Big, bad and with a face like a Rottweiler, Audi's Q7 isn't the apologetic type, says Sean O'Grady

This Audi is a dog. Or, rather, it is very much like a particular breed of dog. A Rottweiler, in fact. This minor revelation came to me when I was contemplating all the admiring looks this seven-seater "sports" SUV had been attracting as I drove it around.

Trouble is, and I don't know how to put this without sounding like a snob, the admiring glances often came from the "wrong" types. Including an archetypal bull-necked, tattooed, blinged-up Rotty owner who cooed at the Q7 like it was the latest thing in what some might consider drug-dealer style. Which it may just turn out to be, replacing the Range Rover and, latterly, Range Rover Sport as the wheels of choice for those in that part of the recreational retail sector.

Now, for all I know, that gentleman might be much nicer than he looked and spend all his evenings doing fretwork and shopping for housebound pensioners. Similarly, his Rottweiler might be one of the gentler examples of the breed, good with children and cats.

In the same way, a bit, you can't quite be sure what you're getting with an Audi Q7. On the face of it - and what a face it has, with that huge, imposing grille - it looks like yet another unnecessary 4x4 cluttering up corded city streets and narrow country lanes with equally baleful effects. Just another enemy of the people, you might say, with a menacing growl.

Indeed, in the single most worrying remark I have ever encountered in a press pack, Audi themselves actually said that this car is aimed at people who "enjoy nature but are not concerned with the environment". I think they meant it was really for the American market, but it was a remarkable thing to put in writing, in any case.

Then again, this might be a cuddly sort of Rottweiler. Obviously you're not going to be actually helping the planet survive by buying one of these things (some £48,745 as tested), but it might not be quite as evil as it looks, or as I thought it was on my first acquaintance in what I thought was its natural habitat, at the launch in Phoenix, Arizona.

I had thought, for example, that the Audi would look enormous and utterly out of place in Britain, but somehow its estate-car-on-stilts looks seem to shrink its bulk. The test model I drove recently was also fitted with Audi's excellent 3.0 TDI diesel engine. Now I knew that this was a pretty modern affair, with common rail and direct injection technology plus a turbocharger. I did not know, however, that it has something called "piezo injectors" that increase the efficiency of the engine still further.

So I don't think I was that far off the official fuel consumption figures of 26.9mpg. OK, it's not a Toyota Prius or Smart car, but that is a reasonably "green" performance, given the weight of the vehicle and its permanent four-wheel drive transmission. Driven gently, it will take you a very long way on its 100-litre (22 gallon) tank.

Like responsible Rottweiler owners, however, people will usually assume the worst about you and that fierce-looking beast you own. Keep it muzzled, for heaven's sake.

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