Go find for­got­ten places

Audi has thrown down the guant­let for any big SUV owner. BRIAN BAS­SETT drove it

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE -

AUDI in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg has come out with a chal­lenge to all own­ers of big sport utes to com­pare the power and drive in the new Q7 on a scenic route above KZN’s cap­i­tal.

The ver­ify that the test route is in­deed only for SUVs that can do of­froad, Audi staff in­vited

Wheels ed­i­tor Al­wyn Viljoen and my­self to drive up a very muddy moun­tain in the new Audi Q7 3.0TDI Quat­tro Tip­tronic dur­ing the week­end’s wel­come rain.

Af­ter Viljoen got us all side­ways and a tad too close to an em­bank­ment with the anti slip reg­u­la­tion (ASR) but­ton kept firmly on, Darryl Chetty of Audi Cen­tre ad­vised Viljoen to stop wor­ry­ing about spin as he would in his old Cruiser. For the Q7 has Audi’s unique quat­tro sys­tem that di­vides 600 Nm be­tween the wheels that have grip. But to al­low the quat­tro to spread all the torque be­tween the wheels — and the driver’s grin from ear to ear — the ASR has to be off.

Once again we ex­tend our thanks to Darryl Top­per, Dealer Prin­ci­pal at Audi Cen­tre, Pi­eter­mar­itzburg for trust­ing us with his ve­hi­cle. (Or should that be trust­ing his ve­hi­cle to get us out of trou­ble?)

Styling

The Q7 made its de­but in 2005 and af­ter the rel­a­tively long model cy­cle, we sus­pect that to­wards the end of the Q7 cy­cle, Audi was be­gin­ning to feel a lit­tle wary of the fact that a num­ber of newer lux­ury SUVs had ap­peared on the mar­ket. But the wait was worth it, as the new Q7 takes the fight to the enemy.

The Audi Q7 con­forms to the Audi house style — all sub­dued el­e­gance with the clever in­dus­trial de­sign. While the Q7 may be un­der­stated, it broad­casts a mes­sage of qual­ity that few oth­ers can match.

In­te­rior

The in­te­rior of the Q7 feels as solid as a bank vault and the solid clunk when you close the doors re­in­forces this im­pres­sion.

The vir­tual cock­pit in­stru­ment screen is a de­light and can be set up in a num­ber of ways.

The seats are com­fort­able, sup­port­ive and elec­tri­cally ad­justable, with mem­ory, as is the leather-cov­ered, multi-func­tion steer­ing wheel, which deals with a wide range of func­tions from Blue Tooth, au­dio and cruise con­trol, to in­for­ma­tion and GPS. As is the case in Mercedes-Benz’s new G-class SUV’s and in­deed the Ford Ever­est, the sec­ond row of seats is also ad­justable and the third row can be raised or low­ered at the touch of a but­ton.

In­te­rior space in the Q7 is phe­nom­e­nal and the re­sult of clever de­sign. Lug­gage ca­pac­ity with all seats in place is around 300 litres, but this rises to 770 litres with the third row of seats folded and to 1995 liters with all of the rear seats down.

I loved the stubby gear­lever which dou­bles as a hand rest when op­er­at­ing the MMI con­troller, which sits be­hind an ad­di­tional touch­pad for writ­ten in­put. The sys­tem’s cen­tral screen high­lights func­tions as a hand ap­proaches and, if you have the cor­rect soft­ware the car can be­come a rather large four-wheeled lap­top.

The sound sys­tem is bril­liant and the four-zone cli­mate con­trol al­lows rear seat pas­sen­gers to se­lect their own set­tings.

The re­main­der of the dash is well de­signed, eas­ily op­er­ated and has a smooth, slick feel, which is sen­su­ally en­joy­able.

Safety and se­cu­rity

The prob­lem with the Q7 is not what it has in terms of safety equip­ment, but find­ing some­thing it does not have.

There is the usual anti slip and ABS sys­tems, seat­belts, eight airbags, sta­bil­i­sa­tion con­trol and elec­tronic diff lock, start/stop sys­tem, speed lim­iter hold and park as­sist.

I es­pe­cially en­joyed the re­vers­ing cam­era show­ing all four sides of the ve­hi­cle and a view from the top of the area sur­round­ing the ve­hi­cle. A must-have op­tion is auto trailer as­sist, which has the Q7 turn its steer­ing wheel as re­quired to keep the trailer straignt when driv­ing back­wards.

Night vi­sion As­sis­tant also im­pressed me. No more trou­ble see­ing buck or peo­ple cross­ing the road at night, the car looks ahead and in the thick­est mist picks out and en­larges the ob­ject you need to avoid.

In all there are 33 ma­jor safety fea­tures on the car. If you really want to be im­pressed pick up a brochure from your near­est dealer.

Per­for­mance and han­dling

City driv­ing in the Q7 is en­joy­able, al­though there is slightly firm edge to the way it deals with bumps and pot­holes even in Com­fort set­ting.

How­ever the ride is ma­ture and so­phis­ti­cated. The car cor­ners well and if the road presents sur­face dif­fi­cul­ties you can al­ways in­crease the ride height.

On longer dis­tances the Q7 is won­der­fully quiet and sooth­ing. It also has all the power you need to cope with any emer­gency and cruis­ing at higher speeds presents no chal­lenge.

The three-litre V6 tur­bocharged diesel en­gine with com­mon rail in­jec­tion sys­tem de­liv­ers 200kW/600Nm, making this an enor­mously pow­er­ful piece of ma­chin­ery. Less than five sec­onds takes you from 0 to 100km/ h and top speed is about 235kph.

With the still grin­ning Viljoen all but flat­ten­ing that muddy moun­tain, we did not get to test fuel consumption in nor­mal driv­ing styles, but be­lieve that be­tween 7 and 7.5 l/100 km is re­al­is­tic.

Chal­lenge to SUV driv­ers

The Q7 3.0TDI Quat­tro Tip­tronic comes in at R924 000 and there is a long op­tions list as well as an ex­tend­able five-year or 100 000 km main­te­nance plan.

New Ve­hi­cle Sales Man­ager at Audi Cen­tre Pi­eter­mar­itzburg Prunella Naidoo now chal­lenges driv­ers in an X5, M-class, Range Rover Sport, Land Cruiser and even a Porsche Cayenne to test the Q7, and then let her tai­lor a deal with guar­an­teed fu­ture value on Audi’s big ute.

PHOTO: AL­WYN VILJOEN

The for­got­ten Teteluku sta­tion, a nice spot for a pic­nic af­ter com­ing through the old tun­nel above Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, but un­less you take up Audi’s Q7 chal­lenge, you may never find it.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

Note the sub­tle pink am­bi­ent light­ing along the cen­tral con­sole of the Q7, which can be turned to blue, green or red as the driver’s mood takes him or her.

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