On the surface, the notion of paying north of $60,000 for a utility vehicle you'll never actually utilize seems absurd. Drive the Audi Q7, though, and rationalizations may set in. Against better judgment, you crave one.
The Q7 you see here entered our long-term- test fleet in January 2007. As more and more staffers returned from their first drives, we realized we had an unusual new arrival on our hands-and began a search for the proper word to describe it. The Q7 is...no, it's...it's quixotic, that's what it is. With this machine, Audi may have created the world's first "U-less" SUV. The Q7 is a sport-vehicle, plain and simple. Don't mention "utility"-the Q7 would rather not get its fingernails dirty.
On paper, the Q7 4.2 Premium sure sounds SUV-like. Quattro permanent all-wheel drive is standard, as are a Torsen center diff and asymmetric torque distribution. Ground clearance is more than eight inches. The DOHC, 4.2-liter V-8 makes 350 horsepower and a sturdy 325 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm (80 percent of max torque is on tap by 2000 rpm). A six-speed automatic with Tiptronic and paddles allows plenty of manual control and boasts refinements (such as reinforced shafts and mountings) for heavy-duty use. Hill-descent control is standard. There's room inside for six plus a bit of cargo.
Yet...yes, that quixotic thing again. You'd never take the 4.2 Premium off-road. For one thing, it's too pretty. The Q7 is one of those rare SUVs-sorry, "SVs"-that can make onlookers swoon. It radiates "rich." The inside is even richer, Audi at its charismatic best. Brushed aluminum, winking LED digits, divine leather, the snazzy MMI interface, the...hey! You're getting fingerprints on the vent controls!
Other bits offer further proof of the Q7's true intent. Our long-termer sported the optional 20-inch S Line alloys wearing low-profile 45-series Continentals. This combo helped deliver Catwoman moves and 0.82 g of grip, but didn't do much to instill the all-weather confidence of a true SUV. During the Audi's stay with us, more than one staffer was overhead asking, "Can I trade you the Q7 for your Brand X? I might, you know, do some off-roading this weekend."
Look underneath, and the Q7 showcases numerous suspension pieces crafted in aluminum. The design work is worthy of a modern art museum but, again, practicality takes a back seat to engineering flair. The bona-fide off-road makers know that, when true grit is the primary objective, steel is a more resilient and dependable suspension material. Another indicator of "faux-SUVness": The rear hatch may look sleek, but as more than one driver noted, the cargo floor is high and deep inside-you'll smudge your pants against the dirty rear bumper leaning in for your stuff.