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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.
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.