On wheels: Audi Q7

Michael Booth gives the monstrous Audi Q7 a wide berth

Would suit Misanthropes
Price £47,725
Performance 155 mph, 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds
Combined fuel economy 20.8mpg
Further information 08457 699 777

I have never felt embarrassed behind the wheel of an Audi before. Cool, yes. Sophisticated, often. Smug, perhaps just a little, but squirming in a "Please understand this isn't my car; they made me drive it" kind of way? No, never. But I felt thoroughly ashamed driving around in the new Q7. It's not just the sheer scale of the thing that had me cringing when it turned up outside my house, dwarfing all the other cars, and indeed some of the buildings, on the street and blocking the light from my neighbours' living-rooms (though that was definitely a factor). Worse was the Q7's menacing face. It is a scary-looking machine, the Q7; the kind of car you would imagine boxing promoters, old-school Tory MPs or slum landlords might drive; a car that says "screw you" to the world. You have to wonder, what other kind of people would want to send out that kind of message to the rest of humanity?

Well, I'll tell you what other kind of people: people who believe that they and their family will be safer in a larger car, for a start, and what's wrong with that? The instinct to want to protect your family is a natural and entirely honourable one, and it's an instinct that the automotive industry has been all too keen to exploit in the last decade or so. It seems logical to assume that the bigger the car, the better protected your loved ones will be. And they don't get much bigger than the Q7 - actually, they don't get any bigger than the Q7, which is even larger than its distant relatives, the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg. More than once when driving it, I did wonder if I ought to follow the signs to the HGV parking at motorway service stations, or take the coach park at a National Trust property we went to. Signs warning of weight-sensitive bridges ahead are cause for a momentary flutter of concern.

The trouble is, in the recent EuroNCAP crash test, the Q7 only scored four stars out of five overall, and the same for child protection (Audi says it has now sorted the deficiencies, but still...). The Citroën C4 Picasso, which also seats seven, scored a full - and these days, fairly routine - five stars in the same test. So that's the safety argument out the window.

Who else is going to buy them? Short men perhaps; or posh, scared women; or maybe men who have suffered genital mutilation in the workplace and have been given one as compensation (James Bond?). Oh, yes, and people who live next door to Touareg owners.

This is a bit of a shame, really, because, if we can look objectively at the Q7 for a moment, behind the Gorgon façade lies a sensational machine. I tried the 4.2-litre, V8 petrol version (a 3-litre V6 diesel is also available, and a 3.6-litre V6, V8 diesel and V10 are coming next year), which was very quick and remarkably controlled. This is a nigh-on 2.5-tonne car that's almost as tall as a Harlem Globetrotter, but handles like an A6 estate. Only slightly vague brakes let it down. Meanwhile, the interior is the usual paragon of quality and elegance that one expects from Audi, although those rear sixth and seventh seats are for children only and, once in place, leave a piddling amount of boot space.

But brace yourself: the Q7's main rival, the new BMW X5, is about to be launched. It will almost certainly be larger still, but I do at least hope it has a happy face.

It's a classic: M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier

Scared of the world? Intimidated by modern-day traffic? Then forget an Audi Q7, why not go the whole hog and get yourself one of these, the classic M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier?

This caterpillar-tracked, semi-amphibious, armoured box saw service in Vietnam, yet is still in use by the US military around the world. It was first built in 1960 by FMC of California as a vehicle to be air-lifted into war zones and carry troops with light protection from small arms and rockets. The M113 has a six-cylinder, 275bhp diesel engine and can do about 60mph but, more importantly, you can mount a .50 calibre M2 machine gun, or even an anti-tank missile launcher on the roof and take out any of those bastards who cut you up on the M4 or fail to signal on roundabouts.

What's more, it can carry 13 people and weighs 10 tons, which knocks the Q7 into a cocked hat, although interior comfort might not be quite up to par.

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