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HARDWARE

Drives: Hey, Computer, Are We There Yet?

Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection--heck, Audi's first SUV almost drives itself.
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As the Audi Q7 idled on a hilltop in New England, I wondered if the future promised to me by Tron nearly 25 years ago had finally arrived. Granted, Audi's first SUV is no neon "lightcycle," but as I stared up at the night sky through the Q7's five-and-a-half-foot-long panoramic sunroof, the red glow of the interior lights around me, it occurred to me that computers have truly taken over--at least when it comes to the functions of everyday driving.

If that sounds far-fetched, get a load of some of the features and options available for the Q7. For starters, there is the blind-spot detection. LEDs light up on the side mirrors when the radar senses a car in your blind spot or coming up fast on the outside. Other wonders include a parking system that employs a camera and digital graphics that chart your direction of entry and the distance between your car and other objects, and an adaptive cruise control that uses radar to detect traffic ahead and lower the Q7's speed for you--or even drop it to a halt if you hit a hairy traffic jam. Trust your robotic overlords; they're here to help.

The Q7 is big, weighing more than 5,400 pounds, which keeps it from being a true burner. But the 4.2-liter version I drove goes from 0 to 60 in seven seconds, which is plenty adequate, and the vehicle certainly doesn't lack for space. It's one of the few in its class to accommodate seven passengers. With five 12-volt power outlets and 10 cup holders, including two slots for bottles in the doors, the Q7 is very user-friendly, with one exception. The button to lower the automatic liftgate is nearly seven feet off the ground, which meant my wife had to stand on tiptoe, then finally jump up and down to shut the back hatch. Apparently, the future has plenty of room for soft drinks but not for short people.


2007 Audi Q7

Sticker price
$39,900 base price for the 3.6-liter version; $65,870 as tested

Vital stats
4.2-liter 350-hp V8 engine; 325 pound-feet of torque; 118.2-inch wheelbase; 14/19 mpg

Good stuff
In addition to all the computer-controlled bells and whistles, there are dual visors that block the sun from the front and the side, four-zone air conditioning, and a 14-speaker Bose stereo.

Drawbacks
In typical SUV fashion, the gas mileage is Neanderthal. Plus, I miss the ease of changing radio stations via buttons instead of a dial. The optional paddle shifters are out of place on a vehicle that will probably be used for Costco (NASDAQ:COST) trips.

Second opinion
"The Q7 seems overweight, and on the highway, you hear and feel every expansion joint," says Trisha Hessinger, host of Car Care & Repair on the DIY Network (NYSE:SSP). "But it stays poised in the foulest of weather conditions."




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