First Drive: 2011 Audi Q7 TDI

Room for two more?
The Q7 is bigger than its Porsche Cayenne/Volkswagen Touareg platform-mates, which allowed engineers to package a third-row of seats. But access is not easy, and you can forget about putting adults back there; even your kids will outgrow it after middle school. Also, there's not much luggage space when the third-row seats are in use. Consider the Q7 really a 5-seater, with two extra places to use in a pinch. The good news is that the second row is quite comfortable, even the middle position, although headroom is at a premium. The optional oversize sunroof covers all three rows, and is one of the biggest we've encountered.

The Q7 -- with any engine -- offers a choice of three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. My test example was equipped with the Premium Plus package, which includes navigation, the panorama sunroof, and a few other items. Leather is standard. The interior, though, doesn't quite live up to Audi's vaunted reputation. Everything seems well put-together, but the design is fairly bland and the details unspectacular. There is no wow factor. The familiar Multi-Media Interface, part of the optional navigation system, is fairly easy to use but not as good as the best systems. Know that the MMI in the Q7 is not Audi's latest-and-greatest version, the one with the touchpad number and letter entry that you find in the A8 and the A7.

In the shadow of its sibling
Although it's larger and more expensive, the Q7 seems to exist in the shadow of its smaller sibling. One might expect the more popularly priced Q5 to sell more, but the central issue is that the Q7 doesn't really offer much to tempt buyers away from the Q5. The third-row seat is its only real draw, but unlike those in some competitors, that back bench is strictly for kids. The extra utility, therefore, is marginal, and the extra luxury isn't really there either. Of the three Q7 engine offerings, the TDI's exceptional real-world fuel economy makes it the easy choice over either of the slightly quicker gasoline engines. It also helps make a case for the Q7 over the Q5. Little wonder, then, that it's the most popular version of the Q7. Now, a Q5 TDI -- that might really grab the limelight.

I still pine for the Q7 with the V-10 TDI... THAT was an SUV for all seasons! Too bad Audi thought it was too over-the-top. I thought it was just right, especially for open American roads.

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