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First drive: Audi Q7 – available to order, first deliveries from July



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Audi has dragged its heals with its entry into the luxury SUV market, but the Q7 is going to arrive with a bang.

Seven seats are on offer as standard in this goliath vehicle. There is a no cost option to delete the third row of seats, and also a cost option to alter the arrangement to six separate seats. This has an impact on luggage space – 330 litres for standard and six-seat versions, 775 litres for the five seater. Fold the seats down flat and you get up to 2,035 litres of space.

The Q7 measures a whopping 5,086mm in length, combined with a width of 1,938mm. This is not a car for the faint of heart.

Standard to all trim levels is Audi’s adaptive air suspension, which has a noticeable effect on driving and should be highlighted to potential customers. With the touch of a button on the Multi Media Interface (MMI), you can swap between five different modes: lift, off-road, comfort, automatic and dynamic; ground clearance changes between 180 and 240mm.

The unit varies the air spring and damping characteristics at the compression and rebound stage according the mode and vehicle speed. Comfort and automatic modes give 180mm of ground clearance, while on dynamic mode, suspension is lowered by 15mm, giving more feel and driver feedback. Feedback level is still not very high, however.

It has a maximum climbing capacity of 31 degrees, a ramp angle of 24 degrees and a slope angle of 25 degrees. It can cope with driving through 535mm of water. For buyers after off-road capability (do these even exist?), an off-road package will be available at a later date, giving the Q7 a more rugged, cross-country look.

How do you convince customers to go for extras on a car that has a high specification? Easy. Let them test drive one with Audi’s side assist anti-blindspot lane changing system – a bargain at £450 (see Behind the wheel).

Another option of note is radar-assisted cruise control (£1,255). It controls distance and speed from 0-124mph.

Eleven colours are available, which should tie in nicely for customers who wish to match their horsebox.

The Q7 looks impressive – its bulk stands out from the crowd and its sloping rear end looks attractive against the plethora of boxy SUVs.

Audi has had a cracking time recently: in 2005 sales were up 4.35% in a market down by 4.96%, and so far in 2006 it is enjoying its highest market share ever at 3.77%.

From July until year-end, Audi expects to sell 3,500 Q7s, while 5,000 should leave showrooms during 2007.

Of those already ordered in the UK, 73% are the range-topping S Line, with a mere 4% in standard spec. The balance are SEs.

The Q7 holds strong against its main competitors, with the highest power output, most torque, highest speed and best 0-62mph figures. That should impress potential buyers, and attract conquest sales. Its residual values (50-58%) are also impressive.

Pricewise, the Q7 sits bang in the centre of its rivals, which should further attract buyers from all areas.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Behind the wheel

As with many vehicles of this type, the ride can feel wallowy, but this can be improved with the correct suspension setting.

It is easy to get comfortable in the enveloping leather seats, and there is plenty of space for all. The most entertaining of the two engines is the 4.2-litre petrol, which responds readily to a right foot.

Look out for the innovative side assist. If a vehicle encroaches the Q7’s ‘critical zone’, yellow LEDs in the wing mirror light up. These are only noticeable if you are checking the mirrors before a manoeuvre. If you don’t notice the warnings and indicate to pull out, the LEDs become brighter and flash to draw your attention; there is also an acoustic warning. Blinkin’ brilliant.

Price: £37,330-48,625
Engines: 4.2-litre FSI V8 petrol: 345bhp; 3.0-litre V6 TDI: 230hbp
Performance: 4.2 petrol 0-62mph: 7.4sec; top speed: 154mph. 3.0 diesel 0:62mph: 9.1sec; top speed: 134mph
Transmission: Six-speed tiptronic with Dynamic Shift Program and sport programme
Efficiency: 4.2 petrol: 20.8mpg combined; 326g/km CO2.
3.0 diesel: 26.9mpg combined; 282/km CO2
CAP RV 3yr/30k: 4.2 petrol S Line £24,000 (51%); SE £24,400 (50%).
3.0 diesel £21,450 (58%) to £23,050 (57%)
Rivals: BMW X5, Mercedes ML-class, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo CC90, Lexus RX300, Range Rover Sport
Strength: Power and speed
Weakness: Size for some drivers
Opportunity: Seven seats for those who need an MPV/tow vehicle
Threat: Established market place
USP: Seven-seater loaded with goodies

  • To view images of the Q7 click on the next page #AM_ART_SPLIT#

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