I’m a not-so-well-known writer for a not-so-well-known car mag and an equally obscure website. I’m standing, jet-lagged and a little smelly, in the courtyard of a hotel I can't afford in front of a new SUV that costs more than my state college education. I’m here on Audi's dime. Come, Constant Reader, and join me for the auto writer's Holy of Holies: the press launch. A gaggle of my fellow egomaniacs and I are here to drive the brand new Audi Q7 SUV.
I open the door and haul myself in. The door slams. Chunk. Solid as rebar. I look around and face the first of many moments of confusion. Audi has just flown me across three time zones. My Malaysian-made Tag-Heuer knockoff says 8:16 in the morning, but my body clock ain't buying it. It looks like A8 in here. Or A6. Where am I again? I fiddle with the Multi-Media Interface, Audi's slightly-less-screwy answer to BMW's entirely screwy iDrive. I find the navigation system, but can’t be bothered to GPS myself. Other menus control the air suspension’s relative puffiness, the stereo’s wikkidness and a complication of user-definable functions– like how long the headlights interrogate wildlife after you walk away. Ah, the Germans: Masters of Convoluted Simplification.
I look around for the fancy gadgets highlighted in the crack of dawn press briefing. Panoramic sunroof to brighten Audi's deluxe but dour materials? Check. Rear temperature controls to forestall the thermal implications of the panoramic sunroof? I perform a quick center console reach around. Check. And what was that about the wipers? Wasn’t there something about them parking in a different position each time so the blades won't wear out as fast? How Phaetonesque. Too bad they couldn't apply all that engineering genius to something more useful, like designing a third-row seat roomy enough for those of us who actually have legs.
Moments later, I'm cruising down the road with a fellow hack, praying that he’s got kids or some other reason not to endanger my life by showing me what a great driver he isn't. As always, my goal is to probe the press car’s dynamic abilities without starting a pissing contest. As I hit the expressway onramp, I floor it. The Q7's acceleration is as thrilling as an Antique Road Show rerun. Just what I expected from a 350hp V8 pulling a 5500lbs. SUV (seven second zero to sixty time notwithstanding). I’m not stupid enough to drive a Tahoe-sized SUV like a Miata, but my co-driver has no such qualms. He horses the mighty Q7 into the first bend at a speed that exceeds his abilities. Remarkably, the Q7 stays the course. My colleague’s post-corner commentary is insouciant, but his eyes have the haunted look of a man who's just had an electronic intervention. I fight an urge to pierce his right kidney with my Audi-branded pen.
Fast-forward to the off-road portion of Audi's militarily precise schedule. It's really just a dirt road with attitude. No surprise there: I've seen what happens when jaded journalists take expensive SUVs on genuine off-road courses. Better to send the SUV’s directly to the crusher and save the towing costs. Still, it makes one wonder how much faith Audi has in the Q7's electronic stability program, which includes a trick, Land-Rover-like hill descent mode.
Before we can raise the question, our German-employed minders distract us with lunch. My co-driver questions one of Audi's smiling press reps over prime rib and onion tarts. Actually, he's not questioning, he's telling. It’s something about feeling the Quattro all-wheel-drive system shifting power to the front wheels as the Q7 transitioned from understeer to power-on oversteer. I snigger into my Dasani. I love listening to PR guys trying to tell journalists that they’re full of shit.
Lounging in the hotel bed that night, I try to figure this one out. For my paper paymasters, I’ll write about how the $50k-plus Q7 drives like an Audi sedan on stilts. I’ll snipe at the SUV’s disastrous fuel efficiency– the one complaint that’s beyond all censorship. Not that its petrochemical consumption matters to anyone other than left-leaning journalists. Q7 buyers will be image-conscious people who are too image-conscious to buy a BMW X5 or Mercedes GL because they don't want people to think they are image-conscious.
My print editor would shit a kitten if I turned that in (which might make it worth doing). So I'll feed him some crap about the wonders of FSI direct injection, heap praise on Audi’s new blind-spot monitoring Side Assist system, and gently chide Audi for the cramped third row seat. He'll be happy, I'll get paid and life will be good. I wonder what they'll serve at next month's Cadillac event, and drift off to sleep.