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Click to view road test review picture galleryThe only difference
  between the Big Boys
  and the Little Boys is
  the size of their toys.
  And as toys go, they
  don’t come much
  bigger than Audi’s
  imperious Q7 SUV.
  Just don’t make the
  mistake of confusing
  big with brash...”

AUDI'S FIRST FORAY INTO THE SPORTS UTILITY VEHICLE market sector is the huge Q7. It is over five metres long, 1.98 metres wide, 1.74 metres tall has a wheelbase of 3.0 metres. It has seating for seven passengers as standard although there are options to have five- or six-seat layouts if the customer desires. The Q7 also boasts up to 2,035 litres of luggage space, quattro permanent all-wheel drive and height adjustable air suspension.

It is important for the major premium car brands to have a model range covering as many segments of the new car market as possible. They do not want VIP and celebrity customers moving to another brand just because they cannot, for instance, offer a large SUV.

The Q7, built in Hungary by Audi, might not be ideal size-wise for the UK's congested roads as it is built for the open spaces of the world's markets. However, the 6,500 UK customers buying the Q7 models each year do not seem to be put off by either its size, SUV image or price. In fact, such is the demand for the Q7 that in 2007 Audi increased production to over 78,000 units for their world markets. The Q7 is, of course, more at home in the wide-open spaces of the USA or in the Sheikdoms and oil-rich Arab states, where money and fuel prices are of no consideration. Even the Russians and Chinese are now following the Western world in thinking that a big prestige SUV means Very Important Person.

In the UK, the Q7 sells against the premium brand BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz ML, GL and R-Class 4x4s, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC-90, VW Touareg and the Lexus RX models. Customers range from country-domiciled city businessmen through to celebrities and, of course, those "mine's bigger than yours" professional footballers. Big 4x4s in the hands of business commuters, or affluent school-run parents, are not popular on busy city streets. But — for the time being at least — freedom of choice still exists providing, that is, you can afford the costs.

The Q7 will fall into the £400 road tax bracket from March this year.
It is already in the largest company car tax bracket and it looks as though the proposed new London Congestion Charges will put a £25 per day levy on this type of vehicle. And then there is the issue of
fuel costs — to fill the tank will set the A7 driver back over £100.

Depending on the engine and equipment level chosen, the Audi Q7 will cost you anywhere from £38,075 to £51,890. And that's before you run your eye over the long list of Audi options that add drastically to both its appeal as well as to the final on-the-road price.

If these figures worry you, the good news is that Audi is to launch a smaller five-seat version — the Q5 — later this year. But if you want
to stay in the big boy's league the Q7 will also become available with
a 6.0-litre, V12, 498bhp TDI turbodiesel engine as well.

There are currently four engine options: 3.6-litre V6 and 4.2-litre V8 FSI direct injection petrol units, developing 276 and 345bhp respec-tively; and 3.0-litre V6 and 4.2-litre V8 TDI turbodiesel engines deliver-ing 230 and 322bhp. In the UK, driven by business-user demand, it is the 3.0-litre TDI unit that is by far the most popular. All engines transmit their power to the quattro all-wheel drive system via a six-speed tiptronic automatic transmission. There are three main equip-ment levels: standard, SE and S line along with a bespoke 'added value' Limited Edition for 4.2-litre petrol and diesel variants.

My test model was the Q7 4.2 TDI quattro S line costing £50,990 — but with options, including metallic paint, leather upholstery with electric adjustable front seats, technology information and navigation package, comfort package, towing bracket and BOSE sound system, the final on-the-road total was £58,155. Big car equals big price —
but absolutely not an issue for a big earner with a big lifestyle image.

With its huge signature grille, the Q7 cannot be mistaken for any other make other than an Audi. It is somewhat slab-sided — although due to the flared wheel arches there are some styling contours. The side styling has a coupé roofline which means headroom through the doorframes (in and out of the vehicle) is not plentiful.

Inside, the front two rows of seats have plenty of space for five adults. The third rear row of seats has limited legroom for children, so treat them as only occasional seats. The quality and design of the interior is, as ever from Audi, impeccable — and the S line specification means these vehicles lack for nothing.

All models have the Multi Media Interface control system for on-board information — this is easy to use from just a single control. There are acoustic parking sensors (a must), cruise control, climate control and a driver's information system showing those all-important mpg and fuel range figures. A full array of front and side airbags is, naturally, fitted as standard. The S line model as tested gets additional equipment such as 20-inch alloy wheels and unique S line styling features for the grille, bumper and rear diffuser. Inside there are styling additions to highlight the S line level of specification.

The elevated driving position gives a good view to the front and side
of the vehicle and — bearing in mind just how big it is — that is just as well. The large door mirrors, rear-view parking camera and acoustic parking aids help with the day-to-day use of this vehicle; although it doesn't help find a parking space big enough for the Q7. Yes, the low-ish roofline lets it squeeze under the height restriction barriers at car parks but getting into a conventional-sized parking bay is not easy. And then getting the doors open to get out of the car is even trickier. Also, be aware of the over five-metre length of the Q7 because it seems to exceed most on-street parking bays.

On the open road, the Q7 still feels very large. I found that country lanes need to be negotiated with care, and more often than not the sight of a Q7 bearing down on an oncoming vehicle using a side road caused panic for the other driver. Most of the time they came to a complete stop whilst I negotiated my way around them. In the cruise on motorways where space is less important, the Q7 was more like travelling in a luxury estate or saloon. A relaxed and comfortable drive is achieved by the air suspension which absorbs bumps and potholes well.

Unlike other such 'air' systems, the Q7's seems to be able to 'nail' the car to the road. There is no undue bodyroll, suspension bounce or rebound and no fore and aft pitching under either braking or acceler-ation. The roadholding is helped by the standard-fit electronic stability programme which includes other functions such as hill descent assist, off-road mode (which optimises braking performance and traction) and a trailer stabilisation element that reduces the risk of fishtailing. For the record, the 4.2 TDI Q7 has a maximum braked towing weight of 3,200kg.

The quattro permanent all-wheel drive system provides 60 per cent of the traction to the rear wheels, so the directional stability is good.
Off-road, the abilities of the Q7 are limited. Yes, it will cope with muddy roads and tracks but nothing more, due to the nature of the road-type tyres. I rather suspect that adhesion on-road in snow will not be class-leading either. The suspension can be raised to give
extra ground clearance at the touch of a button, although it does nothing to enhance the comfort of ride, which gets very firm indeed with the system in the raised position.

The 4.2-litre, V8 TDI engine with twin turbochargers and intercoolers (a pair for each bank of cylinders) is one of the most powerful turbo-diesel engines on the market. It delivers 322bhp and a massive amount of torque — 560lb ft from 1,800rpm. This hauls the Q7, which weighs close to two-and-a-half tonnes, up to a top speed of 146mph but it
is the 0-62mph time of just 6.4 seconds that is truly impressive. The quattro grip gives the Q7 great stability and traction under acceler-ation, making it surefooted. Passing slower moving traffic safely and quickly is effortless. The smoothness and low noise levels from this new engine are also impressive. As for fuel economy… well, the official average figure is 25.4mpg (which was achieved most of the time) but the best I saw on the readout was 26.7mpg for a longish journey using motorways and A roads at a busy period in the day.

If size is a customer's 'thing', and Audi is their 'must-have' brand, then the Q7 makes sense. And sales prove that there is no shortage of such customers. However, if it's not your thing you'll complain about its overall size; moan that it's pricey, expensive to run and has cramped third row legroom. For me it is a little excessive, both in size and price. On the other hand, if you're of the 'big is beautiful' persuasion then you'll love this Q7 for its sheer presence and versatile seating layout. You'll also be enamoured of the comfortable ride, good handling (for a large 4x4), engine refinement and performance and the build quality. The icing on the cake will be its high residual values… Q Satisfaction! — David Miles

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Audi Q7 4.2 TDI quattro S line | £50,990
Maximum speed: 146mph | 0-62mph: 6.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 26.7mpg | Power: 322bhp | Torque: 560lb ft

CO2 294g/km | VED Band G £300 | Insurance group 18
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