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Audi keeps its promise with first quattro SUV. Image by Vince Bodiford.

Audi keeps its promise with first quattro SUV
The long awaited and much anticipated Audi Q7 - the newest premium SUV from the people who brought us quattro and invented the all-wheel drive car segment - has arrived.


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The long awaited and much anticipated Audi Q7 - the newest premium sport utility vehicle (SUV) from the people who brought us quattro and invented the all-wheel drive car segment - has arrived.

And you can expect this to be quite an arrival. Audi repeatedly told me during our first drive that this is "the most important new vehicle launch for Audi". It's what they've said about every new Audi launch of course, but since this is the company's first real entrant in a segment that accounts for over half of all new vehicle sales in North America (without doubt the Q7's biggest market), this time I think they mean it.

Before we move much further into this report let me convey a message from Audi to you, our readers: "This is not a Touareg-based vehicle. It's not a Touareg wearing the Audi badge. It's a unique platform all its own." That being said, the Audi Q7 does share about 15% of the Touareg components, but the similarities indeed stop right there.

For this drive, I was impressed with the route that Audi selected. We started the drive at about 100 feet above sea level, and within an hour followed a route that took us to an elevation above 5,500 feet, then back down again. Most of the difficult off-road driving was at this higher altitude, and there was minimal reduction in power and torque from the impressive 4.2-litre V8. Incidentally, the Q7 range is launched in the USA with a V8 with V6 models to follow. In the UK, the Q7 is available to order with the same FSI V8 or a 3-litre V6 TDI.

Approaching the vehicle and looking upon its exterior styling and proportions, I was first impressed with its unique 'Audi' appearance. It looks right. The Q7 speaks the Audi design language very clearly and loudly. It has a road presence that is more commanding and striking than you'd expect. Even when seen by drivers in their rear view mirror, it looks like an Audi; a very big Audi at that.

At the front Audi's single-frame grille dominates proceedings and combines with the sporty roofline, high side panels and dynamic shoulder line to produce a muscular stance. Buyers will be happy with the image the Q7 portrays.

Once inside the Audi Q7, my first impression was of size and a sense of space. But it's more than just a sense; it's truly large on the inside. From the driver's seat, visibility is best-in-class in all directions, vehicle controls are where you'd expect them to be, the seats are comfortable, and the quality of the materials and finish are exceptional.

The uncompromising quality standards of the brand are to be found in the Audi Q7, combined with a high level of practicality and versatility. Clean architecture and the finest materials and craftsmanship throughout; these are the lasting impressions conveyed by the interior of the Q7. The elegant forms and the high-quality surfaces are both robust and luxurious.

Audi used the A6 as a basis for the cockpit's design with high quality materials everywhere including an Alcantara headlining, wood inlays, aluminium trim and optional 'Cricket' leather. In the US, buyers can specify five, six or seven passenger configurations, though the seven-seat layout is standard on UK cars. As you'd expect in a car made for the States, it has 10 cup and bottle holders. More importantly is a cargo volume of up to 2490 litres; you could nearly move house in the thing!

The whole package is a sophisticated, well-designed and well-built machine. This is more evident as you peel the layers back and inspect the Q7 closely; you'll not see a single weld anywhere. It is bristling with an air of quality. The Audi Q7 is a vehicle of prodigious proportions even in the premium SUV category. It is 200.2 inches long (just over 5 meters) and has a wheelbase of 118.2 inches (about 3 meters) - figures that put it ahead of all rivals. With the V8 engine the Audi Q7 weighs in at a not insignificant 2390kg (5269lb).

You may wonder how Audi could allow such a high mass when it is a prolific user of aluminium elsewhere in its range, but the Q7 only uses the lightweight material for bumpers, bonnet and tailgate. The rest of the structure uses a mix of high-strength steels. The chassis is bonded with laser welding and soldering.

We drove the Audi Q7 at its debut with a 4.2-liter V8 FSI engine, a close relative of the engine used in the new Audi RS4. In line with the character of the performance SUV, the Q7 develops 'just' 345bhp at 6800 rpm, but its torque curve is even beefier than in the RS4: it achieves 325lb.ft. Output is the best in its class and is available at 3500 rpm, though 85% is unleashed from as low as 2000rpm. The figures confirm the impressive power potential of the eight-cylinder engine, which sprints the Q7 from zero to 62mph in just 7.4 seconds. Top speed is limited to 130mph in North America; where as the European cars can hit 154mph. The engine has a sonorous tone and is highly cultivated throughout the entire speed range.

A 3.6-liter V6 FSI engine will follow in the second half of 2006 for the US market and presumably Europe too. This unit is derived from the six-cylinder engine that powers the top versions of the Audi A3 and the TT. Its torque is available across a wide range: 265lb.ft from 2500 to 5000rpm. With a power output of 280bhp at 6200rpm, buyers of the V6 should not feel short-changed. The performance figures are correspondingly impressive: the Audi Q7 3.6 FSI accelerates from zero to 62 mph in 8.2 seconds and again its top speed is limited to 130mph.

To optimally convert the high performance of the engines into forward propulsion, the Audi Q7 4.2 FSI and 3.6 FSI use Tiptronic automatic transmissions as standard. Depending on the engine version, two technically different versions are employed, both of which have the same dynamic character. The six gears of the Tiptronic are wide-spaced and ideally exploit the torque potential of the engines. On the road and on difficult terrain, the torque converter with its damping action and torque multiplication is particularly well suited for driving off; it also replaces a reduction gear.

Thanks to its efficiency and ability to transmit up to 553lbft of torque, the Tiptronic is perfectly equipped for the inevitable higher output versions of the Q7. Typically for Audi, it is compact and light; the version in the 3.6 V6 weighs only 80kg (176lb). Transmission management is taken care of by the dynamic shift program (DSP). It adapts to suit the individual style of the driver and the prevailing road conditions. A number of changes were made to the Tiptronic 'box for off-road use. The transmission shafts, their mountings and the parking mechanism were reinforced; modifications to the oil sump and intake filter guarantee oil supply even under extreme conditions.

The classic technology for all high-performance Audi vehicles is quattro permanent four-wheel drive, a concept that has been celebrating victories in motorsport and in standard production vehicles for 25 years. More than two million Audi quattro vehicles have come off the assembly line to date. Quattro technology ensures excellent traction and lateral stability and minimizes the effect of propulsive power on the vehicle's self-steering properties. This provides the basis for dynamic handling and driving stability; on- and off-road.

A centre differential in the drivetrain of the new Audi Q7 - with its longitudinally installed engines - automatically ensures optimum power distribution to all four wheels. The centre differential is a self-locking worm gear that is purely mechanical and so reacts instantly. Its locking action only takes effect under power, while allowing speed differences when the brakes are applied or when cornering.

Like the RS4 and the V10-engined S8, the Audi Q7 features the latest-generation self-locking centre differential. It has an asymmetric/dynamic torque split of 42:58 between front and rear wheels. In particular off-road situations or if the prevailing road conditions change, the differential can direct up to 65% of the power to the front or up to 85% to the rear. If a wheel at one axle starts to spin, the electronic differential lock (EDL) takes control by means of appropriate brake intervention.

The slightly rear-biased basic characteristics of the quattro drive in the Audi Q7 signify even more agility. This is noticeable primarily when driving into bends, where the steering is virtually free of any noticeable torque steer. Thanks to direct Servotronic power steering, which is standard on all Audi Q7 models, the driver enjoys a level of steering precision and clearly defined handling that up to now has been unimaginable in an SUV. The Servotronic generally is tuned for direct sporty response; depending on steering wheel angle, its ratio varies from around 10:1 to 16.5:1. When steering out of the central position, the steering responds more indirectly. This guards against nervous vehicle reactions at high speeds and makes minor corrections to maintain straight-line stability. If the steering wheel is at a greater angle, the control action is more direct and agile with a view to an active driving feel.

The transfer box on the Audi Q7 is installed directly next to the automatic transmission. A hollow shaft in the case delivers torque to the self-locking centre differential. It is then distributed. The somewhat larger proportion flows via the ring gear and the coaxial output shaft to the driveshaft and from there to the rear. The smaller share is supplied to the centre differential, from which it travels by chain to a second driveshaft, which leads past the transmission to the front axle.

Not unlike prior introductions of all-new models for Audi, the Q7 is a technological pioneer showcasing Audi's edge and underscoring Audi's "Lead, Never Follow" theme. Advanced features found on the Q7 perfectly demonstrate the attention to detail that characterized its development. From a cruise control system that stops and accelerates the SUV without driver input, to an award winning blind-spot detection system, technology is omnipresent - at the same time useful and intuitive.

To live up to the Audi Q7's claim to being a true performance SUV, significant attention was directed to chassis development. The Audi Q7 is a classic illustration of Audi's claim to offer optimum technical solutions in every model. As a performance SUV the Q7 harmoniously combines excellent driving comfort with a level of dynamism that is quite new for this category of vehicle. Even the slightly rear-biased torque distribution is a clear sign of its agile nature.

Audi supplies the Q7 with a conventional steel-spring suspension and hydraulic twin-tube shock absorbers as standard. Ground clearance is around 8.1 inches (206mm) to ensure good off-road capabilities. Spring travel is correspondingly long. The long wheelbase guarantees straight-line stability at high speeds. To enhance ride comfort and driving dynamics, the double wishbones at the front of the Q7 are made of aluminium. The upper triangular wishbone is a cast part, and the lower is forged. The large gap between the wishbones aims at precise wheel control.

At the rear axle, the upper wishbone and the spring strut cross bar are made of forged aluminium. The tie-rod is made of weight-optimized tailored rolled blanks, which thanks to steel plates of varying thicknesses, combine low weight with high rigidity for sections under particular load and strain.

The Q7 is fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard, with 235/60 tires (255/55 on the V8). The rims underneath are 7.5 inches wide (V6) and 8 inches (for the V8). Remarkably, each can bear a wheel load of 898kg (1980lb) while weighing only 11kg (24.2lb) and 12kg (26.4lb) respectively. Wheels in other sizes (19 and 20-inch) can be ordered as options. An aesthetic highlight is the new 20-inch 5 twin-spoke cast aluminium wheel of two-colour design - with spoke flanks in anthracite and polished design elements.

The latest-generation adaptive air suspension is available as an option on the Audi Q7. The combination of air suspension and an electronically controlled damping system produces the perfect synthesis of sporty handling and supreme ride comfort. The air suspension comprises a compressor, two accumulators (each with a capacity of around 10 litres) and four electronically controlled dampers, integrated into the suspension struts. For normal driving, a choice of three different characteristics can be selected via the Multi Media Interface (MMI) operating system, ranging from very sporty to comfortable, namely Dynamic, Automatic and Comfort. The system control unit varies the air spring and damping characteristics at the compression and rebound stage according to the mode selected and vehicle speed. The driving modes and height levels can be read off the MMI screen. The ride height also appears in the central driver information display.

Automatic mode is designed to offer the best ride-handling compromise in every situation. Alternatively, drivers requiring more comfort can select the Comfort mode, which has a particularly soft damping action. In both cases the body is at normal ride height up to 75mph (7.1 inches). In the Dynamic mode the suspension is lowered by 0.6in. from the start - the lower centre of gravity ensures a more dynamic driving experience.

Regardless of the mode selected, the body is automatically lowered to a ground clearance of 6.5 inches if the Audi Q7 travels for more than 30 seconds at a speed of at least 75mph. From a speed of 100mph - maintained constantly for more than 20 seconds - the body is lowered by another 0.6 in. to further optimize stability and aerodynamic drag. If the vehicle slows down, the air suspension lifts the body in two stages to restore the normal ride height - the thresholds for this being 81 and 44mph.

Particularly on country roads, the dynamics also benefit from an important innovative feature of adaptive air suspension - the dynamic roll stabilization function. The system, using information provided by four sensors at the wheels and three additional sensors on the body, actively responds to steering input and body roll. By deliberately increasing the damping forces, it counteracts the rolling motion of the vehicle. In fast cornering, for example, the body remains horizontally stable.

Off-road, the Audi Q7 driver can activate two additional modes: the Off-road mode is one inch above normal ride height and can be used up to a speed of 60mph. The Lift mode is even higher with 1.4 in. of extra ground clearance, so even major obstacles can be negotiated at moderate speeds.

Finally, two functions round off the range of options: via a button in the luggage compartment the driver can lower the loading lip by 2.8 in, making it much easier to load heavy objects into the vehicle. There is even a special suspension mode for driving with a trailer. The air suspension of the Audi Q7 also functions as a high-tech self-levelling suspension.

To help save drivers from poor conditions that might otherwise ruin a perfectly good day, the Q7 is equipped with the latest-generation stabilization control technologies. The Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) incorporates a number of components: the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and hydraulic brake assist, the traction control system (ASR) and the electronic differential lock (EDL).

To allow for the far-reaching scope of the performance SUV, the ESP has new features such as an Off-road mode that can be activated by a switch. In this mode the system tolerates a certain amount of slip when braking or accelerating, which often can be of help on loose surfaces. Fluid control thresholds apply at lower speeds, whereas more priority is attached to driving stability as the speed increases.

For downhill driving there is a special assist function. Below 12mph it keeps the speed constant on steep downhill stretches, allowing the driver to fully concentrate on steering the vehicle. In addition, the rollover stabilization program intervenes in the event of critical driving situations that might cause the vehicle to overturn and takes the necessary corrective braking action - potentially saving the day.

The Q7's maximum possible climbing capacity is 31 degrees. The ramp angle measures 21 degrees for vehicles with steel-spring suspension and 24 degrees for the Audi Q7 with air suspension. There is a similar difference in the angle of slope (23/25 degrees). When driving through water the Audi performance SUV can plunge in up to a depth of 20 inches. An off-road package for fans of a more cross-country look will be available at a later date. This will include painted front guards, underside protection plates of brushed stainless steel at front and rear, flared wheel arches and rocker panels; no too dissimilar to the Audi Allroad models.

ESP is not the only system on the Audi Q7 to feature state-of-the-art technology - the hydraulic brake system also gives a strong performance. Even under extreme load it has exceptional deceleration capabilities. The four discs are internally ventilated and generous in size - those at the front axle are 13.8 inches in diameter and 1.3 in. thick; rear disks are 13.0 in. in diameter. The front brake calipers are black anodized cast aluminium and feature a six-piston design. Air ducts in the vehicle floor help to improve brake cooling. The smooth-finished discs are dirt-resistant - important for off-road driving. Deflector shields protect the brake lines from damage caused by the impact of gravel.

The standard tire pressure monitoring system makes another important contribution to driving safety. It constantly monitors the temperature and pressure of all four tires. In the event of pressure loss it sends warning messages, varying in priority according to pressure levels.

On the road, the Audi Q7 excels with sporty driving performance and dynamism; off-road, its uncompromising propulsion is dazzling. The Audi Q7 is the performance SUV from the creator of quattro and it does not disappoint. It's a unique blend of a performance saloon together with a genuine off-road machine. To me, it's as if Audi squashed together the best attributes of the Porsche Cayenne and the robust off-road performance of a Jeep Wrangler. And for good measure, they threw in real towing capability, plus a full array of lifestyle accessories for your mountain bikes and toys.

Audi has delivered on its promise and has created one of the worlds finest SUV's. Vehicles go on sale in North America in June 2006. In the UK, you can order yours now.
Audi Q7 USA range overview

- Audi Q7 4.2-liter FSI Quattro: $49,900
- Audi Q7 4.2-liter FSI Quattro with Premium package, $59,900

Audi Q7 UK range overview

- Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Tiptronic Standard: 37,285
- Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Tiptronic SE: 39,785
- Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Tiptronic S line: 40,685
- Audi Q7 4.2 FSI Tiptronic SE: 47,680
- Audi Q7 4.2 FSI Tiptronic S line: 48,580

Vince Bodiford - 4 May 2006    - Audi road tests
- Audi news
- Q7 images

2006 Audi Q7 specifications: (4.2 FSI Tiptronic)
Price: US model tested: $59,900. Equivalent UK model: 48,580 on-the-road. Optional extras fitted to test car.
0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Top speed: 154mph
Combined economy: 20.8mpg
Kerb weight: 2270kg

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Phil Ahern.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Phil Ahern.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Phil Ahern.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Phil Ahern.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Phil Ahern.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Phil Ahern.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Isaac Bouchard.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Isaac Bouchard.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Isaac Bouchard.2006 Audi Q7. Image by Isaac Bouchard.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.

2006 Audi Q7. Image by Vince Bodiford.


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