Test Drive: Lake Bell

Joe Pugliese

Driving the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI Quattro was a window into suburban domesticity. I knew what the first order of business was with this all-wheel-drive diesel SUV: a trip to Target, to buy the largest items I've needed but couldn't purchase due to the space restrictions of my Mini Cooper. With Nate Dogg and
Warren G crooning "Regulate" -- courtesy of Sirius radio and a 14-speaker Bose stereo -- I threw down two of its six seats and bought a veritable new home office and a 24-pack of Cottonelle.

Despite the huge TDI lettering wrapping the exterior (advertising the Q7's clean diesel status), the Audi commands respect. Why? Because Audi connotes classiness. Despite the company's history of recalls, which left a bad taste in the mouths of savvy consumers, I'm partial to the brand and its more recent glowing reputation. In fact, when I've found myself in a "Hey, what car should I buy?" conversation, I've undoubtedly recommended an Audi -- even before ever driving one. Today, the German company evokes sensibility while maintaining respect for the luxury buyer who craves a dose of sportiness. The Q7 upholds that duality with its three rows of family-friendly, movable seating complemented by a 225-horsepower turbocharged V6.

While the Q7 comes with an eight-speed Tiptronic feature, it seems superfluous. Luxury SUVs are about comfort and ease, which is why immense cup holders that fit those 1.5-liter SmartWater bottles make sense. But why add quasi-manual shifting to the fold when you're late for work with the kids screaming in back? Let's see if I can make this drive more difficult? No thanks. The Q7 does offer a supremely gentle ride, making a mockery out of any imperfections in the road. It's far from taut, though I suppose that's the point.

Although the Q7 lacks the supercar grip I'm becoming accustomed to, its diesel engine, which returns 25 miles per gallon on the highway -- robust when you consider it tips the scales at a portly 5,687 pounds -- offers impressive pickup. On the highway, I kept thinking, "For something that claims to be clean, it sure feels dirty" (thanks to 406 pound-feet of torque). Turn up the Sirius -- maybe I could be a soccer mom!

There's no doubt the diesel Q7, which starts at $51,450, is a responsible choice for shoppers in this segment. Maybe the biggest allure is that it's neither a BMW nor a Mercedes. It's the other German white meat. If you're an Audi driver, you can rest easy knowing you've chosen the less traveled, less predictable and perhaps even more sensible luxury road. No judgments here. It's hard to get mad at an Audi -- after all, this one carted home the trappings of the new home office from which I write this article.


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