2007 Audi Q7

From early December to mid-March, Hell freezes over. If the Devil lived here, he would have to put on his parka, gloves, hat, and snow boots-like the other 266 inhabitants of this hamlet hidden twenty miles northwest of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The center of Hell Township consists of a general store, an ice cream parlor that's closed in winter, and a bar and grill. The dominant colors of these dwellings are yellow and red, the most popular symbols are licking flames, and the best-selling memorabilia are Satan T-shirts, mugs, and caps. Overall, however, winter in this place seems more like purgatory than the underworld.

Heaven, on the other hand, is a slice of paradise. Located on the outskirts of picturesque Bardstown, Kentucky, it's home to the Heaven Hill distillery. Founded in 1935 after the repeal of Prohibition, Heaven Hill is the largest independent, family-owned producer of distilled spirits in the United States. Geographically, Heaven and Hell are closer than you might think. The distance between the little village on Hell Creek and the home of both Evan Williams and Elijah Craig bourbon whiskey is about 400 miles.

Our transport is a brand-new SUV that will attempt to make an impact on an already crowded market when it goes on sale in June. The Q7 is the biggest let's-call-it-crossover made in Europe, but the real surprise is that it's made by Audi, a German company renowned for advanced engineering and a range of all-wheel-drive luxury sedans. Audi hopes that the market is craving a mud crawler made in Ingolstadt and firmly believes that it can add a new dimension to the SUV game. The Q7 is priced competitively, with a base price of $50,620 in V-8 form.

If the response to the vehicle during our drive is anything to go by, the Q7 will do a better job of putting Audi on Americans' radar screens than all of its current passenger-car models combined. People not only want to know what it is but also what it costs and whether it has enough grunt to keep up with the other civilian tanks from Detroit and Tokyo. It certainly has the requisite size, measuring 200 inches in length and with a 118-inch wheelbase, which exceeds the related Volkswagen Touareg's by a substantial 5.8 inches. Its width and height are about on par with the Porsche Cayenne, and even though the Q7 eschews a low-range transfer case, the curb weight of the 4.2-liter model is a sumo-esque 5269 pounds. The designers under Walter de'Silva sculpted a tall and imposing bridgehead-style front end, but the drag coefficient is rated at a surprisingly slick 0.34. By SUV standards, the Q7 is quite elegant and wagonlike in its proportions. By Audi standards, however, it is disturbingly ornamental and quite conservative in its engineering.

Externally, the Q7 comes across as the King Kong edition of the A6 Avant, but inside it is pure luxury limo. The cabin design mixes A6 and A8 elements with Audi's usual fine materials and faultless craftsmanship. The instrument panel and switchgear are upper-class Audi, and the MMI system is also a carryover. The key difference between this and other European SUVs is the business-class packaging in row two and the bigger-than-average cargo deck. By adjusting the asymmetrically split bench, it is easy to accommodate even the longest set of legs. The third row, however, is restricted to those who stand less than five feet, three inches tall. The wide, deep, and flat cargo area holds 144.1 cubic feet of luggage with the rear seats folded flat, 27.4 cubic feet in five-person configuration, and 10.9 cubic feet with all three rows erect.

Initially, the Q7 will be available only with the new 4.2-liter FSI V-8, which delivers 345 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. The newish 276-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 from the Volkswagen Passat won't be available until fall. We drove the V-8, which likely will be the bigger seller in America.

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