I've just done 2000 miles in four days through mountains, deserts, rain, sunshine, snow, and heavy winds; and overall, the Q is comfortable and especially stable, even at high speeds," notes art director Andy Foster, who rendezvoused with Kiino and Vance on their R8 adventure (July 2007). Road tripping from L.A. to Crater Lake, Oregon, via Reno, Foster had myriad impressions: "The engine sound when planting the boot and accelerating away from 60 mph is satisfying, as the V-8 power kicks in nicely to move you quickly past all the trucks and RVs on I-5. Up in the mountains and through the twisty roads, the handling still feels sporty enough for you to think you're not in an SUV. The brakes and handling of the Q7 inspired confidence when driving down long, straight forest roads heavily populated with deer, who had a tendency to wander into the road. Although, realizing this was at night, I did feel the headlights could've been better at choosing the paths of these potentially suicidal mammals." Clearly, Foster was upset that the Q7 didn't come with the optional Deer Avoidance Package. "After driving for a couple hours straight, I found the driver's seat is a little too firm for me, and it doesn't slide back quite far enough for my six-foot frame."

Basking in the aura of the Black Rock Desert, helping Vance with a photo shoot, Foster opines, "Very handsome-looking car, inside and out, photogenic particularly in this pale silver. The black, stylish interior isn't as heavy-handed as some BMWs that go too far with the funereal look, and the lighting of the dials-a warm, glowing red color-works well for me, being bright enough but not too taxing on my old eyes."

As an Englishman who's also lived in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Sydney, Foster loves a navigation system, although he's not especially smitten with the Audi's. "The nav itself is easy to use but compared with the systems in the Lexus LS 460, the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and the Infiniti G35 s, it shows little typographic information regarding where you're passing. Zooming in and out is simple but often information disappears when you try to get a bigger picture of where you are."

OTHER MT VOICES:

There's a funny little vibration back through the steering wheel that feels like a flat-spotted tire. It can't be, of course, because the ABS system won't allow it. It might be a missing wheel weight. We've asked Audi what it might be, and their suggestion is a bent rim. Nothing looks untoward, however, and you'd think any pothole big enough to bend one of the Q7's monster 20 inch alloys would have left some sort of mark on the tires.

The vibration is annoying because the big Q7 is so smooth in so many other ways. The silky 4.2-liter V-8 delivers a linear surge of power, with a delicious burble that sounds like Tom Waits gargling Bailey's Irish Cream. The six speed auto segues between gears with barely a ripple in forward acceleration. But the Q7 is not exactly relaxing. The ride is slightly arthritic, the stiffness in the system amplified by the taut sidewalls of the low profile tires, and the firmness of the seats. On rough roads you hear squeaks and rattles from the interior that you wouldn't in the more stiffly sprung GL450 or Land Rover LR3. -ANGUS MACKENZIE

Spent two days in the Q7, ripped it down to Irvine and back. I really like this ute. Put a gun to my head and make me pick a three-row SUV I'd have to drive every day, and this sucker is right up there at the top. With the S-line package and the V8, you almost get the feeling that this is a performance Audi -- almost. While it may not be as stiffly sprung as the GL and LR3, it is certainly more athletic and agile to me. Noticed a bit of the squeaks and rattles Angus was talking about, but I have heard plenty more of the Waits/Irish Cream exhaust note when busting it onto the freeway or ripping away from a light. Had a big discussion with one of the guys in Irvine about it, and he said he thinks it should have been lowered and turned into a vehicle more like the R-Class, which I don't necessarily disagree with. But then it wouldn't be an SUV, and where would Audi be then? Probably better off... Clearly, Audi, like a lot of Ute makers, desperately wants you to believe you're really driving a big car, trick you into thinking you can rip it around corners and into the twisties. If there was a Ute you'd try it with though, it may be this one. I love the cockpit layout, but the driver area is a bit cramped, and indeed, the seats are more sport themed and not as comfortable as other big rigs. -MIKE FLOYD


2007 Audi Q7
Months/miles 4/9424
Avg econ/CO2 13.8 mpg/1.4 lb/mi
Unresolved problems Headlamp washer
Maintenance cost $0
Normal-wear cost $0