- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

With all of the choices out there, it’s a wonder that anyone looking for a new car or truck ends up with the right vehicle at the right price.

A recent experience with two Audi luxury vehicles served to illustrate the surprises a person might encounter in the search for a new set of wheels.

One was the Audi A6 Avant, a handsome all-wheel-drive station wagon with plenty of pep, room for up to five passengers, and a cargo area ranging from 33.9 to 59 cubic feet.

The other was Audi’s Q7, a handsome, all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle with plenty of pep, room for seven passengers and a cargo area ranging from 10.87 to 72.5 cubic feet.

Needless to say, these expensive German vehicles aren’t going to be on everybody’s radar screen. But they serve to show how two seemingly different vehicles might merit a look from the same prospective buyer.

Let’s talk price: The Audi A6 Avant starts at $47,590 and quickly jumps to $56,240 with a full complement of luxury options. The Q7 starts at $50,620 and jumps to about $58,000 similarly equipped. That puts them both in the same price range.

Let’s talk space: Both can transport five adults in the first two rows. The Q7 has a third row, but it is best suited for youngsters. When that third-row seatback is raised, cargo space dwindles to less than 11 cubic feet. The Avant has 33.9 cubic feet behind its second row. The Q7 has 42 cubic feet behind its second row. Advantage, Q7.

Let’s talk power: The A6 Avant has a 3.2-liter, 255-horsepower V-6 engine. The Q7 has a 4.2-liter, 350-horsepower V-8. Advantage Q7? Maybe not. The 4,167-pound A6 Avant can go from a stop to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. The V-8 engine can lug the 5,269-pound Q7 from a stop to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds. For all practical purposes, that is a tie.

Let’s talk fuel consumption: The A6 Avant is rated at 17 miles per gallon of premium fuel in town and 26 on the highway. The Q7 is rated at 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway. Advantage Avant.

Let’s talk on-road driving experience: Both have six-speed automatic transmissions, all-wheel drive, independent suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering, and antilock disc brakes with brake proportioning and an electronic stability program. The Avant is lighter, shorter and lower to the ground, so it handles much more crisply than the Q7. It’s also easier to get in out of parking spaces. In fact, it handles basically as well as the A6 sedan.

Conversely, because it has 8 inches of ground clearance, the Q7 has the command-view seating that many drivers prefer. Enthusiasts will prefer the Avant’s sporty demeanor. Soccer moms likely will put a premium on the elevated pilot’s chair. Advantage? It’s a matter of personal taste.

Let’s talk off-road driving experience: The Q7 excels in this category. With its ground clearance, advanced all-wheel-drive system, self-locking differential, optional air suspension with off-road mode, optional 20-inch wheels, advanced electronic stabilization program and downhill driving assist, the Q7 can take on all but the most severe off-road chores. The A6 Avant has all-wheel drive to conquer slippery roads, but it is not designed for wilderness adventures.

Let’s talk passenger comfort: Both are smooth and quiet on the open road. Both have automatic climate control. Both have supportive leather-covered seats and premium sound systems. Its generous interior space gives the Q7 a slight edge.

Let’s talk safety: Both vehicles have front and side air bags for front-seat passengers, side-curtain air bags for front and rear passengers, seat belts with pre-tensioners, crumple zones and side-impact beams. Another tie.

Let’s talk luxury: These are world-class premium vehicles. A high level of luxury equipment is expected, and it is included or available. Both offer navigation systems, satellite radio, rear-view cameras, power tailgates, trip computers and a variety of other convenience accessories. Tie again.

So there you have it. Two vehicles with seemingly little in common have many shared features and capabilities. It just goes to show that a lot of careful consideration is required for buyers to ensure that the vehicles they really want are the ones they really need.

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