: 130 (electronically limited)

0-60 mph: 7.0 seconds

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