Review: 2011 Audi Q7 3.0T S line
By Kevin Gordon
I have a confession. I stereotype drivers. More specifically, I stereotype drivers of luxury cars. Sadly, my innate judgement doesn’t just stop at brand, it extends to model. Every time I see a BMW 328i coupe, I assume that the driver decided that they liked the image of the car, but little about the way it actually drives. I probably give Audi drivers the harshest judgement of all. There are some exceptions to this; if you drive an early Audi S4 Avant, I instantly want to be your friend despite any moral shortcomings you may have.
I blame the recent sales success of the A4 for this. I know more people I would consider to be “pretenders” that drive S line (not S#, but the actual S line packages) Audis than any other brand. Ultimately, this is a compliment to Audi. They have managed to split an arrow in the luxury segment. Their cars fit men and women equally well. Their cars are handsome without being overly ostentatious (forgiving the LED running lights). Their interiors are class leading and they have a true performance pedigree. So why do I believe that posers drive Audis? Ultimately, it is because for the money that you spent to buy a car that looks fast, you could have actually bought a fast car.
When the Audi Q7 landed in my driveway. It had a bit of a mountain to climb. A three-row luxury SUV with a $60k sticker is not a car that the standard automotive journalist is going to love. We’ve been trained to love cars that don’t compromise, cars that make you give up something of yourself to love them. Audi has clearly targeted this vehicle at a person who doesn’t want to give up anything. At a first glance, the Q7 provides style, that in this Savant’s opinion, cannot be matched by any other mid to full size SUV, substance, and sporting potential.
In addition to its good looks it drives quite well. The new (for the Q7) 3.0T supercharged six motivates the 5200+ pound SUV with authority and is claimed to hit 60 in less than seven second. The 333 horsepower/325 lb-ft of torque engine found in the S-Line model is routed through an eight speed transmission. The eight speed unit is both intelligent and helps the Q7 manage 16 MPG city and 22 MPG highway on premium unleaded. With the instant torque available from the supercharger, the transmission rarely hunts for gears and kicks down quickly when called for passing.
Steering is light, but direct and can diminish the feeling that you are driving a full size SUV. This is one place where the Audi has really gotten things right. As much as I may cringe to write it, the Q7 is the most driver-centric full size SUV. The ride is firm without being overly busy, cornering is as flat as can be expected, and the engine manages to motivate 5200+ lbs with more authority than 333 hp would suggest. What they missed was really making a three row SUV with as much utility as possible. The interior volume is less than expected for something with exterior dimensions that stretch over 16 1/2 feet in length and 7 feet in width. The third row is tight and really only useful for small children, and with the third row up, storage capacity is beaten by a number of compact SUVs.
Despite being smaller in dimension than expected, the interior is a nice place to spend time. The leather is smooth, soft, and smells like leather should. Soft touch materials are used in all areas where anyone would normally touch and all pieces meet with expected German precision. The infotainment center of this Q7 includes Audi’s MMI. In this instance, the screen is a bit smaller than in the freshest Audis and there is no place to draw letters into the nav system, but it would be difficult to complain extensively. The Audi MMI system works well and is not a distraction while driving. There is a four-quadrant button layout, and that is replicated on the screen. It’s intuitive after a short period, and most functions can be accomplished with minimal button smashing.
One thing I found a bit disappointing was the stereo. It was loud and had bass, but didn’t have the clarity or raw power of some of the competing systems in this class. Unfortunately, this is not where the disappointment ended. The particular Q7 that we had a chance to test drew into question the long term durability and reliability of this model, if not Audi in general. To be fair, journalists are particularly hard on vehicles and what we found wrong with the Q7 could be a result of abuse, but it did have less than 10,000 miles on the odometer.
The most glaring issue with the Q7 was a rear door handle that fell off in your hand when you pulled it. After the removable door handle there were a few trim pieces and seals that were no longer attached correctly. Finally, the dash area exhibited some squeaks and rattles that would have had you back at your local Audi dealer trying to replicate. Did it break down or exhibit any major electrical issues? No. Did it make me wonder if I would be using the free loaner service at my local Audi dealership frequently? Yes.
So did the Audi Q7 3.0T manage to relieve me of my bias towards Audi drivers? In many ways, it did give me more respect for people with the four rings of Auto Union on their car. Despite some shortcomings, the drive of the Q7 was good enough to make me realize that cars with the S line package are quite good driver’s cars, even though aside from large wheels and summer tires, most of the S line upgrades are only cosmetic. They may not be all-out sports cars, but they ride well, handle with poise, and and push you into your seat when called upon. So the Audi managed to climb my mountain of bigotry, but it left a few pieces of itself on the way up and that may be cause for concern when signing up for $60,000 in payments.
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.