Consumers ought to suspect something is up when a European auto maker advertises that "big can be beautiful."
That's a claim usually made by American car companies. This year it comes from Audi of Germany as the auto maker shows off its new sport utility vehicle, the 2007 Q7.
The five- to seven-passenger SUV, which looks like a lumbering, tall concept wagon driven right off an auto show stage, is truly big for Audi.
Stretching nearly 17 feet, the Q7 is Audi's biggest vehicle in the United States. It feels - and is - heavy. With a 350-horsepower, 4.2-liter V-8, the only engine available early in the model year, this SUV weighs more than 5,400 pounds, or 2.7 tons.
The immense front end and sizable dimensions can seem to overwhelm the vehicle's careful craftsmanship, at least on the outside.
Still, the Q7 accomplishes what Audi officials wanted. The company no longer is left out of America's popular SUV market. (Yes, even with higher gasoline prices, SUVs continue to sell. Through July, they accounted for 24 percent of new vehicles sold in this country, or more than 2.3 million sales.)
The Q7 arrives at the higher end of the SUV segment, with a starting price, including destination charge, of $50,620 for a Q7 4.2. A V-6 model, the Q7 3.6 that follows the V-8, starts at $40,620.
Volkswagen AG owns both VW and Audi brands, and the Q7 uses a stretched version of the VW Touareg's platform.
With optional air suspension, the ride was decidedly firm in the tester.
And with optional 20-inch wheels and tires on the tester, there was a good amount of unsprung weight - heaviness and activity - at the wheels.
The big tires also conveyed a lot of road noise, and the vehicle's considerable mass was noticeable in the curves.
The heaviness, though, conveyed a solidity that's rarely so palpable in SUVs, and with standard quattro all-wheel-drive system, the Q7 never lost traction.
The engine is tuned to deliver a smooth gust of low-end torque, right at startup. Peak torque is 325 foot-pounds at 3,500 rpm.
The only transmission is a six-speed automatic with shift-it-yourself Tiptronic; it worked smoothly during the test drive.
Don't look for great fuel economy. The tester didn't even get the 14/19 mpg that the federal government estimates, and it requires pricey premium gasoline.
The interior is pulled pretty much from the Audi A6 and A8 sedans. The seats are new and comfortable, but the fine dashboard design and gauges should be familiar to any Audi fan.
As with other Audi vehicles, the Q7 exuded craftsmanship, from the perfectly aligned stitching on the seats to the tactile feedback of the buttons on the dashboard.
The heaviness of the doors and the solid click as they close add to the impression that this isn't a mainstream SUV. It was so quiet, in fact, that I rarely heard the V-8.
The third row is standard in V-8 models, but because the third row is close to the floor, passengers sit with their legs up near their chins.
The cargo floor is also up quite high once second- and third-row seats are folded flat. This helps explain why maximum cargo room is 72.5 cubic feet.
Buyers who want all the latest electronic aids can spend a lot to get them.
The tester had $14,620 worth of options, including rear-view camera that not only shows what's behind the vehicle when it's in reverse gear. It shows via lines on a display screen on the dashboard where the vehicle will wind up if the steering wheel isn't moved and the vehicle just continues to back up.
A huge, panorama sunroof is unique in the segment and wonderful for the airiness that it gives the interior.
Basically, it's a three-piece sunroof that stretches back from the front seats for 5.6 feet.
In a world first, the Q7 is offered with light-emitting diode side assist lights on the outside mirrors. They illuminate when another vehicle enters the side blind spot.
THE VEHICLE: 2007 Audi Q7, a four-wheel-drive, seven-passenger, midsize, luxury sport utility vehicle
BASE PRICE: $39,900 for base 3.6-liter V-6 model; $45,900 for 3.6 premium; $49,900 for base 4.2 V-8
DESTINATION CHARGE: $720
PRICE AS TESTED: $64,520
ENGINE: 4.2-liter, double-overhead-cam V-8 producing 350 horsepower
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic with manual mode
EPA MILEAGE: 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway
LENGTH: 200.2 inches.
WHEELBASE: 118.2 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 5,467 pounds
BUILT in: Slovakia.
OPTIONS: Adaptive air suspension, $2,600; technology package (includes side sensors, rear-view camera and advanced key) $2,400; panorama sunroof $1,850; navigation system $1,800; 20-inch twin spoke alloy wheels with all-season tires $1,600; four-zone climate control $950; cold weather package (includes heated front and rear seats and heated steering wheel) $850; Sycamore Green Metallic exterior paint $750; towing package $550; Sirius satellite radio $550.
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