Sport utility vehicles entered the automotive scene as 4×4 alternatives to station wagons, sedans, and minivans. They quickly became the go-anywhere, haul-anything preference for families across the United States. These were the vehicles that allowed drivers to skip the Holiday Inn and venture deep into the woods if they so desired.
They were large, heavy, and capable rigs that rode high and gave drivers a commanding view and comforting presence in the midst of the surrounding Civics and Corollas. The fact that early V8-powered SUVs sucked gas fast enough to watch the fuel gauge drop didn’t matter, because gasoline was cheap and the economy was strong.
Then the bottom fell out in 2007 and the game completely changed. Large SUVs became symbols of excess and waste. Filling their gas tanks required a second mortgage. Falling sales inspired a new breed of SUVs, one that could still haul up to 8 people, but compromised some off-road ability for more civilized fuel economy numbers.
It’s an evolution that continues into this day and is embodied by the new Audi Q7.
For the first time since its 2007 debut, the 2017 Q7 will come with a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, which will yield 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Power will still be routed to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The new Q7 2.0T model may deliver less power than the more potent 3.0-liter V6, but it weighs almost 500 pounds less and, according to Audi, is about a half-second quicker to 60 miles per hour. Plus, as you might expect, fuel economy is about 22 percent better than the V6 model.
For buyers who want an SUV to do traditional SUV-like things, such as towing a boat, the 4-cylinder likely won’t work. The 2.0T is rated at 4,400 pounds when properly equipped, compared with 7,700 pounds for the V6 model.
The Q7 isn’t the first SUV to use a smaller engine, of course. The evolution began when Ford transitioned the Explorer from a body-on-frame platform to a unibody, car-based platform in 2011. The Nissan Pathfinder followed suit and SUVs have since become smaller and more car-like.
Large traditional SUVs still exist and, in fact, remain the bread and butter for many of General Motors’ brands, but the segment has evolved into something we wouldn’t have foreseen 20 years ago.
The new Q7 joins the Mazda CX-9 and Volvo XC90 in creating a new era of SUVs with small engines and luxurious family capacity, while shunning the old ways of thirsty V8 engines with spartan interiors. That’ll mean fewer jaunts off the highway and into the woods, but for most people who own SUVs, the Holiday Inn was always the more common stop anyway.
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