Necessary or Evil?

Audi006_4c52a8163547c-lightboxSurely there are more interesting cars to grace the pages of auto-journals then this barge, but after three years of Q7 ownership I felt compelled to share my experiences living with this beast and make an attempt to answer that big question: does driving this über Audi make me an anti-social, planet destroying moron? Or, does it have a place in the automotive universe?

Let’s talk about the need for size first. I do believe there is a correlation between the size of one’s wheels and, say, a certain inferiority complex from wherever that stems. Well, as a father of four I need a very sizable car for I am in need of at least six seats. This car has seven, although the two in the far back are for children only, unless your name is Verne Troyer.

But why did I not buy a less conspicuous family hero such as the Renault Espace or the Chrysler Voyager? This question is tougher to answer. You see, we live in the Netherlands, but have our second home in Sweden. And we love to ski.  So the surefooted 4×4 traction the Audi provides in Scandinavia and the Alps in any weather does come in very handy. And I suspect the Audi’s build quality, especially inside can withstand sustained abuse by travelling families better than most rivals.

I gave up my charismatic Toyota Land Cruiser in the buying process. That car was unbelievably good off road, so-so on-road but always drank in the low teens at best. Which brings us to the Q7’s fuel consumption.

Although diesel engines are the norm for Q7s, ours has the 3.6 V6 FSI petrol engine. The reason behind this unusual choice is because at the time we lived in Oman and just as other oil-rich Middle East countries, they simply don’t sell diesel engined cars. Petrol retails at 80p per gallon. The popular engine choice for a Q7 in Oman is the 4.2 V8, but due to an imminent relocation to the Netherlands at the time of procurement and to weather European petrol prices, I went for the most economic petrol engine available, hence the choice of the 3.6 V6

Performance from the 280hp V6 is good overall, but not exceptional. It’s surprisingly revvy and powerful in the upper ranges, but lacks pulling power when the car’s fully loaded up. That being said, the engine took a very long time to loosen up and seems to get better with age. For me this powerplant is a good compromise between performance and consumption, which is in the low-mid 20’s. I have never seen it in the teens not even with sustained city driving. Long motorway journeys typically result in 22-24mpg when cruising at 80-100mph. Mind you at 2.4 tons bare, then adding a roof-box, 6 people and their luggage, this kind of petrol drinking seems o.k. to me. If you drive really gentle, you can see 26mpg, but sod it, life’s too short for that.

Where this car truly shines is on long road trips. It’s a relaxing car. The view is imperial. It’s very refined, cruising arrow straight wonderfully. And it’s actually quite good around the bends giving its size helped by accurate steering and a planted, firm ride. But to spend a paragraph on its dynamics would still make for dull reading.

The best gimmick this car has is a detector system in the door mirrors, which keeps an eye on your blind spots. When another vehicle is close by a small light in the door mirror blinks and catches your eye. Brilliant. Add to this a superb cruise control, headrest DVD’s and a high quality sound system, then this SUV makes one friendly travel pal covering huge distances whilst keeping the kids occupied and quiet. This last bit is very important. Marriages can end on road trips.

What’s not great is the lack of luggage space when all seats are occupied – this can only be mathematically solved by adding a roof box or leaving a child behind.

Q7’s, mine included suffer from exactly the same gremlins. Sticky door handles, faulty parking brake light and failing roof drains. The appealing glass ceiling in this Audi is so enormous that when you open it at high speed the created vortex can vacuum clean your car in 2 seconds . For this ingenious invention to remain watertight, a complex drainage system runs through the A-pillars, which can fail after a couple of years – ours did, flooding the driver’s footwell – but was fixed under the 3-year warranty. Be aware, it’s 50 Euros worth of parts and 1,500 Euros worth of labor as the entire roof needs to come out. Once replaced, Audi issued a fresh 2-year warranty for the roof section.

I have read about faulty petrol locks and heavy brake wear as other common issues, but not with this one. This car has been sound mechanically since we drove it out of the showroom. It’s utterly reliable. And this SUV has been in hot sandy desert tracks and deep freezing Mountain roads. ‘Long-life’ servicing is carried out each 30,000km and have cost us about 500 Euro each time, although we paid an extra 200 Euro for new front brake pads at the 60k service.

Now leading up to the ‘moron’ question, I think the answer is a technical ‘no’ in my case, accepting it’s a little odd to judge myself of not being an idiot, but my personal profile does match this car’s features quite uniquely.

I should mention that many people who approach me about the Q7 actually like its looks and love to hear about ownership. Wherever I go, the big Audi generally draws interest from friends, colleagues and even strangers – especially when you bravely are filling its 100ltr tank at a petrol station.

These positive reactions go against the political view that big SUV’s should all be labled ‘bad’ and banned for eco and social reasons.

But judging this car is a fine line with no middle ground. Our Audi’s light green metallic paint and modest 18″ wheels probably help, making its stance more friendly. And driving a car full with kids and stuff always mellows fellow drivers.

But if this posh beast were black, with 20” rims underneath, shaded windows, driven in anger by a single dude right on your tail, then the verdict swings very quickly to ‘moron’, possibly shooting over to ‘wanker’.

I suspect very few drivers actually need a Q7 for all it has to offer.

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Tiemen Meester