Audi has introduced its first SUV, the Q7 for 2007, and a gasoline-electric hybrid version will appear next year as a 2008 model.
A V-8 model arrived first, in the spring, with a base price of $50,620 (including freight). But this fall, two less-expensive V-6 models were introduced.
Called the Q7 3.6, prices for the V-6 models begin at $40,620. The second one is the 3.6 Premium version, starting at $46,620 (both prices include freight).
The Q7 is built on the same vehicle platform as the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne.
Under the hood of the V-8 model is a 4.2-liter engine rated at 350-horsepower. The V-6 models come with a 3.6-liter engine rated at 280 horsepower and 266 foot-pounds of torque.
Both engines are connected to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, with manual shifters for sportier driving. Both engines also come with gasoline direct injection.
As with the V-8, the 3.6 models come with Audi's patented fulltime Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
The V-6 models are well-equipped, including dual-zone automatic climate control; tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel; 12-way power adjustable driver's seat; 10 cupholders, 18-inch alloy wheels; roof rails; a 5,500 pound towing capacity; and an eight-speaker audio system with CD player.
Standard on the 3.6 Premium model are leather seats.
Optional features include Sirius satellite radio; a panoramic sunroof; rear side air bags; and expanded towing capacity of up to 6,600 pounds (available on the Premium model only).
The vehicle has the new trapezoidal Audi grille design that has become the new face of the brand. And although its overall shape is similar to those of the Touareg and Cayenne, it does have its own look.
Three rows of seating are offered for carrying up to seven passengers, a departure from the VW and Porsche models, which have room for only five.
The second- and third-row seats can be folded flat in a variety of configurations to accommodate more people or more cargo. Behind the third seat is 11.7 cubic feet of cargo space; with the third seat folded, that expands to 27.4 cubic feet.
The tailgate lifts up in one piece, just as it does on the Touareg and Cayenne, but the Q7's is power-operated tailgate, a feature first introduced by Chrysler Group on its minivans.
Side air bags are standard in the front, and a side-curtain air bag system runs along all three rows of seating.
This is a capable family hauler, with quite comfortable seating even in the third row, which unlike most SUVs with a third seat is roomy enough for adults.
No prices have been released yet for the hybrid model, which will be the first hybrid SUV from a European automaker.
As for the Quattro drive, during normal operation, the system sends 42 percent of the power to the front wheels and the rest to the rear. Ratios change automatically when wheel slippage occurs, such as on ice, snow or sand.
Unlike off-road-capable SUVs, though, the Q7 doesn't have a two-speed transfer cases for low-range driving on steep slopes or in mud or sand. Even without that, though, the Q7 is capable of limited off-road driving. It has ground clearance of up to 7.9 inches to help it avoid obstacles on the trail.
This vehicle will see more country clubs than country roads, however. No matter how capable they are, most expensive SUVs are seldom taken on rugged off-road trails, where minor body damage is routine.
As a civilized people-hauler, though, the Q7 ranks up there among the best. It's intended to combine "sportiness, versatility, sophisticated technology and luxury in a premium-class vehicle," the company said during the Q7's introduction at last fall's Frankfurt Motor Show introduction.
"On the road, it excels with the driving performance and dynamics of a sports car; off-road it redefines the benchmark in its category," Audi said. "It's a vehicle that outwardly makes no secret of its qualities and whose technology delivers on its promise - on any road and in all conditions."
The Q7 is more about luxurious on-road driving, though, and to that end, amenities are plentiful.
This essentially is a high-end version of the Touareg and a close cousin of the Cayenne. Those two SUVs have been on the market since 2004, and were developed jointly by Porsche and Volkswagen, which is Audi's parent. The Porsche shares its body structure with the Q7 and Touareg, which all three begin in the same plant in Austria, but the Cayenne's final assembly occurs in a Porsche factory in Germany, where it gets Porsche engines and transmissions.
The Audi, though, is about 12 inches longer than the Touareg and Cayenne to accommodate the third row of seating.
VW completes the Q7 in its plant alongside the Touareg. The Q7 uses V-6 and V-8 engines similar to ones used in the Touareg. In the Audi, however, the V-8 has 40 more horsepower than that of the V-8 in the Volkswagen.
Among standard features on the 4.2 Quattro model are leather seats and wood interior trim, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, seven-passenger leather seating, power tailgate, automatic dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, and cruise control. Adaptive radar cruise control is optional, but was not installed on our vehicle.
Other features in the base V-8 price include speed-sensitive power steering, tire-pressure monitoring, Bose 14-speaker AM/FM/compact-disc audio system with six-disc changer, tilt-and-telescopic steering column, power windows and door locks with keyless entry, power seats with memory, and a driver-information system with seven-inch color LCD screen.
Standard safety features include dual front and front-side air bags, side-curtain air bags for all three rows of seats, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control with rollover sensing, and pre-tensioning three-point seatbelts for all seven passengers.
The Q7 generally fits in between the Touareg and the Cayenne on price, although there is a V-6 version of the Cayenne that costs less than the V-8 Q7, and a V-10 diesel version of the Touareg that costs thousands more than the Q7 V-8 model. The Cayenne runs into the $90,000s for the high-performance supercharged version, however.
EPA ratings for the V-8 are 14 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. The V-6 is rated at 16 city/21 highway. The V-6 might be the better choice, then, especially if you're not planning to tow a trailer, where the V-8 power would come in handy.
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