Audi Q7 outback adventure

audi-q7-outback-adventure.jpgAudi took an outback odyssey this week to launch its Q7 4WD and CARSguide was there.
DAY 1: Birdsville
A handful of permanent residents and one of the greenest footy fields anywhere west of the mountains … Birdsville is one of those places every Aussie knows of and precious few ever visit. Just days before we flew in from Sydney the town had hosted its annual party weekend, the Birdsville Races, which attracted more than 9000 visitors from the city and the Corner Country’s far flung stations and settlements.

By midday last Monday all that remained were the tracks out of town, a truly impressive collection of empty beverage containers and 15 Audi Q7s, dusty but unbowed by the first seven days of a 7000km trek from Sydney to Broome across Australia’s red centre. With the Q7 — Audi’s foray into the large luxury SUV market — in showrooms from today, the idea of running a fleet of them coast-to-coast had been schemed for almost two years.

“The Q7 is a performance SUV which will allow Audi to tap into the growing prestige and luxury market for this type of vehicle,” Audi’s general manager for sales, Andrew Doyle, says. “It is also the ultimate quattro (AWD) showcase.”

Priced from $84,900 for the 3.6-litre FSI V6 petrol model, available from November, through to $85,700 for the 3.0-litre TDi diesel to the range-topping 4.2-litre FSI V8 at $116,800, the Q7 comes reasonably well specified out of the box but with a list of add-ons that runs to an impressive level. A V12 diesel with 1000Nm of torque was confirmed this week but no availability date has been announced.

Critical safety features are standard. All models get the latest generation quattro AWD, eight airbags with side curtains back to the third row in the optional seven-seat configuration, and a switchable electronic stability control bundling ABS, EBD, panic brake assist, roll stability program, electronic differential lock and traction control.

There is also a reversing camera with parking assistance standard — something that should be legislated for all vehicles.
 New — and optional — on the Q7 are a pair of radar-based systems. The adaptive cruise control will monitor traffic on the road ahead and keep the car at a constant cruise speed and at a constant pre-set distance from other traffic, slowing and accelerating as needed. Lane assist uses radar to monitor driver “blind spots” and warn when a car is detected.

The biggest test the cars faced before setting off on a 500km run on shifting gravel roads from Birdsville to Clayton River was an appointment with Big Red, at around 40m the largest of the 1100 or so sandhills on the desert run from Birdsville back to Dalhousie Springs. Once a formidable opponent — and still no walk in the park for the careless or the brainless — Red is definitely losing the battle against technology.

With one minor blip when inexperience prompted one of the drivers to lift off the gas at a critical moment and bog in the soft sand — simply remedied by reversing down the slope and nailing it next time — Big Red offered no serious impediment to the Q7’s progress. On to Clayton River.


DAY 2: Birdsville to Clayton River (475km)

Once a daunting droving route south to the Adelaide markets, the Birdsville Track is much more good gravel road than a track these days, at least in the dry.

On the 475km run to Clayton River the Q7 performed faultlessly. The 4.2-litre V8 (257kW@6800rpm and 440Nm@3500rpm) chewed fuel at a constant 16.6L/100km but that was running fully laden at a good clip over a loose surface that regularly called on the electronic stability control to gently intervene. Left to its own devices on automatic, the variable air suspension had its moments over some of the dips and floodways, where rebound control was found to be less effective than expected.

Between the humps and bumps the ride was composed and comfortable.

A stop at the Mungerannie Roadhouse provided a break in the seemingly endless sameness of the country, as well as a fascinating window on the character of those inhabiting what to most is barren and inhospitable terrain.

Above the bar is an impressive collection of headgear — some loved to the edge of destruction — of those who live around the region. Look down, and scorch marks on the wooden floor and a tyre-shaped indent tell of a wild night not long ago involving a fair degree of lubrication, a Harley-Davidson and an innovative use of the barfront to anchor the bike’s front wheel while an extended burnout filled the room with smoke. Evidently it seemed like a good idea at the time.

DAY 3: Clayton River to Coober Pedy (434km)

A short run to Maree before leaving the Birdsville Track and joining another famous droving route, the Oodnadatta Track, for the run up past Lake Eyre to William Creek before heading across to the underground town, the opal mining centre of Coober Pedy.

This time the Q7 of choice was the 3.0-litre diesel. Although most diesel buyers — some

70 per cent of the 700 Q7s Audi will sell this year — will option up to the same level as the 4.2-litre V8, including air suspension, we took the basic car with steel-spring suspension.

The engine is a great package with huge lumps of the maximum 500Nm of torque on tap from just over 1600rpm, making shifting the Q7’s considerable bulk an effortless exercise. There is enough power (171kW) to roll the car comfortably at a very respectable speed across loose gravel roads very similar to the previous day. The biggest difference was that while the ride was a little harsher the rebound control was much better with a more workmanlike handling of the inevitable dips.

Halfway along, just 15 minutes from William Creek (two pubs and a permanent population of nine), is one of Australia’s best-kept secrets and one of its most stunning natural beauties.

As environmentally fragile as spun glass and approachable only by air, the Painted Hills sit in some of the most remote privately-owned land on the continent. Weathered by wind and occasional rain, the hills, valleys, flats and dry creekbeds have been coloured by time and minerals in rich hues from purple through yellow and ochre to an almost iridescent red. Locals say mere hundreds of Europeans have seen the country and are adamant it will never be opened to ground traffic. Nor should it.

The rest of the trip to Coober Pedy again passed without the Q7 missing a beat, putting another 150km of dust and rocks behind.

DAY 4: Coober Pedy to Yulara (740kms)

A night underground in Coober Pedy’s Desert Cave Hotel set the scene for a final push to the Red Centre and Uluru. The choice of car is the 3.0-litre diesel with air suspension — a predictable combination of economy and selectable comfort for what was always going to be a long day on tarmac highways. None of this was a test for the Q7’s claims to SUV status but it gave the car every chance to underscore its performance aspirations.

The Q7 diesel proceeds at a rich clip in a very comfortable manner. It overtakes with ease at highway speed, dropping back on demand then holds a very respectable pace on the Northern Territory’s unrestricted roads until well towards the redline.

While the 1650km run from Birdsville was far from a hardcore 4WD test — and without low-range there are restrictions on what the car can be expected to do — it was fairly representative of what a Q7 owner might ask.

The final run to Broome is next week in the hands of another group.

Fast facts Audi Q7

Price: 3.6 FSi $84,900; 3.0 TDi $85,700; 4.2 FSi $116,800

Engines: 3.0-litre V6 DOHC common rail turbo diesel, 171kW@4000rpm, 500Nm@1750-2750rpm; 3.6-litre V6 FSI DOHC, 206kW@6200rpm, 360Nm@2500-5000rpm; 4.2-litre V8 FSI DOHC, 257kW@6800rpm, 440Nm@3500rpm

Transmission: 6-speed tiptronic with sport mode; quattro permanent AWD

Performance: 0-100km 9.1 sec (3.0-litre), 8.5 sec (3.6-litre), 7.4 sec (4.2-litre);

Fuel: 100-litre tank, 3.0-litre 10.5L/100km; 3.6-litre 12.7L/100km; 4.2-litre 13.6L/100km combined (claimed) [The Daily Telegraph, Cars Guide]