Nothing beats a road trip – packing up the car, hitting the open road and feeling the adrenalin rush that comes with a new adventure. This time, it’s a trip with my mom and sister – a much-needed break for my 83-year-old mom; it’s her first vacation since dad’s horrific accident more than six years ago.
Since the accident (he was burned from his waist to his ankles in a grass fire gone horribly wrong) mom has stuck to his side for fear of another setback. But caregivers desperately need a break, too. Thankfully, after months of pestering her to get away, she agrees to a three-day vacation. A road trip to Quebec – but it’s not to the spa or the beach. This is a spiritual journey – a visit to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a major Roman Catholic place of pilgrimage, just northeast of Quebec City. It’s the only way she’ll come along for the ride.
Our vehicle is big and powerful: an Audi Q7 TDI SUV with a sticker price of $68,250. It’s a comfy family hauler with a quiet diesel engine loaded with technology to take the stress out of driving – a welcome addition when exhaustion sets in during our nine-hour drive, east from Toronto along Canada’s busiest highway, the 401, to Quebec City.
Powering the Q7 TDI is a 3.0-litre turbocharged and intercooled clean diesel V-6 that delivers 225 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. It gets a power boost for 2013; the upgraded diesel will squeeze out 240 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is an eight-speed automatic transmission. The shifts are smooth and unobtrusive.
The ride is luxurious, yet sporty at the same time. Despite its size, its easy to manoeuvre through the busy, crowded narrow streets of old Quebec City as we make our way to the world’s most photographed hotel – Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. This luxury hotel is a landmark, standing above historic old Quebec with the majestic St. Lawrence River as a backdrop. The 119-year-old hotel with its castle-like architecture and turrets is the perfect place for mom to feel like a queen. It has welcomed stars and royalty alike from Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Grace of Monaco to Hollywood’s hottest celebs – Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg.
The Q7 soaks up bumps and potholes in the road beautifully. Hit the highway, nail the throttle and the torque rush is instantaneous. And the cabin remains whisper-quiet at all speeds.
Technology abounds in the Q7. Audi Side Assist, my sister’s favourite feature – one that doesn’t come on her own 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe – acts as a second set of eyes. The system monitors your blind spot and warns you via a flashing light in the side-view mirror when it’s unsafe to make a lane change.
Another nice feature is the high-pressure headlight washers – they’re retractable and heated. Hit the wiper fluid to clean the windshield and the headlights also get a washing for a better view of the road ahead. That feature is part of the S Line Sport Package, which includes S line wheels, a single-frame grille, S line badging and a multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles – all for $2,500. Okay I might skip that package in favour of the optional panoramic sunroof – it’s huge and makes the cabin feel light and airy. It costs $2,300.
The fuel savings from the diesel add up. Not one pit stop is needed along our route, we actually arrive with fuel to spare. The fuel consumption is rated 12.3 litres/100 km in the city and 7.7 on the highway. The gas-powered 3.0-litre DOHC V-6 Q7, on the other hand, is rated at 13.6 city/9.3 highway. The diesel is also quiet and refined – my sister can’t even tell it’s a diesel; gone are the dirty, clanky, noisy diesels of old.
The Q7 has a high step-in – something my mom doesn’t like. But for the driver it translates into an excellent view of the road ahead. The front seats are infinitely adjustable so it’s easy to get comfy at the wheel. The front- and second-row seats are heated, too.
Once inside, there are no complaints on the comfort side. The Q7 is lavish and spacious with three rows of seats, an option that adds $1,200 to the price. We don’t need the third row so we fold it down to make room for suitcases, food and religious artifacts. With all three rows in use, there’s still ample cargo space: 308 litres. Drop the third row and the space more than triples to 1,189 litres.
The navigation system is large and well-positioned at eye-level, but some controls aren’t located in the best spot. For example, the volume button is right of the gear shifter, closer to the passenger than the driver. But you can change the volume and radio on the steering wheel, which is easier to access. Other buttons for the radio and navigation also surround the gear shifter; I’d prefer them at eye level instead of looking down.
The Audi Q7 TDI is the perfect family hauler for a road trip – spacious, fuel-efficient and luxurious.
2012 Audi Q7 TDI Premium Plus
Type: Four-door, seven-passenger luxury SUV
Base Price: $68,250; as tested, $80,200
Engine: 3.0-litre, turbocharged and intercooled, DOHC, diesel V-6
Horsepower/torque: 225 hp/406 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.3 (city) and 7.7L (hwy)
Alternatives: Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec diesel, BMW X5 diesel, Acura MDX, Lexus GX460, Volvo XC90, Cadillac Escalade