Let's get it out of the way; at OutDrive.tv we're as convinced by performance SUVs as the Pope is of gay marriage. If you need to carry loads, then you want a truck. If you need to carry kids, then look to the station wagon or, gasp, minivans, to fill the gap. Need performance on the Costco run - and who doesn't? There's the sport-wagon. Unlike the Pope, however, we're willing to give it all a try, and bearing the heavy burden of convincing us is Audi's 2008 Q7.
A firm mantle-of-the-Earth CLUNK of the door tells you everything you need to know about the Q7's build, as you settle into an interior so nice you'd be forgiven for considering living in it.
There's certainly enough room; with the third row of seats dropped down you can throw a set of 165cm cross-country ski poles diagonally into the 775 litres/27.4 cubic-ft cargo area without infringing on the middle row. That is a "middle row" in name only, as the third row is fit only for children or pocket gays – some gymnastics may be required. If you've a cruel streak, I suggest sitting your passengers at the very back of the bus.
Folding both sets of rear seats flat results in a massive 2,035 litres/72 cubic-ft of cargo hold. If you're so inclined you're set for a pre or post après ski disco nap. That leads us to flirt with reviewing the Audi as "Hotel Q7" for WinterPride in Whistler, B.C. – until the logistics of showering intervened. Still you are traveling in spacious style.
The leather interior is supple and well stitched, the seats exceptionally comfortable. The cup holders can withstand American sized beverages, with the Germans finally conceding to the land of super-sizing. The sound system is so dazzling, rightly so – it's filling a gothic cathedral space. The center console, gauges, the MMI (Multi Media Interface) and switchgear are carried over from the likes of the A6, so downscale SUV it's not. Three sections of panoramic sunroof lend an airy feel. Just to round it off the fit and finish are excellent.
Restrained? Not visually.
The look is unapologetically masculine, incorporating Audi's styling cues of the narrow, arched greenhouse, and sloping roofline into an SUV. How? By creating a steroidal A6. The high belt-line where the windows meet the body upwards looks purely wagon; below the belt the Q7 is gym-boy overbuilt and steroidal with crease sides, oversized wheels and an athletic stance.
The Q7 is hot, handsome, and sporting in a "German Muscle Bear sort of way" as our test passengers put it. It will certainly never be mistaken visually for a mini-van like the Mercedes M-Class or be as common as BMW's X5, making the Q7 a commodity for the image conscious.
Behind that Prius eating front grill inflicting blunt force trauma on the atmosphere is a beefy 4.2L V8. Growling out a maximum 325 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,500RPM, a stomp off the line brings you to 100kph (60mph) in a claimed 7.1 seconds. If that doesn't slop your latte, the abrupt throttle action will.
For those who dare go there, the top speed is electronically limited to 208kph (130mph), and brought to you by the 350 horses under the hood. Any thought of such behaviour will require an unlimited Chevron corporate card.
There's ample passing power, but the V8 soundtrack is fanfare for your personal scorched earth policy. Plant your right foot, and instantaneous fuel consumption shoots upwards past 40L/100km. Switching the info-centre to average consumption is slightly less accusatory – a mere 16.8L/100km. Fitting with WinterPride, the Q7 has a thirst to match a drag queen on a bender – if you intend on attending such events we suggest taking passengers willing to split fuel costs.
Audi is attempting an uneasy balance between sporting aspirations, luxury, and mass with the Q7's suspension. Our tester lacked the adjustable air suspension option, and that's a pity. A BMW X5 will make your lipo-sculpture jiggle, but the Q7 over a few potholes will invalidate you from organ donation. Internal bruising seems the price of adding "performance" to the SUV mix.
The only time the Q7 truly feels right is under the load of passengers and gear, mellowing the suspension to merely jostling. That's a call to pack the Q7 full of friends and head to WinterPride if ever there was. Hustling its capacious booty though the corners and sweepers of the Sea to Sky Highway, the Audi's biggest redefines "Whistler Express".
This is still a massive vehicle, 2390 kg (5269 lbs) in base configuration, so to quote WinterPride passenger Di Hebden, "It has more body roll than Star Jones!"
The handling nearly matches the BMW X5, despite the Q7 being a foot longer, and somehow the X5 feels slightly more top heavy. Aggressive cornering is a matter of faith in the lab-coats from Ingolstadt though.
From your majestic helm the Q7 feels vague, you can almost smell the silicon glowing red-hot as CPUs process Matrix streams of vectors in the traction management's battle with Newton's Laws. The Q7 never quite convinces that it's firmly grounded, and we never found ourselves indifferent to corner entry speed despite the stability.
The Q7 is, of course, equipped with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system, featuring a 60/40 front/rear torque split and automatic center-locking differential.
Here's something I recommend to any seasonal driver, take your vehicle out to a large open space and get to know its winter limits. In the case of the Q7, a very large open space… and dial up Blue Danube on the iPod for effect.
The Q7 grip is downright tenacious; better, the Quattro system features an Electronically Locking Differential (EDL) the ESP (Electronic Stabilization Program) with on and offroad modes.
In onroad conditions the system will apply brakes to spinning tires, and push up to 80% of torque to the front axle or up to 100% torque to the rear axle looking for traction. ESP set to offroad, the system will brake the single spinning wheel on an axle, transferring torque to the opposite wheel.
What does that all mean? You wouldn't believe what it takes to get one of these sideways, or even invoke an uncontrolled slide. It was in the name of science – really.
Strangely at no point do any of these antics feel like an e-ticket ride, but it makes for one heck of a sled ride. More importantly it gives a good sense of just how capable the Audi Q7 is in winter weather, despite the massive 20-inch Continental Contact4x4 tires.
And the brakes? The 350mm ventilated discs up front and 320mm set out back offer excellent power and feel. On slick roads though, you'd best remember the Q7 is backed by a lot of inertia and give yourself ample stop time ABS or no.
Watching the swirl of boys at WinterPride's Après Ski Party, I find myself staring at a large bowl of condoms. Then, it strikes where a performance SUV like the Q7 fits in the market – it's a prophylactic.
When you're considering the Q7 you're buying against a contingency. Part of you is optimistic; maybe you'll pick up an entire gay ski team. Part of you is a pessimist; that next gay ski week could be in the middle of a blizzard, or on top of the Himalayas. For that the Quattro all-wheel-drive and winter handling dynamics let you practice safe motoring. You may crave the V8's power and devilishly naughty sound in the passes, in which case the Q7 has you covered.
In the end though, the Q7 is like buying a full Trojan's XL package every night of the year. The 2008 Audi Q7 covers all the contingencies, protects you in full, but that might be an exercise in optimistic excess, and on a personal level my needs might be a bit smaller than that.
Base Price: $42,500
Model as Tested: $63,150.00