Aging Hippies Opt for Luxury SUVs

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 31, 2018

MANCHESTER CENTER, VERMONT—My ride for the first annual Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival in Vermont was a 2018 Audi Q7 3.0T quattro Tiptronic, not really a “folk” car. Not very Vermont, either.

Ready for the road, but not the way Jack Kerouac did it. (Jim Motavalli photo)

This part of Vermont is called “The Shires,” which brings up inevitable Lord of the Rings references. But really, it’s just Bennington and Manchester, in the lovely Berkshires. You know, James Taylor sang about  them in “Sweet Baby James.”

The first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Though the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting

But I was there in high summer, and instead of the clapped-out VW van that Taylor probably had, the ride for Route 90 was brand-new and nicely appointed. And not even one Phish or “Free Tibet” bumper sticker. This is what happens when aging baby boomers take over the festival scene.

Lula Wiles making music at the first annual Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The festival was great, with plenty of old-time (not bluegrass) favorites, and many new discoveries. And who could complain about the car? Well, the $75,700 price was somewhat sobering. At Woodstock, the only SUVs were beat-up $200 Jeeps. On this one, you paid $9,000 for the prestige package, and $1,700 for the titanium black optics.

Road trip! The lived-in Audi Q7, with festival hay. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The SUV market is so large in 2018 that it’s getting endlessly subdivided. The Q7 is a seven-passenger mid-size luxury crossover, and as such it’s up against the BMW X5, the Volvo XC90, the Infiniti QX60 and the Mercedes GLS. All luxurious, competent, and expensive Baby Boomer cars.

Cars like these eat up the miles, and would be ideal for a cross-country drive. Maybe they can even go off the road, but few owners are going to put them to the test that way. Audi was an all-wheel drive pioneer with its quattros, and this one was just fine on Vermont’s occasional unpaved, muddy byways.

Tatiana Hargreaves (left) and Allison deGroot making beautiful music together. (Jim Motavalli photo)

But most of the time we were on highways, and the cabin was comfortable for long drives, with a very good heads-up display (showing the speed limit—very useful), and a full range of safety stuff, from adaptive cruise to active lane assist. Give me a heated steering wheel and I’m happy. The navigation system’s voice commands worked very well, which is great because the system was otherwise somewhat confusing to use.

One of the realizations about getting older is that falling into low-slung sports cars is no longer the happiest option. An Audi like this, you slide into. Still, the whole value of “sitting up high” (cited by many, many SUV buyers) is negated if everyone drives one.  

The Q7: You don't have to fall in, and the power gate swings open to swallow your gear. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Q7 with a 333-horsepower V-6 and eight-speed Tiptronic is reasonably sporty (zero to 60 in six to seven seconds, even with a 5,000-pound weigh-in. You pay for it with fuel economy of 19 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 21 combined.

And you could get a lot sportier for this kind of money. Heck, a Corvette Grand Sport is only $65,495, which would also buy a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R. Even a Porsche 718 Cayman S is only $67,700. Heck, the Q7 optioned this way is the same price as the lovely high-performance Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio. That’s a driver’s car.

The Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio is a driver's car for about the same price as the Q7. (Alfa-Romeo photo)

Still, our mud-spattered festival chairs and plentiful luggage wouldn’t have fit into the Alfa, and certainly not the Mustang or Corvette. When your arms are full, power soft-close doors are a nice option. And you can play the CDs you bought on the Bose stereo.

These are first-world problems. Given the money, I’d buy something else, and that leaves us where we started: Who could complain about a car like this?

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