Review: Audi's Q7 SUV, the control freak's ride

The New York Auto Show was this weekend, and we've got cars on the brain. Good timing for Audi to let us try out the company's 2009 SUV (Audi's second), the Q7.

Not that it's the first or even the 50th thing you'd notice about the Q7, but the owner's manual has an image of a jet cockpit. Sitting behind the Q7's wheel, the connection is clear. This is the closest that most of us will ever be to so many options, controls or gauges.

And it's very, very cool.

More hands-on impressions after the jump.

Plenty to Choose From
I'd love to be the pilot of a jumbo jet, flipping switches, checking gauges, pushing buttons and winking at boarding passengers. The 2008 Q7's 3.6 Premium trim line is an acceptable substitute. Climb in (before your passengers do) and go through your checklist (wink as they get in):
  • • Customize seat position
  • • Adjust telescoping, tilting wheel
  • • Select seat temperature (for front four seats)
  • • Adjust four-way lumbar support
  • • Remotely extend and defrost external mirrors
  • • Dial in individual climate settings for four
  • • Choose audio media (Sirius, AM/FM, CD, MP3)
  • • Tweak 14-speaker Bose system
  • • Establish Bluetooth phone connection
  • • Set sunroof, shade position (for each of the three rows of seats)
  • • Raise tailgate
  • • Plug destination into GPS

That's a lot of decisions to make. Good the computer does the hard stuff for you, like monitoring critical system such as brakes, transmission, steering, stability, cruise control and the wipers.

Dashboard of Champions
The dash's full effect (see it for yourself in the gallery above) is most obvious at night. Everything glows a warm orange and the lettering is crisp and clear. Of course, that's when the limitation of so many options becomes apparent, too.

Putting your finger on the button you want to put your finger on is not easy. Not even if you take the customary few minutes to acquaint yourself before turning the engine over. I had been driving for a couple miles one night with just the running lights on (nice and bright!), and was unable to figure out how to turn the headlights on. I had to pull over and search.

The color screen that dominates the center dash is, again, crisp and legible. It shows you a display of control settings and function readouts as well as a great image of what's behind you when you back up. The screen demands a degree of hand-eye coordination I hadn't expected, though. There is a multifunction dial on the center console, for instance, and I instinctively looked near my hand to see a readout as I twisted the dial, but the readout is up in the big center screen. And sometimes I'd try to change a function by touching the screen like I would with my Palm Centro.

If the dash gives you a thrill on the dealer's lot, you're like me. You want control of your environment and the ability to pull off the occasional knowing wink. There are far worse reasons to buy a car.

After you lay down the $57,000 for this baby, do everyone a favor, though: Get to know your dash really well before driving very far. Or at all.