Running Rings around the Rest
By Steve Siler
Among Audi’s many heroic traits has always been its restraint. Restraint in the form of understated styling, sublime interiors that grace anything with four rings in its grille and, more significantly, the way the company calculates its every move without jumping onto fads that wear off as soon as they wear on. Audi’s products evolve rather than transform, and throughout its history, its core sedan and wagon lineup has remained its primary focus, and its cars (and their lucky owners) are better for it. Needless to say, venturing into other vehicle segments that may or may not end up be trendy is not something Audi does often.
This partially explains Audi’s extraordinarily tardy entry into the luxury SUV segment, which has been going strong now for nearly a decade. Until recently, Audi has relied on its butched-up (but still too dressy to be considered macho) Allroad wagon—which is basically an A6 wagon with a lift kit—to satisfy anyone looking for the versatility, style, space and cache of an SUV. Pleasant and handsome, but hardly convincing as a ‘ute, the Allroad was not all things to all people.
And so Audi finally caved and launched its very first true sport-utility vehicle, the Q7. Conveniently, its corporate sibling Volkswagen did most of the dirty work when it, along with Porsche, developed its own exceedingly capable luxury SUV. Borrowing—heavily—from the VW Touareg/Porsche Cayenne architecture, Audi went one better by stretching the Q7 long enough to hold a third-row seat (standard on the V8 model), which for many folks is a deal maker, even though for us it’s no big deal.
The Q7 is styled elegantly with no frivolity; it’s all business. The bold front end takes no prisoners with that huge grille and numerous other apertures meant to force air into the various mechanical bits that need it. The rear has a cool cutline around the tailgate that defines the rear end as much as the slick LED taillights. Wheels are 18 to 20 inches in diameter, filling out the wheel wells and contributing a reduction of visual mass, which helps mask the truck’s enormous proportions.
The interior is flawless. I think it’s generally accepted in the gay world that no automaker can touch Audi’s artisanship when it comes to elegant interior design, luxury equipment and perfect fit and finish. It’s standard and optional features list includes a rear-view backup camera, blind-spot warning system, navigation, Bose Audio, adjustable ride height and much, much more. To organize the many controls needed to operate these doo-dads, the Q7 had has a tricky screen-based interface system called multi-media interface, or MMI. Though it’s easier to use than, say, BMW’s confounding iDrive hockey-puck operation device or Mercedes’ COMAND screen, it’s not super intuitive. Something we love, however, is the classy, six-passenger seating arrangement that replaces the second-row bench seat with twin buckets and a storage console. It also is available with four-zone climate control and a huge, three-panel, full-length moonroof.
If there’s ever was a truck that felt, well, German, it’s the Q7. Both the 280-hp V6 (available in Sept 2006) and the 350-hp V8 (available in June, 2006) are flawless; the V8 only being worth the $10K price premium if you drive like I do, and you like the extras that come along with it. A worthwhile option is the adjustable air suspension that manages to take any trucky harshness out of the ride while keeping the two-and-a-half-ton beast sports-car flat in corners. Diving at autobahn speeds is effortless and whisper quiet.
So will the Q7 succeed in keeping the sport-ute party going? Well, if anything can, this one can. It’s a terrific truck, probably the best luxo-ute in the world. An upcoming hybrid version and possible diesel model may help. What happens next, then, is up to us.
Audi is a gay-friendly company.
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