Big Bad Riding Hood
Looking to toughen up his ride, Mihai Alexandrescu finds his muscle with Audi’s new SUV
Dogs started barking. Cats began to hiss. Birds fled their nests. Mothers pulled their babies from their prams and ran to the nearest shelter. I was calm but looking angry. I was a gangster. I was a football player. I was a self-made millionaire. I was a blonde bombshell in dark shades behind blacked-out windows. I was driving an Audi Q7 S-Line.
This is the trendiest car in Romania at the moment. Anyone who can afford a Q7 is buying one, from punters who read Shakespeare to those who think Harry Potter is the heir to the British throne. It is so popular because of its looks. The car is so huge it could challenge a Cadillac Escalade in size. And then look at the exterior. It’s mad, bad and dangerous to know. It is not ugly, but has the same expression as an ex-con just out from jail – searching for the bastards who framed him up.
The brutal look is courtesy of Audi’s desire to find success on the US market, where big is best and SUVs eat hatchbacks for breakfast, with a side order of Smartcar. The result is that Audi is no longer the nerd of the auto world. The vehicle is still well-made with perfect finishings, but the brand’s design is the definition of extrovert. The car we drove, priced at about 72,000 Euro, was equipped with the S-Line body kit, which had some S-line badges on the side, huge 20-inch wheels and two bumper extensions, which lend the car some aggression.
There are some strong points to this. While driving, the traffic parted and allowed me a safe journey through. It is as though this car comes equipped with the crook of Moses.
This is welcome in Romania. Although the passage from exile to the promised land across the Red Sea was a hard journey, the noble prophet would have had a tougher call trying to shepherd his people through the Bucharest’s rush-hour.
As in all Audis, the interiors are flawless. There are more luxurious cars like Rolls Royce and Maybach but Audi has the right balance of aluminium, suede and leather, wood and quality plastics. The S-Line design package was also present inside. There are S-Line badges on the steering wheel, bucket seats, side skirts and display.
The stereo system was more powerful than the 3-litre diesel engine delivering 233 horsepower, but did have the roar of diesel. The engine response through the five-speed automatic gearbox depends on how hard you step on the gas. If you want to go slow the gearbox will change gears at a maximum 2,500 rpm, making it economic for a car that weighs more than two tons. If you want to speed up, step harder on the gas and the turbo will give the engine the sound of two tribes of African killer bees sizing each other up.
The new Quattro (4X4) system on the Q7 gives 60 per cent of the power to the rear wheels. This means that the front wheels have to deal more with steering and less with traction. When winding around bends, the drive is fun, feels sportier and you receive more feedback from the steering-wheel.
The Q7 is one of the best premium SUVs on the market right now, but there are some drawbacks if you decide to buy one. Lose the big wheels because they ruin the ride and are easy to scratch if you go off-road. There is also a lack of visibility.
The dashboard from the Q7 comes from an A6 sedan, which is much smaller in size. This means that when you think there is enough room to park, you are too big to fit in. There are parking sensors and a camera displayed on the console when you reverse, but tight spaces are confusing, because these sensors would beep if even a wasp gets near. So I would not recommend the car as a first purchase or to someone with no driving skills. Taking into consideration that this is Audi’s first SUV, I think they did a great job, despite the fact that the brand has struggled hard to be liked in America rather than Europe.
A new 4.2 diesel V8 will be available with 326 BHP and 750 Nm of torque and there are plans to fit the most powerful diesel ever made on the Q7. It will be a V12 derived from the R10 Le Mans winner race car and it will produce 500 Bhp, a monstrous 1,000 Nm of torque and accelerate from zero to 100 km in 5.5 seconds. So, this means the toughest is about to get tougher.