Pros: Standard three-row seating, satisfying supercharged V6 offered in two strengths, available turbodiesel V6, upscale interior.
Cons: Mediocre fuel economy, surprisingly small third row and cargo bay, aging and needlessly heavy underpinnings.
Unlike most veterans, the 2012 Audi Q7 isn't slowing down with age. Quite the contrary-thanks to the recent addition of Audi's stellar supercharged 3.0-liter V6 under the hood, the Q7 moves out like never before. In case you'd prefer to have extra fuel economy and driving range, Audi continues to offer the capable "TDI" turbodiesel V6. And as ever, the Q7's luxurious cabin with standard three-row seating makes it a desirable solution for fancy soccer moms and dads.
Our main quibble with the Q7 is that its underpinnings are now a generation behind. The Audi's platform is shared with the first-generation Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, which were hardcore, off-road-ready brutes. This explains why the lightest Q7 still weighs almost 5,300 pounds. But even though the Q7 was never intended for serious off-road use, it continues to employ that heavy old platform, while the Cayenne and Touareg have moved on to the much lighter second-generation architecture. Imagine how much better the Q7's fuel economy would be-not to mention its acceleration-if a few hundred pounds fell by the wayside.
Still, if you're looking for a premium three-row SUV, you could do much worse than the Q7. It may be getting on in years, but Q7's got more bounce in its step than ever before.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Audi Q7 is offered in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. Note that the supercharged "3.0T" engine comes in two states of tune: the milder one is featured in the Premium and Premium Plus, while the spicier tune comes standard with the Prestige. The turbodiesel V6-"TDI"-is available in all three trim levels, with minor variations from the 3.0T formula.
The Premium trim includes three rows of seating, 18-inch alloy wheels (19s for the TDI), foglamps, LED taillights, a power liftgate, leather upholstery, power front seats with adjustable lumbar, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity and an 11-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, dual SD-card slots and satellite radio.
The Premium Plus adds xenon headlamps with LED accents, a panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, driver memory functions, Audi connect (which turns the Q7 into a Wi-Fi hotspot), a 14-speaker Bose audio system and an enhanced version of MMI with a navigation system.
The Prestige tacks on 20-inch wheels, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, quad-zone automatic climate control, cooled front seats and a blind-spot warning system. The 3.0T Prestige also includes the "S line" sport appearance package. A similar package is optional on the TDI Prestige.
Many of the higher trims' features are available on lower trims as options. The Prestige is eligible for some exclusive upgrades, including an adaptive air suspension and a 14-speaker, 1,001-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system. Notable options across the lineup include a trailer-hitch package and rear side airbags.
The Q7's cabin is clearly older than Audi's latest interiors-look at a picture of the A7 hatchback's dashboard to see what we mean-but it's still awash in high-quality materials. From the driver's seat, Q7 drivers will always feel like they got their money's worth. Speaking of seats, the front ones are typical Audi: firmly supportive on long hauls, but largely bereft of meaningful contours. We like the driving position very much, though, as its cockpit-like confines minimize the Q7's imposing dimensions, making it feel more like an oversized luxury sedan than a heavy SUV.
The gauges are classic Audi-two no-nonsense circles for the tachometer and speedometer, with numerals rendered in Audi's distinctive font. As in most Audis, however, the ergonomics are hit-or-miss, and that includes frequently used features like the fan-speed knob. On the bright side, Audi has made numerous user-friendly improvements to MMI in recent years, to the point that it's now one of our favorite infotainment systems.
The Q7's second-row seat has plenty of legroom, but the bottom cushions are a bit low. We prefer the higher rear bench in the new Touareg. Of course, the Q7's trump card is the standard two-person third row, which neither the Touareg nor the Cayenne offers. Given the Q7's considerable footprint, the third row is surprisingly cramped, but it'll work for kids.
Cargo space is also strangely modest in the Q7, measuring 10.9 cubic feet behind the third row, 42 cubic feet behind the second row and 72.5 cubic feet with both the second and third rows folded down.
The Q7 isn't a technological tour-de-force like Audi's latest sedans, but it's still got plenty of gadgets to keep you occupied, many of them standard even on the base Premium model. These include iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, which are extra-cost items on many other Audis. We also appreciate that the Q7's standard audio system isn't an afterthought. On the contrary, it's got ten speakers plus a subwoofer, and it sounds pretty darn good.
But the technological sweet spot is the Premium Plus, which boasts two serious upgrades vis-à-vis the Premium. First, there's Audi connect, a mobile telematics system that uses a satellite hookup and a Wi-Fi signal to turn your Q7 into an internet café on wheels. Then there's the fancier version of MMI with navigation, a crisper display screen and numerous other useful enhancements.
We do miss the nifty new features from Audi's latest products, such as Google Earth street views and a scribble-interpreting touch pad, but the Q7 gets its technology groove on pretty well for an old fella.
Performance & Fuel Economy
All Q7s roll with Quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Under the hood, the Q7 3.0T starts with a supercharged V6 rated at 280 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. We've never felt the need for more gusto from this motor-it gets the massive Q7 up to speed without drama, and it's very smooth. Still, who wouldn't want a little more power if they could get it? So Audi obliges with the 3.0T S line, which uses the same engine to better effect: 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. Other than being able to brag that your SUV's got the same engine as an S4, you'll notice somewhat more urgency at full throttle with the S line, but the difference isn't enormous.
Also on offer is the turbodiesel 3.0-liter TDI V6, which drops to 225 horsepower but takes the twist title with 406 lb-ft of torque. This TDI engine has been around for a few years now, but the recent introduction of the eight-speed automatic has done wonders for it, giving it a much livelier feel. We also like that you can hardly tell the TDI is a diesel in normal operation-that's how quiet it is.
Towing capacity is 5,500 pounds, or 6,600 pounds with the optional tow package, a healthy figure that's a testament to the Q7's robust architecture.
In light of the Q7's eye-popping weight, its subpar fuel economy isn't a surprise. Both 3.0T models get 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway, while the TDI is only moderately better at 17/25 mpg. We did expect better from the diesel, but at the end of the day, we're talking about an SUV that's within shouting distance of three tons-the TDI is estimated by Audi to weigh 5,567 pounds. There's only so many mpg that can be squeezed out of such a behemoth.
The 2012 Audi Q7 features standard stability control, four-wheel antilock brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side-curtain). Rear side airbags are optional.
The government has not crash-tested the Q7 as of this writing, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Q7 its highest rating of "Good" in every tested category.
Watch out-the Q7's sedan-like cockpit can fool you into thinking this monumentally heavy SUV is a sporty thing. That illusion should fall by the wayside the first time you attempt to take a corner with any enthusiasm. Still, the Q7 drives with that typical Germanic sense of solidity and precision, making you feel like a better driver than you really are. We find the ride to be pleasantly hushed but decidedly firm over bumps unless the optional (and pricey) air suspension is specified.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW X5: BMW's midsize crossover is likewise getting on in years, but it's still the athlete of this class, and stout new drivetrains have kept it fresh.
Mercedes-Benz R-Class: If you want three adult-friendly seating rows, the R-Class comes through like nothing else this side of a minivan. Mercedes tried to fix the styling recently, too.
Volkswagen Touareg: Do you really need the Q7's back seat? If not, we suggest a test-drive in the cheaper Touareg, which is one of the most engaging crossovers around-very few flaws in this truck.
We want to say we'd pick the TDI, but what's the point of a diesel if it doesn't get far better fuel economy than the gas version? So we'd go with the 3.0T Premium Plus and its cool mobile Wi-Fi capability.