It's a crossover, not an SUV
By Lou Ann Hammond, Fri, 23 Jun 2006 08:00:00 PDT
I/'ve spent the last couple years espousing the virtues of the crossover over the SUV. The crossover is built on a unibody - a car-style chassis instead of a truck chassis - so it gives a car like ride instead of a truck like ride. On average, a crossover gets 5 mpg more than the same SUV. Crossovers are hot, SUVs are not.
It seems odd to me then that Audi would bring out an incredibly great crossover that has the potential of doing well in its competitive segment and they would tout it as an SUV. According to Paul Taylor, Senior Analyst for National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), "CUVs will definitely outsell truck-based SUVs for the first time in calendar year 2006. Truck based body-on-frame (or traditional) SUVs are declining in sales as customers have switched to CUVs in recent years. 28,198 luxury large SUV units sold in Q1 2006, 33,162 units in Q1 2005"
The Audi Q7 is pricey and the fuel economy is low. The Q7 I drove totaled $63,770. The accessories, including adaptive air suspension ($2,600), a technology package ($2,400),Panoramic sunroof ($1,850),Audi navigation system ($1,800), 20-inch 5-twin spoke cast alloy wheels ($950), cold weather package ($850), towing package ($550) and Sirius satellite radio ($500). This vehicle was the Quattro FSI that started at $49,900. There is a Quattro 4.2 FSI Premium that starts at $59,900. The miles quoted are 14 city and 19 highway.
In the technology package there is a first ever Audi side-assist included with the rear view camera with rear parktronic and advanced key voice recognition. The side-assist option uses sensors to detect vehicles that are in the drivers blind spot on either side of the car. At first I thought the lights were going off when I turned my blinker on. It took me awhile to realize that the lights that were blinking on the inside of the side mirror were because there was a car in my blindspot and I would have crashed into had I not noticed the car. I didn/'t notice the yellow blinking lights unless I was getting ready to change lanes. Expect this option to show up on more Audis in the future. The Audi side assist won the "Innovation of the Future" special award from Germany's biggest consumer magazine "Guter Rat".
The competitors for the Audi Q7 are Acura MDX, BMW X5, Infiniti FX, Lexus RX 350, Mercedes-Benz ML, Porsche Cayenne and the Volvo XC90. Wolfgang Hoffman, Director of Product Management, made sure we noted that the Q7 is not based on the Touareg. I think it has less to do with whether Hoffman likes the Touareg as making sure that there was product differentiation between Audi and Volkswagen.
Frank Van Meel, Audi/'s Chief Engineer, hit home the American crossover that Audi has created for their American audience. Van Meel talked about taking a trip with his kids and his Mother-in-Law and having to stop 5 times. "We didn/'t have to refuel, we had to stop for restroom breaks. My family used all 10 cupholders. And, of course, none of them had to stop at the same time" The bottom line? This vehicle was made for the American market.
We drove from Carlsbad San Diego County, up to Palomar Mountain State Park. There/'s about 8 miles of off-roading available there. Usually off-roading is down very slowly, people call it walking the car. It was even slower this time, the fog was so thick we could barely see in front of our face. It reminded me of driving in the tully fog in the San Joaquin Valley in California. You have to remember to put your lights on in fog, they don/'t come on automatically. Fog creates a lot of glare and the glare on the window made the reflection of the dash design show up on the windshield. It was aggravating to have the dash design right at eye level.
The large panorama sunroof, known as the open sky system, is 5/'6" long and spans the length of all three glasses. We had the sunroof closed, and the mesh pulled back, but the sun was hot and we closed the mesh. A cool feature of the sunroof is that you can leave the sunroof open, but close the mesh. This gives a netting effect that lets the air in, but keeps the bugs out.
If you/'re in colder weather Audi engineers have thought of you. The rubber on the windshield wipers get stuck to the window in freezing on most cars. To prevent this from happening, when the weather is below 40 degrees the motor lifts the wipers just enough so that the air vents can heat that area and the windshield wipers don/'t get frozen to the windshield.
Crossovers seem to come in all different types of configurations ranging from minivan to station wagon to SUV. The 2007 Audi Q7 looks like a tall station wagon with a voluminous grille and headlights that give the effect of a snarling bull blowing steam through its nose as it enters a crystal shop. The crystal being all the windows and the panoramic roof.
This is going to be a tough sell for Audi; the mileage is about the same as most of the competitive segment, but the car itself is pricey. The luxury segment usually thrives in times when the economy is booming. Even with 70 percent of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, 30 percent are not and they are still buying crossovers. Just make sure to market it as a crossover. People now know the difference.