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Road Test: 2007 Audi Q7 & 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL

Separated at Birth: Audi and Mercedes Go Soft-Roading, with Seven-Passenger Seating

Ron Kiino
Aug 25, 2006
Contributors: Dan Carney
2007 Audi Q7

Where are all the men? In discussions with those shopping for light-duty SUVs built for slippery roads while hauling families, Audi researchers found that men were largely indifferent. According to Audi designer Dany Garand, they were happy to go along with whatever their wives wanted, because the men sure as hell didn't plan to pilot these mommy-mobiles themselves.
Therefore, Audi reasoned, the key to success in this hotly contested segment was to design a new crossover family hauler that also appeals to men. But bold, aggressive guy-friendly off-road looks could scare away women. The solution for Audi is a racy style backed by real performance muscle. Remarks Garand of the new Q7, "We wanted to make it as sleek as possible, so guys will like it, too."
Photo 2/7   |   2007 Audi Q7 interior
The Audi stands apart from chunkier competitors like the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90. The trick was packaging three fairly useful rows of seats in a shell that doesn't evoke thoughts of container ships, long jellybeans, or pregnant pachyderms.
Designer Garand's success lies as much in the well-executed details as in the broad strokes, with nice touches like turn signals integrated into the side mirrors as thin horizontal slices of LED that visually split the large mirror housings to reduce their apparent mass.

Photo 3/7   |   2007 Audi Q7 front View
Inside, however, the company, often cited as setting the standards in design and quality, played it a little too safe. The restrained cabin will never be criticized for any overt mistakes, but simultaneously, it does seem nice, if a bit generic. The black interior, in particular, feels downright Spartan, an echo of chilly interiors of the not-too-distant past. The beige layout is significantly warmer, especially when matched with the impressive Open Sky three-panel panoramic sunroof that boosts ambient light throughout.
Multi-adjustable first- and second-row seats should let nearly any occupant find a comfortable position. The second-row seats recline and slide fore and aft, letting the occupants balance comfort and space as needed when the third-row seats are in use. The Q7 is available in a five-seat, two-row configuration, a six-seat arrangement with second-row bucket seats, and a seven-seat layout with a second-row bench. Both rows fold down to provide a flat load surface from the rear hatch to the back of the front seats.
The goal was to build an SUV with uncommon agility and responsiveness on the road, and it seems to have achieved that. However, even with interesting techno-gimmicks similar to those on the LR3, such as optional air suspension and hill descent control, the Q7 has no low range in the transfer case, making it seem like Audi is ceding the hard-core off-road segment to Land Rover.
The Q7 shares some components with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, but in the end it's more a common design philosophy than hardware. Only 10 percent of the Q7's parts are also used on the Touareg, and while the vehicles are built in the same assembly plant, they roll off different lines. Despite the added size, the Q7 weighs about the same as the Touareg, thanks to the use of aluminum for the rear hatch, front fenders, hood, and some suspension components.
Photo 4/7   |   2007 Audi Q7 front View
On gravel roads, too, the balance makes it easy to play rally star, confidently powering through curves with the tail hung out just enough to help keep the Q7 pointed in the intended direction.
In Q7s sold in the U.S., power comes from a pair of gas engines: the familiar corporate 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and 350-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8. For now, the rest of the world gets possibly the best engine, a 233-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6, which provides smart acceleration and excellent fuel economy. Standard towing capacity for the Q7 is 5500 pounds (the vehicle can be equipped with an electronically hidden factory hitch), and it can tow as much as 6500 pounds with a standard, hard-mounted Class III hitch, which opens a world of possibilities to customers with medium-size trailers who might have felt the need to choose a less-refined SUV.
The Q7 demonstrates that German technology can still allow customers to have both beauty and brawn--the sweet spot of the market just keeps getting bigger. Expect Q7s to start at $50,000 with the 4.2-liter V-8 and to drop slightly when the 3.6-liter V-6 becomes available six months after launch.
2007 Mercedes-Benz GL

Much to Mercedes' chagrin, the first-generation ML experienced a rather high fallout rate when it came time for owners to re-enlist. Why? They simply outgrew it. Even with an available third row--a two-keister setup barely big enough for kids--the original M-Class just didn't have the interior volume to meet the demands of its sprouting clientele. Then came the second-generation ML, which Mercedes made bigger on the inside but opted not to offer with a third row, relegating it to five-seat capacity.
Not to worry. Here comes the biggest-of-big Benzes. The all-new seven-passenger GL-Class is built alongside the M- and R-Class at the company's Tuscaloosa, Alabama, factory, and shares a platform and chassis bits with its factory mates. Measuring 200.3 inches long, 75.6 inches wide, and 72.4 inches tall, the GL is Mercedes' first full-size luxury SUV, not to mention its largest vehicle to date. Next to an ML, the new GL is a smidge taller and wider, but is a foot longer, making room for the all-important third row, which offers a commodious 34.2 inches of legroom. Collapse the GL's 60/40-split second row and 50/50-split third row--both easily fold flat into the floor--and cargo expands to 83.3 cubic feet, nearly 11 more than in an M-Class.
Photo 5/7   |   2007 Mercedes-Benz GL interior
Originally, the GL was set to replace the long-in-the-tooth G-Class--a martial 25-year-old two-box SUV that's so popular Mercedes refuses to kill it--but will now serve as a showroom complement to the classic Austrian-built brute 'ute. When Mercedes embarked on the GL project (with the idea that it would supplant the G-Class), it set out to modernize the package while minimizing the boxy, military form. The result is the GL450, a Benz that looks tough enough for battle, yet luxurious enough to be a black-tie shuttle. But there is a price, which is likely to start around $58,000.

Photo 6/7   |   2007 Mercedes Benz GL top Rear View
Under the GL450's hood resides Mercedes' brand-new 4.7-liter V-8, which produces 335 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 339 pound-feet of torque at just 2700-5000. Essentially a smaller-displacement version of the 5.5-liter, 382-horsepower V-8 in the S550, the 4.7 is part of Mercedes's new engine family, which features dual camshafts, four valves per cylinder, a two-stage magnesium intake manifold, and variable valve timing on the intake and the exhaust valves. Mated to a seven-speed automatic, the 4.7-liter moves the GL with authority and ease, not a small feat, given its curb weight of 5300 pounds.
Not only does the GL offer brisk acceleration, but it also has nimble handling. Traversing the rolling back roads around Tuscaloosa, the GL's 4Matic full-time four-wheel-drive system, 18-inch wheel and tire package (19s are optional), and four-wheel independent suspension with standard Airmatic air springs had no problem providing taut, communicative responses, while delivering a forgiving ride that never felt harsh or rough. The GL, riding on a class-leading 121.1-inch wheelbase, conveys to the driver a sense that it's smaller and sportier than it really is, the latter impression reinforced by direct speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering and substantial 14.7-inch front/13.0-inch rear ventilated disc brakes that intimate they could handle another 1000 pounds.
Should one encounter obstacles--be it on- or off-road--the GL comes standard with ABS, brake assist, four-wheel electronic traction control, and electronic stability control as well as numerous passive safety systems, including active head restraints, adaptive belt force limiters, eight airbags, and a rollover sensor. The GL also sports Tele Aid, Mercedes' emergency calling system.
Photo 7/7   |   2007 Mercedes Benz GL top Top Front View
The spacious cabin also is luxurious. The SUV comes with power and heated front seats, real leather and burl-walnut trim, an electrically adjustable steering column, a modular COMAND system with a CD player and an auxiliary iPod jack, and a fixed moonroof above the third row. Of course, the GL wouldn't be a true Benz if it didn't offer a plethora of fancy options; customers can write checks for such extras as radar-based cruise control, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, sonar-type parking assist, a power tailgate, a navigation system, and an 11-speaker harman/kardon digital surround-sound system. Fully loaded, a GL will likely push 70 large.
Still, that price is well below the tag on a G500. And the GL is unquestionably the better box. Put a bow on one, because Mercedes plans to sell only about 20,000 per year.

 2007 Audi Q7 2007 Mercedes GL450
Base price$50,000 (est)$58,000 (est)
Body style4-door, 7-pass SUV4-door, 7-pass SUV
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, AWDFront engine, 4WD
Engine4.2L V-8, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl4.7L V-8, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm350 @ 6800335 @ 6000
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm325 @ 3500339 @ 2700
Transmission6-speed automatic7-speed automatic
Curb weight, lb5100 (mfr)5300 (mfr)
Wheelbase, in118.2121.1
Length x width x height, in200.2 x 78.0 x 68.3200.3 x 75.6 x 72.4
0-60 mph, sec8.9 (mfr est)7.4 (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ, mpg16/20 (est)16/20 (est)
On sale in U.S.CurrentlyCurrently



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