In many parts of the world, hunking great fuel-thirsty four-by-fours are increasingly a hard sell. Indeed, the market has flat-lined pretty much everywhere.
‘Green’ taxes on such decidedly environment unfriendly vehicles are becoming the norm in Europe and the West. And soaring fuel costs are relegating these civilian tanks to a market made up of – how to say this? – the comfortably well-off. Everywhere, that is, aside from here.
In the UAE, demand for four-by-fours and SUVs is as healthy as it has ever been. So, what better place for Audi, a German car manufacturer renowned for advanced engineering and a range of all-wheel-drive luxury sedans, to enter the market?
Audi hopes there is a real craving for its own brand of mud-crawler and firmly believes it can add a new dimension to the SUV game. Welcome the Q7, a vehicle as impressive for its size as for its technological prowess and the beast of an engine lying under its bonnet.
If the response to the vehicle during my drive was anything to go by, the Q7 will do a better job of putting Audi on the UAE’s radar than all of its current monsters of the road combined. At 200 inches (5.08 metres) long and with an 118in (2.82m) wheelbase, the Q7 exceeds its fraternal Volkswagen Touareg’s by 5.8in (14.7cm).
Its width and height are about on a par with the Porsche Cayenne, but the curb weight of the 4.2-litre model hits 5,269lb (2,395kg).
The designers under Italian maestro Walter de’Silva have sculpted a tall and imposing front end, and a grill that seems to snarl at anyone who would dare to glance in their rearview mirror.
By the standards of many SUVs, the Q7 is elegant in its proportions. Externally, it comes across as an A6 Avant on steroids, but inside it is pure, unadulterated luxury.
By adjusting the split rear bench, it is easy to accommodate even the longest set of legs. The third row, however, is restricted to those who stand at less than 5ft (1.52m). The wide, deep, and flat cargo area holds 144.1 cubic feet of luggage with the rear seats folded flat.
Initially, the Q7 was available only with an entirely new 4.2-litre FSI V8, which delivers 345hp and 325lb-ft of torque. The newish entry-level 276hp, 3.6-litre V6 from the Volkswagen Passat comes with the usual compromises, but will save any owner more than a few dirhams.
Without extras, the Q7 is relatively unremarkable. It will take a deep reach into the options bag before the Q7 begins to feel truly special. You need, for instance, adaptive air suspension, which maintains a constant vehicle height no matter the load, lowers the body at speeds by up to 1.4 inches to reduce drag and fuel consumption, and lets you choose from six different modes, including dynamic, automatic, and comfort.
Another innovation worth considering is ACC-plus. Active cruise control can be engaged between standstill and 144kph, and it brings the Q7 to a complete stop, if traffic conditions require.
One novelty is the collision alert feature, which warns the driver by sounding a gong and then applying the brakes briefly – waking the doziest of drivers from their mid-motor slumber. Other options include an advanced parking system that adds a rear-view camera to the mix of bells and whistles.
Side assist is yet another available feature. Designed to eliminate blind spots, it flashes a yellow light integrated into the side-view mirrors whenever a vehicle approaches from behind and the driver attempts a lane change – great for Dubai where looking in mirrors before changing lanes is not always a given.
Like the Cayenne, the Q7 drives more like a high-roof car than a low-roof SUV. And with the 21in low-profile alloys on the test version, when the transmission is knocked back into sport mode and the suspension lowered to the dynamic setting, the thing clings to the road like glue.
However, even with the meaty engine, the Q7 looks big and weighs too much, but there is an effortlessness behind that facade.
Despite all the technological safety features, immaculate interior and menacing good looks, the overall impression is of minor underachievement.
Audi, as a late entrant onto the SUV field of play, had the chance to rewrite the rulebook or at least some chapters. What advances that have been made are impressive – there is more space, more equipment and more versatility, but it would have been good to see more ingenuity, more risk-taking, and more brilliance from Audi. The Q7 is unquestionably the new leader of the pack, but the competition is uncomfortably close at its heels.
A heavyweight with a beast of an engine