On the road, the Q7 behaves like an Audi. The fully independent suspension delivers a comfortable ride and controlled handling. Road imperfections are managed without becoming annoying jolts or booming sounds in the cabin. Even at high speeds, interior noise level is low enough for conversation to be held without raising one's voice. Not as pillowy as the Lexus GX 470 or as stiff as the BMW X5 or Infiniti FX, the Q7's ride hits the sweet spot many luxury SUV shoppers desire.
The 3.0-liter V6 TDI diesel delivers ample power, providing seamless and nearly soundless thrust. The real story here is the TDI's massive 406 pound-feet of torque at just 1750 rpm. With this diesel engine's flexible power, immediate sturdy acceleration is always on tap no matter how fast the engine is turning. This characteristic makes the TDI an unusually reassuring and stress-free driver, and that is despite Q7 TDI's very considerable heft of 5,512 pounds. Under strong acceleration, the diesel makes a throaty growl, yet in neutral-throttle cruising, only the most discerning ear will hear that this is a fossil-burner. And furnished with the optional Towing Package, capable of hauling 6,600 pounds, the torque-heavy diesel will be happy in its work. The TDI produces about 25 percent less carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline engine and reduces nitrogen oxides by up to 90 percent when compared to past diesels. And, with its efficient filters, the exhaust coming out the tailpipe can contain less particulate matter, that nasty black soot, than the ambient air that went into the engine. The TDI should last longer than a comparable gasoline engine, which should pay dividends in resale value and long-term ownership value.
The 280-hp V6 gasoline engine is more than adequate for most drivers, with plenty of smooth acceleration available despite a high curb weight of 5,080 pounds. The V6 emits a satisfying growl under full throttle but goes virtually silent when coasting or cruising.
The forceful 350-hp 4.2-liter V8 offers more power than most drivers need and impressive acceleration numbers (0-60 in just 7.0 seconds, according to Audi).
Fuel economy with the 3.6-liter V6 is an EPA-estimated 14/20 miles per gallon City/Highway. The 4.2-liter V8 is thirstier, rated at 13/18 mpg City/Highway. The 3.0 TDI diesel is EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg.
The six-speed automatic transmission shifts so smoothly it's almost imperceptible except during full-throttle acceleration. The Sport mode provides faster shifts and automatically holds gears a bit longer for more responsive performance. If the driver wants to shift manually, the Tiptronic manual shift feature is selected by moving the shift lever to the right, then tapping it up or down as desired. The multi-information display in the instrument cluster clearly displays the selected gear.
Quattro all-wheel drive works full time and requires no driver input. Normally, power is delivered to the front and rear wheels in a 42/58 percent split to create a rear-wheel-drive bias for confident dry-weather handling. When driving conditions become such that traction becomes compromised, the torque split is automatically adjusted between the parameters of 65/35 to 15/85 percent, front-to-rear.
Electronic stability control, or ESC, manages wheel slip by applying the brake at the slipping wheel without interrupting power deliver to the wheels with grip. The system helps maintain stability in corners by lightly applying the brakes to individual wheels when the vehicle's path doesn't match the driver's intentions. The Q7's electronic stability control system is enhanced with an off-road mode that can be switched on to allow some slip for smooth power delivery on gravel roads. For steep, slippery grades, Hill Descent Control automatically maintains a 12-mph speed by applying the brakes to individual wheels without driver input, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering.
Towing capacity starts at 5500 pounds for all models but rises to 6600 pounds with the optional towing package. The Adaptive Air Suspension features a trailer mode that helps manage the unique physics of towing. The Adaptive Air Suspension is self-leveling, so when towing you're not blinding other drivers with your low beams. The Q7 also has a Tow mode for the electronic stability control calibrated to counteract swaying motions that can become dangerous when pulling a trailer. With its longer wheelbase, the Q7 should make a better tow vehicle than would the Volkswagen Touareg.
The Q7's power steering is speed-sensitive, reducing the amount of assistance at higher speeds to deliver more road feel. Steering isn't as heavy as that in the BMW X5, for example, but nor is it as light as that of the GMC Yukon. On-center feel is outstanding, with steering inputs met by quick response, and it's just 2.7 turns of the steering wheel from lock to lock.
Handling is superb for a vehicle of this size. The Q7 is only two inches shorter than a Cadillac Escalade and actually has a longer wheelbase. Nonetheless, it feels much smaller, reacting readily to quick changes of direction. Only in close-quarter handling, such as in parking lots or parallel parking, does the Q7's size become evident.
The Adaptive Air Suspension uses electronically controlled, air-filled shocks in place of traditional steel springs and allows the driver to select one of three firmness settings, as well as raise the vehicle to a ground clearance of 8.5 inches for deep snow or off-road driving. The Comfort setting allows the suspension to absorb more road impacts for a relatively smooth ride at all situations. The Automatic mode offers compliance during straight-line travel, but stiffens up during cornering for tauter handling. The Dynamic mode lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches to a ground clearance of 6.5 inches, which lowers the center of gravity and enhances aerodynamics. Generally, we found the Q7's ride to be acceptable though firm, even in the softest Comfort setting. That's typical of a German sedan. We preferred the Automatic setting during normal driving in the 4.2 models we've driven because Automatic offered the best ride and handling balance. The Dynamic setting was noticeably stiffer; rewarding during enthusiastic driving, but hard enough that we switched back to Automatic or Comfort for around-town motoring.
We also drove the 3.6 Premium model with 20-inch wheels and without the air suspension. In a tough test on pockmarked Chicago roads the Q7 proved to be firm but never harsh. It ironed out the small stuff well and significantly limited the harshness of sharp bumps and potholes. The base suspension is a good choice if you won't tow with your Q7 or don't need the height adjustments.
We haven't driven a Q7 off road, but are confident it's up to the task. We were very impressed by the off-road capability of the shorter but similar Volkswagen Touareg on technical trails at Moab, Utah. And we were very impressed with the handling of the Porsche Cayenne when driven at competition speeds on gravel roads in Texas. The Q7 has short overhangs, generous vertical wheel travel and amazing traction technology, and promises to be quite capable. Audi says it can ford up to 20 inches of water and can climb a 31-degree slope. In short, it will go places most drivers would never consider attempting. Its longer wheelbase means the Q7 isn't quite as capable in rugged terrain as the Touareg, but it should be more than sufficient for all but the most serious off-road driving.
The brakes feature four-wheel discs, ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, and Brake Assist, all of which can help the driver maintain control after slamming on the binders. We found the Q7's brakes terrific: They were responsive, with a firm yet communicative pedal. There was no hint of brake fade whatsoever on our spirited drives.
Adaptive Cruise Control goes a step further than conventional cruise control systems by using radar to maintain a constant distance between the Q7 and the vehicle ahead, accelerating and braking as necessary. The Q7's system is unusual in its ability to bring the vehicle to a complete stop, and then accelerate again all the way to speeds up to 90 miles per hour without any driver input. The Q7 driver can specify how aggressively the system will operate, from sporty to leisurely. Most systems from other automakers will not stop the car completely.
Side Assist employs a radar sensor mounted in the rear bumper to monitor the presence of vehicles occupying or entering the Q7's blind spots. The presence of a vehicle traveling alongside the Q7 within the 16.5-foot range of the sensor will prompt subtle amber LEDs to illuminate in the corresponding outside mirror housing. If a turn signal is switched on, indicating a pending lane change, the LEDs become brighter and start to flash. The system is active at speeds above 35 mph and can be deactivated. We found this system works well, helping alert us to cars in our blindspots while driving on L.A.'s I-405, one of the nation's busiest freeways. The system can be turned off when not desired.