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2007 Audi Q7 Preview

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2007 Audi Q7
A Quick Look By Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Audi

I've just returned one of the short-lead presentations of Audi's Q7, where company spokespersons stressed two points: One, the Q7 is not merely a stretched Touareg. The two vehicles have only 15 percent parts commonality, most of which are suspension pieces. And two, the Q7 is the most important vehicle in Audi's history.

There is an old saying to the effect that if you are late to the party, you had better have good reasons and be correctly dressed. Audi didn't want to do a ``me too'' variation on the Touareg/Cayenne theme, and chose to take its time and do the job right.

Why ``Q7''? Q as in quattro, Audi's well-developed all-wheel drive system, which is standard in all Q7s, and 7 as it fits between the midsize A6 sedan and wagon and A8 premium luxury sedan in the company's lineup.

The SUV wave may have crested, but SUVs are still an important part of the American vehicle marketplace. The Q7 will gather buyers from two groups - existing Audi owners who need an SUV and want an Audi SUV, no substitutes, and conquest sales. Selling to brand fanatics is easy; making conquests is not.

But the Q7 should do well in bringing new customers into the Audi fold. It's a luxury vehicle first and foremost, with all of the elegant design and comfort for which Audi is known. In the Audi lineup, it's closest to the A6 sedan in interior design. And it does have a true seven-passenger capacity, not merely five and two (very) small children stuffed way in the back. The third row provides reasonable space and comfort for two medium-sized - say 5-8 or less - adults. The first two rows provide all the space and comfort anyone could need.

Outside, the Q7 looks like what it is - a thoroughly modern luxury crossover vehicle. There is no truck in its chassis, and no truck in its high-sided styling. It's an extra-large and brawny wagon, Avant in Audi-speak, and that's exactly what it looks like.

On the road, there is no truck anywhere in the Q7's ancestry. Despite its 8.1 inches of ground clearance, the center of gravity is low enough, and mass centralized enough, and quattro traction good enough, to give it ride and handling properties closer to a sport wagon than sport-utility vehicle. It's obviously heavy, at between 5300 and 550 pounds depending on trim level, and so doesn't have the lightning-quick reflexes of an S4, but it is one of the top SUVs for road manners. Low aspect ratio tires on alloy wheels help significantly, with reduced unsprung weight compared to standard high-profile truck tires.

We had a short section of dirt-road driving on the ride-and-drive portion of the event. It wasn't anything too technical, but did include deep ruts and one section of gooey, slimy mud. Clearance was adequate, and the full-time quattro all-wheel-drive kept the tires churning through the mud, the only spot where four driven wheels were a necessity. People who buy $50,000-plus SUVs aren't likely to use them on the Rubicon Trail, but may tackle similar roads for camping, or cabins, or just plain old state highway department deferred maintenance. Note that all ride-and-drive vehicles were equipped with the optional variable ride-height air suspension.

Power, with 350 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque, is in no way deficient. Zero-to-60 time is around seven seconds, so the Q7 won't be lumbering in traffic. People also buy SUV to tow, and with a 5500-lb standard towing capacity, or 6600 with the optional towing package, the Q7 should satisfy any light- or medium-duty towing need. Fuel economy is typical V8 SUV, with EPA estimates of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. I saw 14 in a mixture of highways, secondary roads, and dirt.

Clearly Audi is entering a saturated field with the Q7, but the vehicle is different enough from any existing luxury SUV while satisfying all of the reasons that drive people to buy a luxury SUV to make it a success. Audi may be the last to enter the SUV party, but sometimes the best is saved for last.