2012 Audi Q7 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 20, 2012

The 2012 Audi Q7 has what upscale suburban families want: a lavish interior, a cabin full of premium features, and performance and ride that are very carlike--plus serious towing ability if and when you need it.

The 2012 Audi Q7 is a big, luxurious all-wheel drive utility vehicle that a lot of what you want--luxury and on-road capability--and very little of the rugged off-road ability that you probably don't need.

Although the Q7 is related to the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, it's somewhat longer than those two models, with an available seven-seat, three-row configuration that makes it considerably better as a primary family vehicle. The additional wheelbase yields a somewhat more composed ride as well. The Q7 gracefully takes a middle ground, appearing strong yet sophisticated, and by no means a fashion victim. You won't find safari themes here, nor are there blingy wheels and running boards. The Q7's understated, elegant styling is ready for city streets and suburban driveways, with only the high ground clearance giving a hint that there is a bit of off-road appeal. Rich leather, suede, and wood leave the interior feeling warmer than most German vehicles, and the attractive, uncluttered look (except for some climate and audio) will make driver and passengers feel cosseted but at ease. 

Last year, Audi reshuffled the Q7's powertrains, doing away with the V-8 completely and adding in a powerful new 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 as the base engine. It's offered in two different power levels: 280 hp for the base version, or 333 hp for upscale trims. We find either of those engines to provide strong acceleration and good responsiveness (acceleration to 60 is under 7 seconds with the 333-hp engine), but the TDI diesel V-6 is our pick. With 225 hp but a huge 406 pound-feet of torque, the diesel is technically slower than the gasoline engines, but it feels stronger in most situations. And with fuel economy of 17 mpg city, 25 highway, it definitely does better than the V-6 models' 16/22 mpg. All-wheel drive is standard with either powertrain.

Review continues below

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

Handling is superb in the Q7--far above the usual SUV benchmarks--and ride quality is firm but absorbent thanks to a well-tuned all-independent suspension. Credit goes to an air suspension that enables sport, comfort, and automatic modes to lower and lift the SUV for better on- and off-road behavior. There's also good traction on tap from an all-wheel drive system, while tow ratings range up to 6,600 pounds.

Audi's crafted a wonderfully trimmed interior, with soft leather perches in front that have long-legged support for a cross-country road trip, plus an available panoramic sunroof that brightens much of the interior. The second row is sized for adults, too, while the third row is good enough for most kids. Fold the second and third rows, and the cargo area opens to a significant 88 cubic feet--made even easier by a power-opening tailgate. The only issue, to some, will be the rather high cargo floor compared to some other vehicles in this class.

The 2012 Audi Q7 has impressive safety features, and it's one of only a few vehicles in this class to offer rear side thorax airbags. A rearview camera, lane-departure system, and blind-spot warning system are also on offer. Overall, the Q7 is very well-equipped, but it's the options like the premium Band & Olufsen sound system--with tweeters that rise from the dash on startup--that give this vehicle a high-end luxury feel. For 2012, Audi has given the Q7 many of the same info-connectivity updates that it gave the A6, A7, and A8 last year--including an all-new MMI interface and nav system with integrated Google Earth, Local Search, and rolling Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

Also, a new S-line package steps up to some contrasting trim, black roof-rack and window trim, and exposed tailpipes with polished tips.

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2012 Audi Q7

Styling

Its sleek outline and its rich, detailed interior help the 2011 Audi Q7 break out of the sport-ute pack.

A big unsubtle grille aside, the Audi Q7's one of the sleeker crossover shapes on the planet. Mind you, it's nothing like the monstrosities on some of the American-made monoliths, but that front end spoils what's otherwise a sophisticated shape that rivals the Range Rover for its well underplayed details and its enduring elegance.

Does the floor to ceiling grille kill it all? We don't think so, but certainly, the Q7 looked better when it was new in 2007, when its softly curved roofline melded almost seamlessly with its mildly tapered body. The grille's just out of whack with everything else that's restrained in the Q7's silhouette. At least since last year, it's framed by headlamps graced by Audi's more convincing design motif: LED "eyelashes" that call out the brand in a more significant, more high-tech way than the enormous grille ever could or will.

The Q7's richly appointed interior wears leather, suede, and wood in abundance. The overall shape is attractively styled and tightly integrated, mostly uncluttered except for some clusters of minor switches. Audi's gone to great length to match color and texture inside the Q7, which you'll notice when you touch the faux-suede headliner and drink in the sumptuous browns and tans in some of the more daring combinations.

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2012 Audi Q7

Performance

Take the TDI--it delivers good performance and great fuel economy that matches up well with the Q7's easygoing handling.

Three powertrains all deliver good performance in the Audi Q7, but we have a favorite that's probably also on many green-car shoppers' must-drive lists.

Every Q7 is powered by a V-6, but gas versions get supercharging and two different output levels from the same 3.0 liters of displacement. The base version produces 280 horsepower, which Audi says will push that Q7 to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, thanks to a new eight-speed automatic. A more powerful version with 333 horsepower effectively replaces the Q7's old V-8 option; it's good for a 0-60 mph time of 6.9 seconds, though it has the same gas-mileage ratings as the less powerful version. With either, the strong acceleration comes with an engine note that sounds just a bit graunchier than the old V-8 and its silky-smooth notes. We've driven the powertrain in other Audis, but not yet in the Q7--we'll report back when we've spent some time behind the wheel.

On a parallel track is Audi's 3.0-liter diesel V-6. It twists out 225 hp but a huge 406 pound-feet of torque, which helps keep acceleration within range of the gas versions. Audi says it's good for 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, while fuel economy gets a boost to 17/25 mpg. It doesn't have the quicker throttle response of the V-6s, but highway passing power is strong and there's very little noise to let on that it's a diesel. With its fuel economy, a driving range of 600 miles per tank of fuel is within easy reach.

When ride and handling are factored in, the Q7's more nimble feel and standard all-wheel drive pitch it even more into the crossover camp. Its power steering has ideal effort and weight--a highly unusual trait in an SUV--and it even has more feedback than you'll find in some passenger cars. The Q7 is fitted with an independent suspension, which teams up with adjustable air shocks for capable and comfortable handling. In Comfort, the Q7 glides over freeway bumps; in Dynamic mode, it's a surprisingly eager carver, though much stiffer in resisting bumps and grinds that might be better left on mute.

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2012 Audi Q7

Comfort & Quality

The Q7 feels rich, well put together, and spacious in its two adults rows of seats.

With two or three rows of seats, the Audi Q7 rewards those who can afford it with spacious, adult-sized accommodations in the first two rows of seats.

Almost a full-size SUV in exterior dimensions, the Q7's almost a foot taller than Audi's own A6 wagon, a new version of which arrives in the 2013 model year. The Q7's extra space is used well. In front, well-shaped and supportive seats are bolstered for long-distance comfort, and are adjustable enough that a wide range of body types can find a comfortable seating position.

Leg and head room in the second row are also good, but there's not quite enough space for three to ride abreast for very long. The second-row seat moves on its track to expand leg room as needed. All the seats on all Q7s are covered in leather, by the way. There's also an option to turn the second-row bench into a pair of bucket seats, making the five- or seven-seat Q7 also a six-seater.

There's an option for third-row seating; it's small, but it's large enough for children. When it's not in use, the seat can be folded to open up a relatively large cargo hold, which grows to a significant 88 cubic feet when the middle seats are folded down, too.

Audi's taken great care to trim out the cargo area to a high cosmetic standard, but in terms of functionality, the power-folding third-row seat on the Lincoln MKT does an easier job of converting itself. The Q7 does get a power tailgate, and it's made from aluminum to save some weight.

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2012 Audi Q7

Safety

It hasn't changed structurally, but the Q7's test scores aren't all in, due to changes in the tests themselves.

In prior years, the Q7 was judged one of the safest crossovers of all by both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Both agencies have changed their ratings and criteria, but only the IIHS has updated the Q7's rankings. It calls the Q7 "good" in most of its tests, but due to a lack of a roof-crush score, the Q7 no longer earns the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award.

Every Q7 comes with the usual standard safety equipment. Dual front, side, and curtain airbags all make the list, as well as anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control. Rear seat side airbags are a rare option for any American-market vehicle.

Audi has updated its add-on safety technology in recent years, and the Q7 can be fitted with a rearview camera, a lane-departure warning system, and a blind-spot warning system. Even though visibility is good from inside the Q7, the camera's recommended since the view out over the rear corners can be diminished by the thick roof pillars.

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2012 Audi Q7

Features

Bring on the connectivity: this year's Q7 gets wireless Internet, Google Earth, and mapping over the air.

A family vehicle despite its big pricetag, the Audi Q7 doesn't just adopt some kid-quieting technology this year -- it tries to sedate adults, too, with new connectivity and wow features.

All Q7 crossovers have power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; keyless entry; automatic climate control; and 18-inch wheels. Adding S-line trim brings a panoramic sunroof and a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

Audi's already ditched the CD changer that used to rule the center stack of controls, and devoted the space instead to storage. But that's not it for this year: the Q7 not only has HD radio to go with the available satellite radio and USB ports, it has a new Multi-Media Interface, still operated by a joystick-type controller, and a smorgasbord of connectivity, from Bluetooth to in-car wireless internet with integrated Google Earth and Local Search. With this package, the Q7 becomes its own rolling hotspot, with eye-catching maps delivered to the navigation system in the form of Google's captivating flyover view. Parents can play with the navigation while kids tether into wireless for portable music and gaming devices. Brilliant.

As for MMI itself, it's easier to use the controller to steer climate, phone, GPS and audio controls than ever before--but the buttons and switches that MMI was supposed to replace have almost made their way entirely back into the cabin.

You can't avoid MMI, but Audi's upscale audio options are worth the cost. For cold climates, there's also a cold-weather package with heated front- and second-row seats and a heated steering wheel. Four-zone climate control is probably a bit over the top, if you're looking for the smallest corners to cut.

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2012 Audi Q7

Fuel Economy

There's no downside--and better fuel economy to be had--by picking the Audi Q7 TDI.

Audi delivers a choice of three powertrains in the Q7, but our favorite among them earns the best fuel economy of all.

The base gas-powered V-6 offered in the Q7 may come in two power levels--280 horsepower or 333 hp, both via supercharging--but the EPA rates them equally at 16/22 mpg. Audi's new eight-speed automatic gets the credit for improving gas mileage a great deal over its old six-speed, six-cylinder units, though the numbers still aren't absolutely great.

Our pick is the Q7 TDI, which sports a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 and effectively makes the much-rumored Q7 Hybrid a non-starter. The EPA gives the TDI a 17/25-mpg rating. And as we've found with other Audis and Volkswagens, the top highway figure's within easier reach than you'd get on the average gas-electric hybrid ute.

On that point, while both its companion SUVs, the Cayenne and Touareg, are now offered as hybrids, the Audi Q7 hybrid that had been planned for sale has been axed, while the company works on a new hybrid version of its smaller Q5 sport-ute.

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Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
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