The German occupation of my Los Angeles neighborhood began with the SUVs.
Driveways once filled with Honda Accords, Toyota Camrys and vintage Volvo station wagons began to sprout BMW X3s and X5s and Audi Q3s and Q5s.
Though I myself had been part of an earlier wave of gentrification, when I moved into the area in the 1980s, I was hypocritically suspicious of these new interlopers.
Who were they? What did they want? And why did they all drive these overdressed, overpriced pumped-up German cars?
It wasn’t until I drove and reviewed a few that I understood. Whatever their motivations for buying these vehicles — Teutonic pride, conspicuous consumption, or antipathy for automobiles of American or Japanese provenance — the vehicles were terrific.
Audi’s Q7 is the company’s flagship SUV. A three-row, 7-seater, the Q7 comes standard with a raft of technological appurtenances that make it a pleasure to drive.
The drive train comprises Audi’s 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline engine (a 2.0-liter version is also available) mated to Audi’s 8-speed “Tiptronic” transmission. The engine makes an impressive 333 horsepower and 325 pound feet of torque — more than enough to make this 5,000-pound machine nimble in traffic as well as stable on the highway.
The weight isn’t hard to explain. Standard on the Q7 are wide, comfortable, heated seats, leather-bound and 8-way adjustable; a two-panel panoramic sun roof; power tail gate; roof rails; rollover bars; folding third-row seats; three-zone climate control; and a healthy array of front, side and head curtain airbags.
The model I drove, which kicked the $55,750 MSRP up to $85,425, also included the Prestige, Luxury, Adaptive Chassis, Driver Assistance and Towing packages.
Those enabled, among other things, four-wheel steering; adaptive air suspension; adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning; Audi’s “traffic sign recognition” system; a heads-up dashboard display; and many other comfort, convenience and safety features — though the full-size spare that many drivers expect was not included.
The result was a sublime driving experience. The four-wheel steering, paddle shifters and drive modes, which included a sporty “sport” setting, gave the big SUV a light, lithe feeling around town and on curvy canyon roads.
The interior was so elegant, refined and quiet that the sharp acceleration allowed by the big torquey engine seemed almost ill-mannered.
In sport setting, the vehicle tended to lurch a bit when pushed hard, giving it a slightly unstable feeling when accelerating from a stop or out of a slow corner.
All that power and fast forward motion mean, alas, pretty poor fuel economy. Like many SUVs, this one gets only a combined 21 miles per gallon driving on city streets and highways. The dashboard readout suggested that my lead-footed driving pushed that number quite a bit lower.
But my goodness is it comfortable. The driver and passenger seats are a marvel of ergonomic pleasure. The leg and head room in the second and third rows was Business Class impressive. The push-button system that makes the third row seats disappear creates a lot of storage room, too. Audi puts the total storage room, with seats folded, at 71.6 cubic feet. That should be room enough for five golf bags — and five golfers.
On the outside, the Q7 isn’t very distinguished. But, what SUVs are?
To my eye, they almost all have what a friend of mine used to call the “pregnant hamster” look — sporty at the front, but rather thick in the middle and the behind.
And they almost all look like that. Five years ago you could easily tell a Toyota RAV4 from a Subaru Forester, but today’s people movers — even the exotic and expensive ones — all seem to be cut from the same basic mold.
With the exception of some badging and grille designs, an Alfa Romeo Stelvio could pass for a Volvo XC90 or a Jaguar F-Pace. Even a Tesla Model X, if you take away its signature falcon-wing doors, could be mistaken for a new SUV from Acura or Lexus.
A new wave of gentrification began in my neighborhood a year or so ago. Like the Hondas, Toyotas and Volvos before them, the BMW and Audi SUVs began to disappear. In their places now are even pricier vehicles made by Land Rover and Tesla.
There goes the neighborhood, again.
2017 Audi Q7 3.0T Quattro Tiptronic
Quick take: Upscale mobility for the upwardly mobile
Highs: Big power meets a plush ride
Lows: Poor fuel economy
Vehicle type: 4-door, 7-passenger SUV
Base price: $55,750
Price as tested: $85,425
Powertrain: 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline engine
Transmission: 8-speed manual
Torque: 360 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy rating: 19 miles per gallon city / 25 mpg highway / 21 mpg combined