The Q7’s 3.0-liter TDI diesel V-6 is a winner. It’s so quiet, so smooth, and so powerful. Well, so torquey, I guess I should say, since it has 406 lb-ft, compared with 266 lb-ft for the 3.6-liter gasoline V-6 offered in the base Q7. Cruising at 80 mph on the freeway is effortless, and if you gun it to 90 mph or higher while you’re passing, it’s as if the engine is not even exerting itself. The powertrain is also very smooth and refined at slower, around-town speeds. It’s a very tractable engine, well-mated to its six-speed automatic. Audi estimates a 0-to-60-mph time of 8.5 seconds (not bad for a 5512-pound, 16.7-foot-long crossover) and a range of up to 600 miles in freeway driving, based on the highway EPA rating of 25 mpg and the 26.4-gallon fuel tank.
As for the Q7 itself, well, it looks great inside and out, but it does have some compromises, most having to do with its size. Although it’s more than 16 feet long, its tapering roofline impedes on room for both passengers and cargo. The third-row seat is very cramped and suitable only for children, what with its 29.2 inches of legroom and 35.6 inches of headroom. The Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec, by comparison, offers 34.2 inches of third-row legroom and 38.2 inches of headroom.
The Benz weighs about a hundred pounds more than the Audi, but in this behemoth class, we’d call that a draw. Other dimensional comparisons between the GL and the Q7 continue in the Mercedes-Benz’s favor: Whereas the Audi provides only 10.9 cubic feet of cargo space when the third-row seats are in use, the GL350 carves out 14.3 cubic feet. Cargo space when the third-row seats are folded—a common scenario for most owners, we’d guess—also slightly favors the Benz, at 43.8 cubic feet, over the Audi, at 42.0 cubic feet. With both the second- and third-row seats folded, the Mercedes measures 83.3 cubic feet and the Audi is 72.5.
Despite its mass, the Q7 feels pretty spritely on the road; I’ve found this to be true even in the gasoline V-6 model as well as the one powered by Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8. On the downside, the ride is a bit harsh over rough pavement; Mercedes has the edge here, as well.
All these quibbles aside, I really like the Q7 in all its iterations, and to have this much performance, utility, style, and prestige in a package that delivers 25 mpg on the freeway while hauling up to seven people is notable.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I can’t even begin to imagine the power – no, the torque – of the Q7 V-12 TDI that Automobile Magazine’s European bureau chief, Georg Kacher, drove across Europe for a recent feature story. Because our Q7, with half the cylinders, feels mighty strong.
When I first approached the Q7, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Two-Mode Cadillac Escalade we had in the office a few months ago. Both are big, expensive white whales covered with obnoxious stickers proclaiming their supposed green credentials. Both manage 20 mpg combined, too. Only the Audi skips the fancy hybrid technology and goes with the old diesel. It sounds like a crude, cheap way out, but on the road, it feels like a far more elegant solution. There’s no surging in the brake pedal, no feather footing the accelerator to try and stay in EV mode. All you notice at a standstill is the slightly rough idle of the 3.0-liter V-6. At full cry, you get a full symphony of diesel and turbocharger, along with a push in the back more than equal to what you’ll feel in most V-8 beasts. Turns out, a diesel in a $50,000 luxury SUV is a good idea.
As Joe noted, the rest of the Q7 is more of a mixed bag. It still looks fantastic, and the interior, being an Audi, is beyond reproach (although some controls, like those for the HVAC, are needlessly complex). But there’s just a whole lot of wasted space in here, as the thickly padded rear seatbacks fold flat, but not into the floor. The result is you’re driving a big SUV with most of the usual big SUV drawbacks, but don’t get much big-SUV utility in return. It also emits some decidedly non-Teutonic squeaks and rattles, which I’ll bet have something to do with the massive sunroofs (yes, there are two).
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The CLEAN DIESEL billboard-sized stickers all over our Q7 TDI are a bit much, but we’re journalists and this is a test car, so I suppose Audi is killing two birds with one stone, getting the word out to the public.
Yes, indeed, it’s clean, it’s quiet, and it flat kicks ass in the torque department, with torque and a half to spare over the gasoline model. And it gets impressive fuel economy while doing it.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
I join the crowd in loving the diesel engine in this SUV, but unlike Joe and Jean, I didn’t think it was that quiet. Sure, when the windows are up and the humongous sunroof is closed, it’s quiet, but I’m a windows-down kind of guy, and you can sure hear the diesel clatter with the smallest crack. I have to wonder if a person in the market for a $60,000 SUV is going to like hearing a diesel clatter when they try to use the sunroof.
Unlike Joe, I also was not terribly impressed with the interior. The first thing that struck me when I entered the vehicle was the vast expanse of black plastic on the dashboard. The interior in this vehicle didn’t seem to be on par with the Audi Q5 that we tested recently. It also can’t touch the interior in its [much more expensive] Porsche Cayenne sibling. There are also several unnerving rattles coming from a brand-new car.
I have to say, if I were shopping for an SUV in this price range, I would have to go with the Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTEC that costs about the same (without options) as this particular Q7. The interior in the GL just seems richer, especially in the cashmere leather in the 550 model we recently tested.
Andrew Peterson, Assistant Web Producer
For years now, I’ve held my ground as an advocate of the diesel-powered SUV as some sort of precursor to the messianic era of motoring – even as diesel prices continued to rise – and have taken my share of flak for that. No one seemed to care, especially since the people I preached to still have the clack-clack-clack-clack of Eighties diesels rumbling in their minds. The Q7 3.0 TDI might not bring about a Second Coming in the American automotive psyche, but neither is it a false prophet.
I immediately picked up on the same problem that Andrew Peterson noticed: Whether you notice it’s a diesel or not is dependent on how much you’re exposed to the outdoors. With the windows up at speed, it’s as quiet as anything else; with the windows down at idle, you half-expect to see a semi pull up next to you, waiting to fill ‘er up.
The TDI is a great engine in a great truck, but my Q7 experience was soured by the fact that I just drove the Q5 two weeks ago. The Q5 seems a perfect size, has Audi’s most updated interior, and feels very special. By comparison, the Q7’s size is always readily apparent, and Audi’s well-damped yet extremely light steering doesn’t facilitate maneuverability. I also thought that the leather was vinyl. The brakes were a little touchy, and the pedal was pretty soft. I loved the turbo, and the faint whine kicked in reassuringly. As long as you let the automatic work on its own, you don’t notice the sub-4000 rpm redline (it didn’t like it when I wanted to let it soar to the redline in manual mode -JJ).
I liked the Q7 but didn’t love it. That’s enough for me, though. I think I was a little disappointed because I expected it to rock my reality about SUVs, having grown up in the thirstiest beasts around. For the simple fact that it performed normally, without any of the historical complaints about diesel engines, the TDI reaffirmed my belief that SUVs could be better off with diesels – at least as an option. And with the price of a gallon of petrol steadily eclipsing No. 2 diesel, now is as good as ever for this Q7.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Intern
I am quite fond of the diesel’s soundtrack. Stepping on the throttle with the windows cracked combines phenomenal thrust with the satisfying whoosh of the turbo and muted clatter of compression ignition. It reminds you that you’re driving something different. The truth is that buyers choosing the TDI know what they’re getting into. They’re not buying this Q7 for the fuel economy. They want the gobs of torque and are willing to put up with the trivial tradeoff of diesel rattle. Any buyer who takes issue with the engine’s character can settle for the V-8 Q7. But it’s their loss.
The Q7 is definitely a large vehicle, but it feels more manageable than the Mercedes-Benz GL550. Also, the seats and cabin envelop the driver to create a sporty atmosphere. The Mercedes puts the driver in a tall truck-like position that just emphasizes the vehicle’s size.
The climate controls are far too complicated, requiring you to press an HVAC-specific button and then move your hand several inches to the MMI controller to complete the process on the infotainment screen. If you don’t move fast enough, the climate settings disappear from the screen and you have to hunt for the appropriate button to start over. HVAC either needs to be fully separated from the MMI or completely integrated, but not some form of twisted, complex combination.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Indeed, the 5500-pound Q7 gets around quite nicely with this torquey 3.0-liter turbo-diesel, which is particularly turbo-y. Still, the dieselness and the S-line trim package can’t hide the fact that this is a gigantic SUV with next to no sporting aspirations. As big SUVs go, this is a very nice one, with particular bonus points going to its wonderful interior, as all Audis these days seem to have. I’m not really sold on this type of Audi, though. I know that the company felt obligated to jump into the crossover pool, but I prefer my Audis as sedans or coupes (or even wagons). And $60,000 can buy a really nice A6.
Speaking of the A6, one issue that I had with our Four Seasons 2005 A6 3.2 repeated itself with this Q7: Left-foot braking is highly discouraged–if you get on the gas before you’ve completely removed your foot from the brake pedal, the vehicle is likely to ignore your request for more throttle, potentially hanging you out to dry in an intersection.
Another unrelated niggle: The seats are too firm for my liking; I feel like I’m sitting on them rather than in them.
On the plus side, however, the neat secondary sunroof over the back seats actually opens, and even though it vents only, it helps to nicely manage wind and ventilation in the cabin without being too noisy.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2009 Audi Q7 TDI
Base price (with destination): $51,725
Price as tested: $59,725
Premium plus $3,250
-Audi parking assist, navigation system, Bose surround sound
Panorama sunroof $1850
S-line package $1200
-20 in S-line wheels
Warm weather package $1150
-four-zone climate control, window shades
Towing package $550
17 / 25 / 20 mpg
Size: 3.0L V-6 DOHC TDI
Horsepower: 225 hp @ 3,750 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
6-speed automatic w/ Tiptronic
Weight: 5512 lb
20″ S-line wheels
275/45R20 all-season tires