The Incredible Shrinking Q7

Take the LRT? You gotta be kidding me.

BY jason tan | May 12, 2017 | Feature

There was a once a campaign to get Americans to rethink their love for gas-guzzling SUVs. It was called, What Would Jesus Drive? That was around when George W Bush was in the White House. He’d just invaded Saddam Hussein and everyone who wasn’t a neo-con or with oil and gas thought he was The Worst President of the United States. Ever.

We now know that that campaign backfired spectacularly, because the answer to the question was, and still is, more than ever: a pick-up. Because hey, Jesus was one of us. And The Donald has an SUV or fifty-five.

Pick-ups sell by the bajillion in the US. The SUV is the pimped-up cousin, the Mad Man’s stroke of genius and saviour of entire carmakers such as Porsche and Volvo. I can’t prove it, but I’d bet the farm on it: the SUV and its pick-up country cousin outsell even bottled water, certainly by volume of fuel consumed. Even Bentley and Alfa Romeo have succumbed and parts of London are said to be overrun by yummy mummies in Chelsea Tractors on the school run.

But there’s a simple reason for the populism, I mean, elitism, I mean popularity (ubiquity?) of the SUV. I’m no market fundamentalist, but there’s something about it that people want or are attracted to. Maybe it works. For them.

Exhibit A: Audi Q7 2.0 TFSI Quattro. It does not fit into regular car parking bays, especially not the metal contraptions in Centrepoint Bandar Utama or Menara Ambank. But you’d never tell from looking at the Q7, because it is classically proportionate and sits so squarely on the ground. You’re tempted to measure the ratio of its dimensions to see if they’re the same as the Parthenon’s or perhaps certain temples in India. They can’t be far different from its rotund and malevolent predecessor’s, so there’s been some judicious redrawing of line to pull of the disappearing effect. It is present, not large.

And yes, it fits surprisingly well in the physical cut and thrust of crazy and dopey drivers in KL city centre. Almost hand-in-glove perfect. Bus, lorry, cement mixer, psycho delivery van, mat rempit food delivery; all can be interacted with in equanimity and with aplomb. And I don’t think it has to do with the aggressiveness of the front styling or sheer size. (Okay, maybe a bit.)

How to describe this? The Q7 gives the impression of a highly developed and very thoroughly engineered machine. The numbers and ratios are superbly matched; steering, transmission, suspension. It steps off the mark with an alacrity that matches yours and its effortless gait down open road and jalan sehala is therapeutic when you so choose. Swing left, swing right and round again; it happily keeps up.

In technical terms, it has great balance, damping and body control. The chassis does a great impression of being interconnected with the ligaments of a great athlete: you. For what it’s worth, this driver thinks the Q7 has a better handling balance than some outwardly sporty smaller German cars, let alone some fairly recent generation rival SUVs.

Audi is billing this as the Quattro, capital Q. Not quite, because the original was a 4wd pioneering rally bomb piloted by champion Walter Rohrl, who famously quipped that driving (a madder version) of it was more involving than sex. The proto-Quattro was designed by an Englishman, Martin Smith, channeling all the Teutonic lineage of the royal family into its butch, set-square, hatchback form. You’d think there’s at least some this DNA expressed in the well-honed Q7.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Malaysia, May 2017.