2011 Audi Q7 3.0 TFSI quattro Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Introduced in 2005, Audi's Q7 was a bit of a latecomer to the crossover SUV market, and although it was updated for 2009 and given another minor facelift for 2011, it is still a first-generation design.

So you'd be forgiven for thinking that the 2011 Q7 is pretty much the same old same-old. But you'd be wrong. Because while Audi may have been late to the SUV game, the company has been quick to see the writing on the wall in terms of fuel prices and corporate fuel-efficiency standards, and therefore has introduced a new gasoline engine for 2011, ditching the Q7's previously-available V6 and V8 gas engines in the process.

The new engine is a supercharged direct-injection 3.0L V6 and it's a winner - lightweight, potent and sweet-sounding. It's the same engine as is now used in the Audi S4, and for the Q7 is available in two states of tune: The base version, which replaces the previous V6, develops 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque while the Sport version, which replaces the previous V8, develops the same horsepower as the S4 at 333, plus 325 lb-ft of torque.

These numbers are actually slightly lower than the Q7's outgoing engines (the previous V6 developed 280 hp and the V8 developed 350 hp), but the new engine's supercharger helps ensure a broad, flat torque curve, and Audi has been busy trimming weight too: The 3.0L engine has an aluminum block so it weighs significantly less than the old iron-block V6, and a whole lot less than the V8. The engine mates up to a new 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which is quick-shifting and likewise lighter than its predecessor. The end result of all this is genuine progress - even in base tune the new V6 feels lively and energetic, and moves the still rather hefty (2,295kg/5,059lb) Q7 along with reasonable aplomb, turning in 0-100km/h times that are within a fraction of the 2010 model times (about 8.5 seconds for the base Q7 and just under 8 seconds for the Sport). Best of all, fuel economy numbers are significantly improved, at 13.6 / 9.3 L/100km (city/hwy) in either state of tune. (Of course if that still seems a little thirsty for your taste, Audi continues to offer a torque-happy V6 turbo-diesel, but that's a story for another review).

Beyond the new engine the 2011 Q7 is basically unchanged. Based on the same PL71 platform as the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, it is the biggest of the three cousins and is biased more heavily towards on-road use. The Q7 received new headlights for 2011 with Audi's familiar LED running lights, it has a slightly different grille with a bit more brightwork, and there are some new paint colours, but other than that the Q7 remains pretty much the same machine we've become familiar with, for better or worse.

On the "for better" side of equation, the Q7 is a sleek and muscular-looking 7-passenger all-wheel drive machine with remarkably competent and surefooted handling, confidence-inspiring brakes, excellent build quality, a high level of standard equipment and very comfortable leather seating - at least in the front and the outboard second-row positions. I really liked the giant 3-row panoramic sunroof in my tester, and was impressed by the nicely executed wood trim. The Q7 really does a good job of creating a comfortable driving environment, aided in my test example by an easy-to-use navigation system (a $2,500 option) and a $2,200 technology package that included Audi's Side Assist blind spot warning system, advance proximity sensing key with pushbutton start, adaptive headlights, and Homelink garage door/gate control.

On the "for worse" side of the equation are some niggling details (you pay $2,200 to get pushbutton start, but Audi still fits a big gaping keyhole onto the dashboard), some oddities (I've driven a couple of Audis recently and they tend have controls placed where I least expect to find them), and one big issue that's just that: bigness. The Q7 is a seriously large vehicle, long and wide enough to be cumbersome in city traffic and parking situations, and heavy enough (starting at 2,295kg/5,059lb and topping out around 2,450kg/5,400lbs) that no matter how efficient the new engine is, fuel mileage suffers badly in stop-and-go city traffic.

I might find the Q7's bigness more forgivable if it was commensurately spacious inside, but it isn't: The third-row seats are tight in legroom, headroom and elbow room, and are difficult to access; the centre-seat in the second row elicited woeful complaints from my teenage daughter when we had an extra friend along for the ride; and the luggage space isn't exactly cavernous - indeed with the third row seats deployed there's hardly any luggage space at all (and nowhere to easily fit the cargo cover, which you must remove to deploy the third row). So really, the Q7 isn't actually a seven-passenger crossover SUV, but rather it's a very comfortable and luxurious four-passenger crossover SUV with room for seven in a pinch.

Of course after six years of production, the Q7 is certainly due for an update, and having seen how Audi's renewed focus on efficiency has created brilliant results in the powertrain department, I've got big hopes for what the next Q7 might look like: Imagine a full-size SUV crossover that retains the current Q7's excellent ride and handling, good looks, and marvelous levels of luxury comfort, but is a little bigger inside and a little smaller outside, and weighs perhaps as much as 10 to 15 percent less.

In the meantime, at a base price is $69,200 and an as-tested price of $79,945 (including Navigation Package, Technology Package, adaptive air suspension, towing package, $1,995 in delivery charges and $100 AC tax) the current Q7 is still a pretty good luxury choice provided your passenger count only occasionally exceeds four. And thanks to its new supercharged 3.0L V6, it's a very efficient, comfortable highway and suburban cruiser even if its overall size does give up some points around town.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Audi, 2011, Q7, $50,000 - $74,999,

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