- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Having derived its platform from the five-passenger Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, Audi delivers the seven-passenger Q7 SUV. Audi stretched the wheelbase by nearly six inches and the overall length by a full foot, providing adequate cargo room even when the removable third row of seating is installed. Like other luxury-oriented Audi products, Quattro AWD and a powerful 4.2-liter V-8 engine yield a satisfyingly competent all-around driving experience for warm or cold-weather climes.

Unlike some other seven-seater sport utility vehicles, however, the Q7 does not overwhelm with its mass. Stance and styling characteristics are close enough to the smaller A6-size all-road wagon for the Q7 to appear manageable — and it is. Large wheels and tires that fill out the fender arches provide proportions similar to Infiniti’s FX45 crossover SUV.

This German automaker’s new corporate grille provides easy recognition and, for those who resist its size, sorry, the snout appears to be a mainstay. Three subtle horizontal air intakes at the center base of the front fascia mimic those found on Audi’s performance-tuned S4 and RS4 sedans. Circular fog lights, slim horizontal indicator lights and high-mounted headlamps yield a “stacked” appearance up front.

A glance around the vehicle reveals beautifully sculpted spherical wheel flares, a constricted roofline, low glass-to-sheet-metal ratio, high-mounted familiar Audi taillights and lower door accents that rise from front to back. Combined with the steeply raked windshield and lift gate roof spoiler, these attributes create an aura of motion and potential energy, even while standing still.

Leaving a standstill, Q7 makes great use of its 4.2-liter V-8 engine, the only unit offered in North America at this time. Creating 350 horsepower and 325 foot-pounds of torque, Q7 trumps the Touareg V-8’s 310 horsepower and Cayenne S’s 340 horses. Four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection allow the naturally aspirated V-8 to tow Q7’s 5,269 to 5,467 pounds adequately.

Every Q7 shifts through six gears in an automatic configuration, with Tiptronic manual control. Power flows through Audi’s renowned Quattro AWD system, which is supplemented by Electronic Stability Control that includes a trailer-towing stabilization function. Under normal driving conditions, torque is delivered in a 40/60 front-to-rear ratio. Power rack-and-pinion steering and double-wishbone independent suspension at both ends provide carlike control under most driving circumstances. Hill Descent Control is also standard, and slows descent of steep slopes at a predetermined speed of 20 mph.

Two distinct models arrive in showrooms this spring. With a combined MSRP and destination charge of $50,620, the base 4.2 model includes 18-inch alloy wheels inside 255/55 series all-season tires, adaptive i-xenon headlights, a power lift gate, tinted windows, leather seating, power front seats/windows/locks, driver’s seat memory, automatic two-zone climate control, folding and auto-dimming power exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear and side window manual sunshades, a Bose audio with 14 speakers and a six-disc CD changer and Audi’s Multi-Media Interface.

For $10,000 more, you will get a Q7 with 4.2 Premium status that brings a panorama sunroof, 19-inch alloys with 265/50 all-season tires, the Cold Weather package with heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, headlight washers, four-zone climate control, nicer leather, DVD-based navigation, XM Satellite Radio, a rearview camera and a special six-seat luxury configuration (available this summer).

Remaining options include 20-inch wheels with either all-season or performance tires, adaptive air suspension, a towing package that allows a 6,600-pound capacity and a side assist lane-departure warning system that provides visual and audible warnings if a turn signal is not used or an impending collision is perceived. Base models also may be fitted with many of the Premium’s standard features.

An abundance of safety features protect passengers in the event of a collision. Dual-stage front air bags with passenger classification, seat-mounted front side-impact air bags and air curtains for all three rows arrive as standard on both models. Rear side air bags are optional across the lineup. Weighing close to 3 tons, both Q7 models carry a lot of weight, a virtue in many types of impacts, as well.

There is no arguing with Audi’s interior execution, and the Q7 further solidifies Audi’s position as a cockpit master. All pieces are tightly rendered, yielding a mechanical elegance that is matched by few. The dashboard is driver-oriented and delicately frames the center stack on the passenger side gives left-side attention that major competitor BMW no longer offers. Dual teardrop-shaped chrome accents contain the instrument cluster’s vital gauges, while loosely trapezoidal HVAC vents flank the split dash. As on other Audis, the steering-wheel air bag cover reflects the grille’s contour.

European markets will see an available 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine with 229 horsepower and 369 foot-pounds of torque. As with Porsche’s Cayenne, a lower-output six-cylinder model could debut later in the Q7’s life. Audi also hints that a super-performance S-line model is in the works, and has both 10- and 12-cylinder engines in its Audi/VW engine arsenal.

Porsche may no longer boast the quickest SUV at the German dealerships.

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