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Click to view picture galleryIt is said you can
  never have too much
  money. Perhaps.
  But you can’t have too
  much space, either,
  and the Q7 — Audi’s
  all-new luxury SUV —
  gives you a chance to
  spend one to get a bit
  more of the other…”


WITH SIX BILLION homo sapiens leaving their collective footprint all over the Earth, the commodity disappearing the quickest
and, consequently, the commodity most valued today is not petrol, but space. Personal space. Whatever befalls us, in some manner or the other there will always be powered transport. Even if we're all living in one huge globe-spanning anthill. So grab your space while you can.

Talking of space, as a motorist you'll be hard-pressed to buy more space-on-wheels than that provided by Audi's Q7. And what a lot of space you get. The seven-seater Q7's 5,086mm length (16' 8.3") sounds substantial but, to put it into perspective, you should know that it is a mere 7mm longer than the Mercedes S-Class. The Q7 is
also slimmer — by an inch — than the latest Land Rover Discovery 3. Which also happens to be 150mm taller than the Audi. Biggest in its sector, Yes. Gargantuan, No.

Externally, the Q7 bears an identifiable Audi family resemblance to the A6 Avant. The 'scaled-up' estate body style is fronted by a sculpted bonnet, narrow aggressive-looking headlight units and Audi's bold new grille. Framed by clean side-view styling and an arching roofline, Audi has done an excellent job of masking the Q7's very liberal SUV proport-ions. And it looks particularly smart if you specify the appealing metallic Cobalt Blue paint finish that graced our test car. Whatever colour you decide upon, the Q7 radiates massive road presence. And the reaction of other road users — especially style conscious 18-30 year olds — was a consistent 'thumbs-up' as we drove by!

Currently there are three engine options — two petrol and one diesel. Petrol units are a 3.6 V6 and a 4.2 V8 with 276bhp and 345bhp res-pectively. The diesel is a 3.0 V6 TDI unit — one of the lightest v6 diesels in the world — delivering 230bhp. In this segment, diesel is the first choice for more than 6 out of ten buyers. We chose to test the best-seller — the 3.0-litre TDI quattro in range-topping S line trim, equipped with Audi's excellent Tiptronic transmission. Five-mode adaptive air suspension and quattro all-wheel drive are also standard.

Inside the Q7 you'll find spaciousness aplenty and seven seats — ranged two-three-two — fitted as standard. This is an Audi, so no shock that cabin watchwords are attention to detail, quality, elegance and refinement. Fit and finish is first-rate, as are all trim materials including the matt brushed aluminium — real metal! — fascia and door inlays. Even the smart black headlining has a tactile feel to it. Every-thing is exactly where you'd expect to find it, and all controls operate with pleasant physical precision. The dash blends style with form and function for excellent clarity. Attractive, twin teardrop-shaped bezels house the dials — which have clear graphics. Using the steering wheel buttons, the driver can call up information from several menus on the display between the speedometer and rev-counter. In particular, the digital road speed read-out is crystal clear and easy to take in whilst driving.

Welcome extras are: a comfortable-to-grip three-spoke leather-clad multi-function steering wheel with perforated leather on the 'work' areas, voice control and Audi's easy-to-use Multi Media Interface (MMI) that controls climate, audio, telephone, the adaptive suspen-sion, SatNav functions, etc. Everything combines to make life as stress-free as possible for the driver, who also benefits from a height-adjustable seat and height-and-reach steering column adjustment. Ahead of a broad armrest between the front seats is a high-ish centre console housing the selector lever and MMI controls in the space where you would normally find a traditional handbrake. The foot-operated parking brake works just fine.

The glove box is air-conditioned and additional storage is found under the lidded centre armrest and in the large door pockets that also incorporate moulded 1.5-litre bottle holders. There's more than enough cupholders to go round and there is also a glasses compartment integ-rated into the roof lining. And if you move the First Aid kit to the boot, you can make good use of the sturdy drawer built into the front seat. The dual-zone automatic climate control uses generously-sized fascia vents (and more in both the B-pillar and the second row centre con-sole) to provide draught-free ventilation that's especially welcome when the rapid cooling or heating is required.

Kit is comprehensive and includes the already mentioned seven-seat configuration, adaptive air suspension and Tiptronic transmission. Also included as standard are: auto-dimming rear view mirror, CD player, tinted heat-insulating glass, cruise control, automatic dual-zone climate control, the Multi Media Interface operating system, rear acoustic parking, Driver's Information System, multifunction steering wheel, speed dependent power-assisted steering, front and rear electric windows (all one-shot auto up/down), auto lights and rain-sensing wipers, electrically-adjustable and electrically-folding and heated door mirrors, full Alcantara/leather upholstery, powered and heated (seat and backrest) Sports front seats with electrically-operated lumbar support and 20-inch alloys.

Another welcome touch, given the recent snowfall, are wipers that are automatically lifted slightly when the termperature drops below 4 degrees to be heated by the air vents in the interior, thus preventing them freezing to the windscreen.

Optional equipment fitted to our test car included a DVD SatNav system with 7-inch colour monitor, CD autochanger, an upgrade to full front and rear parking sensors with acoustic and visual display on the MMI monitor (in spite of its size, the Q7 laughs in the face of car parks!), electric tailgate with programmable opening height/angle, voice control, swivelling Xenon lights and power headlamp wash system, comprehensive load-securing set for dividing up the load area and fixing objects in place, and a 14-speaker, 330-Watt BOSE surround sound system. All together they added a further £5,565 to the price. This all made the Q7 even nicer to drive and live with yet, importantly, still kept the overall price competitive compared to similarly spec'd rivals.

The Sports front seats are extremely comfortable and supportive and are made even more so by the extending under-thigh support on the seat base. All seats are upholstered in soft leather and the front seats are, as we have come to expect, electrically operated and heated. Getting in and out of them — and the middle-row seats — is not a problem, thanks to generously-proportioned doors. The second-row seats — backrest split 40:20:40, with an armrest in the centre section that can fold down to form a writing table; seat base split 40:60 — slide fore/aft four inches and offering superb stretch-out room. Sitting behind an average height driver, there's a full 13 inches of room between the edge of the second-row seat and the back of the front seat. Enjoy! Even better, all of the middle-row backrests can be individually reclined by up to ten degrees. Two more chairs (50:50 split) fold out of the boot floor to create a third row and take the number of chairs to seven.

Access to this rearmost pair requires the outer second-row seat to fold-and-slide forward 21cms and while they are a tad tricky to get to for adults, they are large enough for grown-ups to travel comfortably over short distances. To be fair, Audi does stress that these were designed to accommodate people of up to 1.6 metres tall. That said, the third row seats are comfortable and there's plentiful legroom for everyone, even with seven on board. Along with 7-seat accommod-ation, the Q7 was designed with flexibility in mind — owners will dis-cover 28 different seating and loading configurations.

Used as a five-seater, the Q7's 'boot' holds 775 litres — unmatched in the class. And even with all seven seats occupied, there's still a very respectable 330 litres of luggage capacity. All seats easily fold truly flat, which means that the maximum load capacity is a quite vast 2,035 litres. And when you need the seats back, a touch of a lever is all that's necessary to make them re-emerge from the floor. Plus you'll find more space for odds and ends in a handy (33 x 17 inches) removable waterproof and dirt-resistant tray beneath the boot floor.

The large tailgate lifts electrically (and closes the same way) to reveal a very wide aperture that makes loading easy. Especially useful: the rear of the vehicle can be lowered almost three inches at the touch of a button conveniently to hand in the load bay. Numerous lashing eyes and a multi-configurable cargo system ensure loaded items of all shapes and sizes stay where you put them.

The V6 TDI's three-litre may be the smallest displacement engine on offer in the Q7, but it's no slouch and it delivers more than adequate performance. The 230bhp propels it to 62mph in a commendable 9.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 134mph. And, for such a big vehicle, fuel consumption is remarkably good. Official figures for combined, city and touring are 26.9, 19.4 and 34mpg respectively. The 22-gallon tank offers the possibility — and convenience — of a 650+ mile touring range between refills.

Overall our test average came out at 25.1mpg. The 3.0-litre TDI is beautifully quiet and always feels as though there's a deep reserve of torque to draw on and its 369lb ft — available from 1,750rpm — is more than up to the job of towing up to 3,500kg braked. While we're on the subject, the 4.2 FSI petrol V8 produces 325lb ft at 3,500rpm. Owners planning to do some towing will be pleased to hear that the Q7's ESP system automatically prevents trailer sway and fishtailing.

And it's particularly well matched to the slick-shifting six-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox. The Tiptronic impresses not only with its near-imperceptible and seamless shifts but also, courtesy of its Dynamic Shift Program, in the manner in which it adapts to suit the driver's style and respond to prevailing road conditions — such as automatically down-shifting on hills to improve engine braking. Also to be commended are the Q7's brakes delivering, as they do, mighty effective stopping on command via a firm yet communicative pedal.

Get behind the wheel and you quickly forget the physical dimensions and weight — it tips the scales at 2,325kg but that's still nearly 400kg lighter than a diesel-powered Range Rover. Good dynamics, an imper-ious driving position and nicely weighted and accurate speed-sensitive steering combine to 'shrink' the vehicle around you. In fact, everyone who drove it found it easy to place accurately within minutes of driving it for the first time. There's an enjoyable fluency at the helm when negotiating sweeping B-roads — enhanced by the Q7's impressive grip, stability and handling.

The 40:60 front/rear torque split of the sports orientated quattro system (as fitted to Audi's super-saloon the RS 4 quattro), combined with a standard-fit air-suspension set-up that provides dynamic roll control and electronic height adjustability, make the Q7 unexpectedly composed and nimble on twisty routes. In fast cornering manoeuvres, the Q7's body remains horizontally stable. If you're surprised by that, then you're not alone. So were we. On first acquaintance it looks far too big to sling around. But so much for first appearances. And a thumbs up for the Q7's well-configured chassis.

The Torsen centre diff can, incidentally, when conditions demand, override the 'normal' 40:60 split and send 65 per cent of the power to the front wheels and as much as 85 per cent to the rear wheels. Driving in some of the year's worst weather showed the Q7 at its best — despite hurricane-like winds and driving rain it felt totally reassuring to travel in.

If you want to sharpen up the driving experience further, the Tiptronic also provides a Sport program (it delays gear changes and when it does so it performs them faster) and a manual shift feature that can override the auto 'box. To change gear manually you just move the shift lever sidewards, then tap fore/aft as desired to effect up/down gear changes. Alternatively, use the steering column-mounted paddle-shifters for finger-tip changes. The non-slip paddles are nicely-shaped and perfectly positioned for fingertip control. Whichever mode you are in, the selected programme/gear is displayed on the Driver's Information display in the centre of the instrument cluster.

Using MMI, you can switch between Comfort, Automatic and Dynamic ride modes whenever, and as often, as you wish. The ride height drops 15mm (lowering the centre of gravity) and both ride and handling are firmer if you select Dynamic. However, our experience was that Auto served up the best ride/handling balance. Big wheels and tyres often degrade ride quality but even wearing 5-spoke 20-inch alloys shod with 275/45 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres didn't distress the ride comfort of our test car, which soaked up the worst road blemishes. Cruising in a Q7 on motorways is an awfully relaxing way to travel. The cabin is hushed: the occupants undisturbed by engine, wind or road noise as the Audi effortlessly eats up the miles.

Although the Q7 lacks a traditional low-range 'box for serious off-road work, it does have Hill Descent Assist and an ESP stability system tailored to off-road use. Below 12mph on tricky downhill slopes the HDA automatically keeps the speed constant, leaving the driver free to concentrate on steering. And it's perfectly happy we're told, to wade through 535mm-deep water. Selecting the 'off-road' ride height setting gives you 205mm ground clearance (normal is 180mm) which is enough to tackle most things wet or muddy off the beaten track.

Safety features on all Q7 models include ABS four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated discs front and rear and 6-pot aluminium callipers at
the front) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and an Electronic Stability Program with rollover sensing and a towing stabilisation program. Passive safety features include adjustable-height front seat belts with pre-tensioners and load-limiters and lots of intelligent airbags (driver and front passenger, front sides and Audi's Sideguard head-protection airbag system that completely covers the entire side window area up to the third seat row).

In addition there are three Isofix child seat mountings and electric child locks for rear doors and windows. Both front and outer middle-row
seat belts are height adjustable. Excellent headlights make night driving safer. Drive-off central locking is also comforting both from a security and safety point of view — even more so if there are children in the car.

Worth a mention are the large door mirrors that provide excellent rear-ward visibility. We also found the small but clearly visible indicator warning repeaters in the outer mirror housings (for the driver's inform-ation only) to be particularly useful. You don't have to take your eyes off the road ahead to know that your indicators are working.

The optional Lane Change Assist was fitted and proved equally helpful: LEDs in the inner housing of each door mirror flash to warn the driver
of a vehicle coming up to overtake — either on the nearside or offside — that could make a lane change critical. What we liked about it was that not only is the system non-distracting, but it doesn't encourage you to stop your normal mirror-signal-manoeuvre routine. If you'd prefer, you can turn the system on and off with a press of a button in the driver's door panel.

Okay — the Q7 is big. But driving it is easy and it is also very good. In the Q7, Audi has brought to market a machine good enough to appeal to premium SUV shoppers who might otherwise purchase a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. Whatever it is you're looking for, the Q7 has to be noticed: space; style; luxury; brand image; comfort; potent V6 and V8 engines; quattro permanent all-wheel drive; all-weather ability and security. And seven seats.

Until the arrival of the Q7, Audi was short of a player in the premium Sport Utility arena — somewhat surprising when you consider their extensive know-how (25 years) with four-wheel drive technology. In that time, more than two million Audi quattro vehicles have left the assembly line. But that hasn't stopped Audi doing a sterling job at its very first attempt. As the saying goes: if you come late to the party, make sure you come well dressed. And when it comes to on-road sport utility handling, the Q7 is suitably attired.

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Audi Q7 S line 3.0 TDI quattro
| £41,380
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 25.1mpg | Power: 230bhp | Torque:
369lb ft
Visit Audi's website Click to go there now

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