Silvio Calabi: Audi’s reach exceeds its grasp on the Q7 II
Audi’s 2017 Q7 panzerwagen is all that we might expect in a deluxe modern crossover sport-ute from Germany. Or at least it can be, or so I am told. Our sample wagon, though, despite its full moniker — it’s a 3.0T quattro tiptronic — and $13,175 in options atop a $55,750 base price, seems still to be missing a couple of key ingredients. (Go crazy on the order form, and the tab for a Q7 can run to more than $80,000.) More on this later, but for now let’s concentrate on what our Q7 does have.
It has room for seven people, of whom at least two should be children, as the chairs in the power-folding third row are pretty tight. It has an unflappable adjustable suspension. It has a seemingly frictionless 3.0-liter V-6 engine that is supercharged (no, not turbocharged — ignore that “T” in its name) to 333 horsepower and 325 lbs.-ft. of torque. It also has an eight-speed automatic transmission with a Sport setting and shift paddles on the steering wheel, as well as a differential that sends 60 percent of the power to the rear axle and 40 percent up front, for full-time 4WD. (Why does a German carmaker use an Italian word for “four”? Because quattro is so much nicer to say than vier.) On slippery surfaces, the anti-lock and anti-slip genies automatically direct torque away from wheels that are spinning to wheels that have traction. The Q7 feels like a proper rear-wheel-drive performance car, one with some extra bite up front, just in case.
Audi claims that this second-gen 2017 Q7 — they skipped 2016 — has dropped almost 700 pounds and, although it still weighs 2.5 tons, it can bolt to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. (Top speed? Irrelevant in our country.) The Q7 pays lip service to fuel economy with automatic engine stop-start and by tattling to the driver about who’s using power-hogging systems — which seats are being heated or cooled, for example — but even on the highway, efficiency tops out at only about 25 MPG.
Our Q7 also has safety and driver-assistance features galore, from brilliant full-LED headlamps (with automatic high beams) to a camera that provides aerial and side views of the car, plus proximity and rear cross-traffic warnings, smart blind-spot monitors, lane-keeping, emergency braking and automatic trailer-backing. A new full-stop-and-go cruise control not only adapts to vehicles ahead, it also enables the Q7 to automatically follow the queue in stop-and-go traffic and through gentle curves. It’s even linked to Google Maps, so it can slow down or accelerate for upcoming hills or corners. Many of these items are spread through three option packages that together cost $8,400, but also include some of the toys that make luxury cars deluxe, such as MMI, Audi’s Multi Media Interface electronic control system.
MMI was once a joystick, a big knob to twirl, push and toggle through half a dozen menus. Like Godzilla on radiation, however, MMI has now grown to cover: Settings, Smartphone Interface, Audi Connect, Map, Navigation, Telephone, Media, Radio, Sound and Vehicle. Under just “Vehicle,” we find choices for Off-Road, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic or Individual suspension, engine and transmission settings. Then Audi handed off some functions — seat heat and cooling, radio, drive mode, the Park gear — to their own dedicated buttons, toggles, haptic touchpanel and knobs, and scattered them across the console. If all this makes you want to go lie down, you may push yet another button, to drop the main computer screen into the dashboard, for slightly less distraction.
For all its flash and dash, though, and its plentiful upgrades, there are those two other options that our Q7 lacks, namely four-wheel steering and air suspension. These add another $4,000 to the price, but may also be keys to the dynamic awesomeness that makes so many of my peers gush over the Q7.
Me, I’m not getting it. Yes, it’s powerful, roomy and luxurious, but as an executive express our Q7 seems cold and robotic, and its stiff throttle fights against maintaining highway speeds. As a deluxe mom-bomb, it’s almost comically overqualified and complex; dashing from band practice to SAT-prep classes to the supermarket, no harried chauffeur-parent will ever adjust anything on the Q7.
— Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Dash & flash
— Rock-solid (if uninvolving) handling
— Ferocious brakes
— Full-time quattro drive
— Complexity for its own sake
— Engine must be kept on the boil
— Disappointing fuel efficiency
— At these prices, some options shouldn’t be