I thought I should review my wife’s car. Back in 2011 we had our own mini-1970’s oil crisis, pulling a 3.5-tonne horse float with a Toyota LandCruiser featuring the 4.7-litre petrol V8. We could barely get from one petrol station to the next. Jenni had been resisting buying a diesel for the usual feminine reasons, filthy diesel nozzles, hoses, bowsers, sharing space with trucks, but much of that seems to have improved. I finally convinced her a diesel was necessary. As well as the towing capabilities, the vehicle also needed to cater for two adults and five children, and at the time there weren’t many choices.
There was the Audi Q7, which came with a variety of engines (4.2-litre V8 petrol, 3.0-litre V6 diesel, 4.2-litre V8 diesel, and even a 6.0-litre V12 diesel), or a Toyota LandCruiser with a 4.5-litre diesel. The Nissan Patrol was not considered, as with five children the third row of seats would be occupied regularly, and the central split to the third row of seats was not acceptable.
I went to the local Toyota dealer and found there were no LandCruisers to test drive. The best they could offer was that I could go around the block in a car already sold to someone else, with the salesman driving and me in the passenger seat. I then went to the local Audi dealer, and they gave me a Q7 to test drive for the weekend, with unlimited kilometres! I actually liked the LandCruiser but definitely not the attitude of the dealer, which became moot anyway, as Jenni preferred the Audi. The demonstrator was the 3.0TDI but I chose the 4.2TDI because I love V8s. Who doesn’t? I would have loved the V12 but $250K was a bit steep!
Nearly ten years later, and with over 420,000km on the clock, here's my assessment. It’s a great car! It has done the job with little or no fuss. Because of the kilometres travelled it gets serviced twice a year (15,000km service interval), which I suspect has helped with longevity and reliability. It has needed a replacement rear propeller shaft due to a cracked seal (about $2000 all up), a replacement electric ventilation fan for the heating/air con, and that is about it. Nothing else. Well except for the DPF, which did not fail, but the sensor on the DPF failed and to fix the sensor I had to replace the (perfectly good) DPF - goodbye $1200. Other than that, just oil, filters, and a shed-load of diesel. It is not particularly economical, being a more-than-two-tonne vehicle pulling a 3.5-tonne horse float, consuming anywhere from 12 litres to 15 litres per 100 kilometres. A 100-litre tank gives a good range of around 900km when not towing.
But reliability? Not an issue.
The Q7 is a car I do not mind driving. The engine, with 258kW and 800Nm has plenty of grunt, and the performance of the 2.2-tonne vehicle is most acceptable. The ZF 8-speed auto is smooth, but a couple of the gears are becoming noisy. I have followed the Audi advice of considering the gearbox “sealed for life” so it is still on its original fluid. I now recognise this may not have been good advice, and regular fluid changes might have been more sensible, but now I think it is too late. Obviously the vehicle is an SUV, so the driver sits high, and the car is bulky. But it is fairly lithe and nimble due to the power of the engine and the excellence of the gearbox. The air-adjusted suspension is inoffensive.
The interior is typical Audi; good quality leather, some pressed aluminium, and high-end plastics that look and feel solid. Although at nearly ten years old it has worn well. Connectivity is basic; Bluetooth for the phone, a weird iPhone jack in the glove box, and that’s about it. Bose sound system produces quite acceptable sound quality, it has a 6-disc CD changer, and some SD card slots for a jukebox. The dash is lifted from the A6 of the time, having nice dials, functional trip computer, and easy to use cruise control. The air conditioner is dual-zone as well as separate controls for front and rear. It came with sat nav (which in Audis includes TV) but Jenni uses Google Maps now. The TV is good if you are stuck in the car with nothing else to do. Back when the children were smaller it catered for all seven of us (occasionally 8) in quite acceptable comfort. With the rear row of seats up the luggage space was smaller but still reasonable. Even now, my teenage and adult children are quite happy to get in and go for a (shorter) trip.
I’ve never much liked the Q7 for its exterior appearance, but then I don’t like SUVs, so I am biased. From the front it looks aggressive, from the side it has issues (particularly the rear end when viewed from the side), and from behind it is rather bland. However it was purchased for a purpose rather than for aesthetics, and it does its job well.
I think the longevity of our ownership of this vehicle is the evidence of its suitability. The only way to get rid of it would be to replace the horse float with a truck, and then have the Q7 with a small runaround. The fact that it can do both jobs for my wife, and has done so for nearly ten years and 420,000km with so few issues, is tribute to its design and manufacturing quality.
The newer Q7s, and the pre-2020 SQ7 and Q8 are not the type of car I would view in the same way I considered the Q7 back in 2011. I reckon they are softer, more luxury than utility, and definitely more expensive. I still look at second hand Q7s with the 6.0-litre diesel V12 on the web - what a car! If I were to replace this car, it would be with that particular vehicle, and not one of the new ones.
The just-released 2020 SQ7 is perhaps a more likely replacement for the current car, however it has probably priced itself out of my market.
The Q7 is not a particularly easy car to drive smoothly. The accelerator pedal is very lightly sprung, the brake pedal is also fairly light, the engine is very responsive, and the gearbox (as good as it is) occasionally chooses the gear it wants rather than the gear you want. Four of my five children have learnt to drive in it, as well as other vehicles, and express a certain degree of criticism of its driving qualities (in their limited experience). This has not gone down very well with Jenni, who considers the vehicle to be above reproach. Still, when I was a learner driver I don’t think I ever got near a V8, a turbocharger (certainly not two turbochargers), 258kW, or 800Nm. They may not realise how lucky they were. I learnt to drive in a Vauxhall Velox.
I love the drivetrain. The engine has one turbocharger on each exhaust bank, directed to twin intercoolers located just in front of each front wheel, and then back to the intake manifold where they are interconnected to equalise the pressures. It’s hard to believe that the vehicle is a diesel, given the response to even minimal pressure on the accelerator. The ZF 8-speed gearbox has been around for over a decade and is also found in Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Alfa Romeo, Dodge, Ford and BMW, amongst others. The Audi Quattro four-wheel drive system requires no review; it’s a classic. Overall the performance is impressive, quiet, and smooth, and could be mistaken for being petrol.
The car is not perfect, with a couple of issues worth noting. The battery is located under the front passenger seat, which needs to be removed and replaced by a dealer to access the battery. The spare tyre is a space-saver, and not full size. It is quite beyond me how such a large vehicle could not have a more easily accessible battery and a full-sized spare tyre.
Time to summarise. It has been a reliable vehicle, with only a new tail shaft, a ventilation fan, one battery, and one DPF in close to ten years, and with no breakdowns. It has surprisingly good performance and has a spacious and comfortable interior. According to my wife it is a good looking car (I’m not so sure). The Q7 has clocked over 420,000km and I have concerns about its future. It had a little brother in the garage, a 2005 Audi A6 3.0TDI which expired of natural causes at about 425,000km.
In any case, it has paid its way and owes me nothing.