Audi joins the SUV queue with presence

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009
BOX OF TRICKS: Audi's Q7 SUV has many nifty uses for its on-board radar.

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Audi’s Q7 is quite a box of tricks.

It has adaptive cruise control or ACC, which is a tad more reliable than the compensation scheme with which it shares its initials, for up hill and down dale, the car’s radar system will keep the new Q7 well away from the vehicle in front.

Then there’s the Audi’s side assist set-up, which monitors the Q7’s rear blind spots.

Two radar sensors in the rear bumper watch the area behind and next to the Q7 and warn the driver of vehicles approaching from behind that may be hidden by its rear quarters.

The new Audi can be set to a range of five height presets and while it does not have the low range systems and lockable diffs of the Cayenne and Touareg, it uses instead a quattro system with full-time four-wheel drive and a 40:60 front:rear torque-split for normal conditions.

It uses an automatically torsen centre diff to send up to 85 per cent to the rear, and up to 65 per cent to the front if there’s a loss of traction.

It’s quite adept at groping about in sand and dirt and perhaps more importantly would appear to be the right kind of system for those who ski and tow a bit.

Should you feel like getting more serious the Q7’s stability control offers a downhill protocol which uses the ABS system to help brake the car’s wheels to keep it stable and all-square in steep, low-friction off-road situations.

When shingle roads are encountered, the quattro set-up can be sensed doling out torque to the axle with best purchase.

If the surface is gravel, and with few holes and obstacles on it, the car handles best in ‘dynamic’ chassis mode and feels almost sporting, with a pleasingly rearward bias to its power delivery as the all-wheel-drive system responds to the chassis’ sensors’ observations.

The Q7’s refreshingly precise reactions to driver input – not just for an SUV – make for great confidence on backroads where it obeys every move of the wheel and feels amazingly communicative for something that weighs two-and-a-half-tonnes-plus with a driver and passenger.

The Q7 can take seven easily, though rearmost passengers might need to hunch a little under the tapered roofline, but all seven places are grown-up.

With the rear seats in use, the wide, high-opening hatch area has 775 litres of loadspace which grows to 2035 litres when they’re folded flat.

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The Q7’s load lip can be made more accessible for heavier or more awkward cargoes by lowering the suspension by way of a button in the hatch area.

Audi’s familiar 171kW, 500Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel and 257kW, 440Nm 4.2-litre V8 petrol engines are available in the first Q7s in New Zealand and brand new 206kW, 360Nm 3.6-litre V6 petrol unit will arrive later.

While the V8 is a sonorous and effective option, the V6 turbodiesel makes a great fist of hauling along the Q7’s not inconsiderable bulk and would appear to be the engine of choice, though the 4.0-litre V8 turbodiesel is also hugely impressive.

On its own, the Q7 doesn’t look as large as more square-rigged contemporaries, like Range Rovers, Cayennes and Touaregs, but when parked among them you get to see how big it really is.

By being slightly lower slung and possessed of a styling signature that smacks of a heavily-inflated AllRoad rather than a two-box truck, the Q7 is pleasantly lacking in brashness, but it still has a lot of presence.

Though it may be a little late coming to the party, its easy going nature, clever driving aids and genuinely useful format will ensure it sells well in a crowded market segment.

- Fairfax Media

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