Every Vancouverite knows the feeling. It’s mid-March, about 6 months into Vancouver’s wonderful rainy season. The sky is grey and the outlook bleak. We are all pushing through our daily grind with our heads down waiting for the sun to break through the clouds and cast away the shackles of our seasonal depression. In the meantime we have been handed an opportunity to forget our winter blahs. Audi’s 2011 Q7 has come on the docket, along with the opportunity to make our way up to Royston, BC on Vancouver Island, to enjoy a weekend at The Kingfisher Inn and Spa.
My partner Christopher and I have called upon our friends Ben and Anthony (Benthony for short), offering to whisk the 4 of us away for a weekend of relaxation. We are all feeling overdue for some pampering and a quick scroll through The Kingfisher’s extensive Spa Services menu reveals a plethora of options for us to all unwind as we see fit. Our choices all come out different, aside from a group booking to experience the spa’s renowned Pacific Mist Hydropath. We were fortunate enough to book into the Kingfisher’s recently renovated Orca Suites; perched on the ocean’s edge, each suite has private patio space and lounge chairs from which guests can have an uninterrupted view. Our minds are already beginning to melt at the thought of being massaged into the ground, then plunking down in front of the ocean with a bottle of Champagne.
With our departure less than a week away we are introduced to a woman named Joy whose talent shall provide the icing on the cake for our weekend of decadence. Joy is a local custom cake artist with a flair for fondant. For those of you local folk with a sweet tooth, she can be found at www.JoysCakeBoutique.com. While sampling her wonderful baking we place an order of our own. Having already planned a post spa treatment glass of Champagne by the ocean, this seems to be the perfect accompaniment. We leave design and flavour decisions in her hands knowing we shall not be disappointed.
As fate would have it, we are unable to avoid putting the Q7 through at least one test of “practicality”. Over the years we have amassed a respectable collection of mid-century modern Danish teak furniture and within an hour of picking up the Q7 we stumbled across a teak sideboard that we could not pass up. Measuring just over 6 feet long and 23 inches tall, we began to wonder how much hard-wood could an Audi Q7 fit? We rapidly drop the seats down to measure up the cargo area. Sure enough we have but few inches to spare. We hit the road home with a boot full of teak and grins on our faces.
Finally our weekend has arrived, and we are on the road. Our first stop is downtown to pick the boys up. Muscling our way through city traffic quickly explains the need for Audi’s Blind Spot Warning system. Visibility out the rear quarters is decent for a larger vehicle but the warning system makes merging relatively effortless. As we approach our first stop I flick through my phonebook and dial up our travel buddies to let them know we are approaching. Once connected, we are both surprised and disappointed to hear the sound quality coming out of the Bluetooth system in the Q7. Getting into something with a price tag creeping up on $80,000, we expected far better sound quality. Granted Christopher and I are spoiled to have a Bluetooth equipped 2010 328i X-Drive as our daily driver, however there is still no excuse for the Bluetooth system in the Q7 being of equal quality to the one found in a $20,000 Kia.
With our company and luggage safely stowed we motor onwards to the ferry terminal. Jumping onto the highway I decide to let the Q7 stretch its legs a little. We weren’t expecting a whole lot of stomp from the portly beast given the meager 3.0 litre displacement of its supercharged V6, but once the gearbox was dropped into sport its 333 horses really get to work. To really get the most out of this engine you unfortunately have no choice but to take the paddles to it. Both automatic and sport shifting profiles of Audi’s latest trick Tiptronic 8-Speed automatic gearbox are clearly programmed with economy in mind and wind up making the Q7 feel at times a bit underwhelming.
Before we know it we have arrived at the ferry terminal and been ushered onto our vessel for our ride across to Vancouver Island. We decide to stretch our legs and head up to the passenger deck. The smell of the vessel’s White Spot deep fryer permeates every corner. The seats have quickly filled, and we rapidly accept that we will be far more comfortable in the Q7 than wedged between the throngs of Island-goers and their cheeseburgers. Our two hour ride across the water provides ample time to become more familiar with Audi’s MMI multimedia interface. The control setup and multifunction buttons prove somewhat complicated at first, however within 10 or 15 minutes of fiddling and fussing I start getting the hang of it. I’m confident that owners would quickly grow to liking the system over time.
Our sailing at an end, we roll onto the tarmac into a torrential downpour. Traffic is thick and pushes along at a brisk pace. Weaving in and out of lanes in the wet like this really brings to light the steering characteristics of the Q7. In earlier situations we had found it to feel a bit too disconnected, as though Audi slightly overshot the amount of steering assist needed to compensate for its 2450kg mass. Some SUV buyers may like the effortless feel to its steering but we both think it lacks that sure-footed German grip that we have become accustomed to. Even with Audi’s excellent Quattro All-Wheel Drive system, the Q7 wasn’t really feeling up to the task as an all weather adventurer. Resting on 21” Dunlop Sport MAXX performance tires, the Q7 is definitely more suited to the road-going people carrying duties requested by most SUV shoppers of today. That being said, I’m sure that equation would change once fitted with different rubber.
The rain finally begins to die down as we roll into the Kingfisher Inn and Spa. The cheerful front desk staff gets us checked in promptly and we head down to our rooms to get ready for dinner. The view out the patio door of our suite sets the perfect tone for the days to come. The seas are calm and the sun is just starting to breach the cloud cover.
As we wander the grounds heading for the restaurant, we begin noticing a bit of a theme. Clearly someone at the Kingfisher Inn is a fan of starfish, as they seem to adorn every nook and cranny of the property. As the weekend progresses it quickly becomes our own take on “Where’s Waldo”, calling out each random starfish we stumble across.
A quick skim of the menu reveals quite a tasty sampling of West Coast cuisine with a bit of a French twist. A Seafood Basket containing a substantial sampling of local Clams, Mussels, Prawns and Sablefish proves to be a delicious start to our dining experience. Further visits prove the chef is a man of many skills as every item from a duck and snap pea risotto to a lamb shank with seasonal vegetables leave us anxious to try his next creation. The dining room staff complement the experience by providing knowledgeable and friendly service, without any attitude or pretence. Over our multiple visits to the restaurant we see a clear consistency amongst the employees of the Kingfisher Inn and Spa.
Our meals consumed, we throw on our fluffy white robes and make our way to the spa for our signature experience of the weekend, the Pacific Mist Hydropath. Having done a bit of reading ahead we still were not entirely sure what we were in for. Our guide for the experience leads us down the stairs to the Hydropath and sheds some light on the experience. The area underneath the spa contains 8 hydrotherapy stations built into sandstone sculpted caves and pools. The entire process lasts about and hour and we all agree that it’s the ultimate way to kick off a spa weekend. The best way to sum it up would have to be this: Think of a cross between Hot Springs, and an adult water park on steroids. Your guide comes and goes throughout the experience, leaving your group of 2 or 4 to relax until its time to move on to the next station. Each station is fairly isolated so even at peak times when there is a group at each station, there is a level of intimacy provided that one would not find in your average hot springs.
With the 4 of us sufficiently melted into a puddle, we retreat to our room to enjoy the spoils of our journey. Cutting into Joy’s baked masterpiece, a fondant covered, pistachio white cake with orange rhubarb filling, we can’t help but feel just a wee bit spoiled. Yes, we did all agree we needed a vacation, however sometimes it’s nice to have more than “just” a vacation. Sometimes it’s nice to go that step further and enjoy all the things that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. We didn’t need the spa, or the cake, or the Champagne to be able to unwind, but sometimes it’s just nice to have. This sentiment rings true in the Q7 as well. We didn’t need seating for 8, a panorama sunroof, 4 auxiliary power ports, or an in depth navigation system that could tell us where all the nearest wineries are, but those are the things that are great to have around.
The Audi Q7 is a great head-turner, but just like the Kingfisher Inn and Spa, it’s approachable. It doesn’t have that air of pretence that plagues most other luxury SUVs. On a few instances we had guys coming up and wanting to talk about the Q7, clearly interested in, and aspiring to move up into one. Though not without its quirks there is something to be said for an SUV that lives up to the expectation of having your cake and eating it too.
2011 Audi Q7 base MSRP $69,200 (as tested $79,945)