It’s been a while since I’ve done a wistful review/summary about a car I potentially want to buy. Given my lack of posts in general over the last few weeks regular readers (please may there be some!) could well have assumed that I have pooled all my money together and finally dived in and bought myself a luxury SUV. Unfortunately for those of you bored of reading about such things, I have not. In fact the Mercedes ML in Winchester that I was ever so fond of is no longer for sale and instead I have let my thoughts wander to loftier heights (and driving positions).
I guess it was inevitable that the temptation to save up a little bit [a lot] more money in order to get a more modern and flashy model would crop up, and given the generally deflated values of SUV’s at this time of year coupled with looking at cars that scratched the top end of my budget I have therefore become enamored with the possibility of buying cars I had not previously been able to consider. Whilst the second generation X5 is probably my current favourite it is also by far the most expensive; Range Rover Sports and even newer cars like the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 have entered my sights, but one of the more interesting candidates is Audi’s larger SUV, the Q7.
When the Q7 was launched I was properly in love with the design. The 2003 Pikes Peak concept had heavily hinted at the look of a potential Audi SUV and given the fact the brand was known for it’s Quattro 4×4 technology it was highly anticipated that they had now ‘built a car for Quattro’, as they put it. My then-love for all things Q7 shaped even meant that I integrated it into my education; as part of my Graphic Design GCSE we had to design and produce an Easter egg container…I somehow decided that the shape of Audi’s then-new trapezoidal grille would be a great basis to design the container around, combined with images of the Pikes Peak concept and Audi A6 all over the sides. Although an interesting idea it is pretty unlikely that even Audi’s inventive marketing/promotions team would have offered customers a gimmicky Easter egg even as a freebie, they certainly would not have wanted my cobbled together mix of painted plastic and printed cardboard, even if the other side of the project got me an A*.
Nevertheless I was for a while quite invested in the development of the Q7 and it’s not hard to see why. Undoubtedly one of the largest and most distinctive SUV designs to have emerged in recent years, the car manages to blend Audi’s athletic, clean cut design style with the size and chunkiness desired by most buyers in this segment of the market (including me). The massive grille and slanted headlights scream aggression (even more so with later models with LED running lights), and round the back the one piece light/boot is high enough to appropriately block the view of traffic behind. Today most Q7’s are adorned with massive wheels but earlier models came standard with 18″ wheels, with 20″ and 22″ examples being an option. It’s these smaller wheeled models which are the only Q7’s to look a little cheap and ill-proportioned…more of a high rise estate than a proper SUV, and as early SE models came with plastic lower body cladding they can also look a little odd if it’s paired with an unusual colour like gold or green (which some are). S Line models look great though and are enough to scare others in the supermarket car park…overall a great looking car then.
Inside is where Audi’s traditionally excel over their peers and the Q7 is by no means an exception, at least for the most part. The dashboard borrows a lot from the 2005-12 A6 which was one of the most beautifully appointed at the time…and in fact given that the Q7 is still on sale with minimal changes stands testimony to the modernness of the design. Cowled dials and an informative screen inbetween them give the driver an unequalled-in-class set of instruments, and the MMI system was at the time leagues ahead of anything offered by any competitor. Controlled by a dial and buttons behind the gearlever, MMI is the gateway to the car’s infotainment system and 7 inch screen set in the dashboard. Personally I think that the larger screen and iDrive of the E70 X5 nudged ahead of the Q7 with it’s launch a year later, but to be honest either system would be a joy to use and is really a must-have option. In terms of equipment most Q7’s seem to fare quite well too, with heated electric seats on the vast majority of examples, as well as Bluetooth and navigation. Keyless entry is abit rarer but at least available, and there is an electronic tailgate on some cars too. The boot is where the Q7 starts to show it’s weaknesses though; the car is a bit of a reverse Tardis as despite being huge on the outside, inside it is no larger than it’s rivals and in fact in some areas considerably smaller! The boot is extremely high up off the ground, even without the optional 6th and 7th rear seats, and if those seats are in place their legroom is for kids only. Second row legroom is large and room up front seems alright, but I was abit disturbed with the massive door sills when I sat in a Q7 in a showroom a few months ago.
Underneath it’s skin the Q7 is based on an extended version of the Touareg/Cayenne platform and as such is pretty heavy, but I guess Porsche’s input must have paid off because the Audi manages to feel pretty spritely and handles sharply in all forms-I can’t comment as yet but based on the reviews I have read, the Audi comes across as better than the ML but behind the X5…pretty impressive considering it’s 5m+ length. Ride is surprisingly good also, with air suspension meaning that even the larger wheeled models ride smoothly even on suburban and city streets, although again this is merely something I have read in a few places. Engine options are quite varied compared to rivals too; originally 2 diesels and 2 petrols were offered, a 3L V6 and 4.2L V8 in both fuel options. Since then the V6 diesel has been offered in 2 states of tune, and the V8’s and V6 petrol discontinued (a 3L Supercharged V6 is offered abroad though). Audi also placed an amazing V12 diesel in the Q7 for a while too…an amazing engine which gave the car a £100k+ price tag but pace to match some super cars! Prices remain pretty solid though, so I am aiming at getting one of the early V6 diesels which should give good pace at the best value. Interestingly the same engine in the Touareg is slower, despite the Q7 being the larger car. I have never really been concerned about owning a car that is too big, but the Q7 is one of a few cars which would make me extremely nervous in any car park, and actively avoid multistoreys.
This brings me the the negatives of the Q7, which apart from size centre around it’s mammoth running costs. As with any luxury car out of warranty period, reliability is always a potential issue and the Q7 no different. I have no specific concerns about the Q7 but Audi’s and VW’s in general do not have the greatest reputation in motoring circles, with big bills a distinct possibility over anything from electronics to engine systems. Granted a Range Rover Sport would give me more sleepless nights, but a newer X5 or an XC90 is probably going to be a bit more reliable. Then we have fuel consumption, again not something that is going to be amazing in any car that I choose, but with reports of 23-25mpg a common occurrence it seems that consumption is quite a bit worse than the ‘X’s’, both of whom should get around 30mpg in mixed driving. I genuinely am perplexed about how fuel costs will affect me in any car though, as I appear to average 30mpg in my paltry Vauxhall Astra so maybe I am being unrealistic to expect the same from a gas-guzzling SUV? Possibly the scariest aspect of Q7 ownership is tyre wear…I’ve heard that 10-15k miles is the most I can realistically expect from a front set (and presumably the rears will last little longer), and at £150 a tyre it means that I could be adding £600 every couple of years to the already high servicing costs.
I guess it would be silly to worry over theoretical costs of what is going to be an expensive car to run any way I look at it, but with the XC90 being £5k cheaper to buy, 5mpg better on fuel and probably travelling at least 5k further on a set of tyres, it is food for thought. An X5 would be slightly more to buy, but is easier to park and will probably work out cheaper to run (especially if I get a cheaper to tax example). My problem is just lack of money really; X5’s start at around £15k but that buys a car with SE wheels and usually lacking heated seats and/or navigation. Q7’s also start around that price but those models are fully loaded and get the cool-looking S Line kit. My former favourite ML can be had for alot less than either but has somehow lost it’s appeal somewhat…plus a face-lifted Sport version is more expensive than either rival (although admittedly a year younger). Then there is the Volvo XC90 which can be had for under £10k in ‘Lux’ spec and around £12k in the more attractive ‘Sport’ version. Yet it is slower, has a much poorer infotainment system and relatively boring image. We will see what happens but it’s pretty unlikely I will be able to justify buying the Q7, though my mind does keep going back to the big frauline!