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Audi Q7 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8

Premium car brands know their customers very well, but it's possible they know potential customers even better. You may be on Audi's ‘potentials’ radar and you don't even know it.

Let's say you're doing well; your budget for new wheels expends comfortably into six figures. A family- sized SUV with all the right badge and all the trimmings fits the bill. But you also have a hankering for new technology, and you're world-aware enough to have a strong environmental conscience. The new Q7 e-tron, due here in Australia in around 12 months, may just have your name all over it.

In essence, it's a large, roomy, beautifully designed diesel-engined SUV dripping with quality finishes and features. It also has a rechargeable battery pack stashed under the boot floor that gives it an electric-only range of around 50 kilometres. If your daily commute is less than that, you may be able to avoid the diesel pump on your local servo’s forecourt for weeks at a time.

The Q7 e-tron takes what is already a highly refined and commendably frugal SUV and turns it into a proper fuel miser, capable of running as a zero-emissions vehicle for a decent chunk of its daily operation.

Naturally, this being Audi, the tech that makes this parsimony possible does not come cheaply, but more on that shortly.

EV technology

The Q7 e-tron’s secondary power source comprises a vast bank of lithium-ion batteries encased beneath the boot floor. The pack’s capacity is rated at 17.3 kilowatt hours, which requires a charge time of around eight hours on a convention domestic supply, or just 2.5 hours if you have an Audi-appointed electrician fit an industrial-grade outlet next to your car space. The battery pack powers an electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, and it's this that gives the big SUV its near-silent, zero-emission operating ability.

Select the car’s EV mode and it will operate like this for around 50km, at speeds of up 120km/h. However, apply a generous amount of throttle and the engine fires up, overriding the electric operation and clearly highlighting that this is not the car's optimum, sole operating mode.

The Q7 e-tron takes what is already a highly refined and commendably frugal SUV and turns it into a proper fuel miser.

The Q7 e-tron is more a thinker, rather than servant, so best efficiency is achieved by handing control over to the car's brain, mapped by its advanced satnav system. Switched to Hybrid mode, the satnav scans your route, notes the changes in speed zones that delineate motorway, city and suburbia, and chooses the optimum combination of diesel and electric propulsion. Motorway cruising is where a low-revving, big-torque diesel excels, so its here that the e-tron will surf along lazily with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 turning over quietly, battery recharging if necessary.

Pull off into a town and the satnav notes the arrival of a 50km/h zone, and, in the interests of both low emissions and noise for residents, and to aid minimal overall consumption, the e-tron switches to electric mode. Note the puzzled look from pedestrians as you accelerate briskly away from the lights without so much of a burble of engine noise. Need to accelerate away quickly to plug a gap or escape hindrance? The diesel kicks back in to deliver a very solid combined output of 700Nm, or more than 100Nm over the conventional Q7. Pushed like this, acceleration is solid indeed: the e-tron is capable of 0-100km/h in just 6.0 seconds. And even when driven like this, the diesel V6 is a benchmark of muted, distant workmanship, like a skilled trades team beavering away in your basement. Back off, and near-silence returns, with just a low-level hum of tyres and subtle rustle of breeze flowing over the body.

Our test route, just outside of Madrid in Spain, took in a fairly typical blend of motorway, suburbia, city centre and, maybe less typically, a small mountain pass. Driven without any real regard for economy, particularly in the twisty, mountainous region, the display of specific consumption later presented in downloaded, mapped form, was compelling. Just under half the 98km journey was achieved on electric power, nearly all of that through built-up areas. For the rest, a blend of diesel-only and diesel/electric was used. Total consumption was under 6.5 litres. Yes, you read that right: a circa-2.5 tonne SUV capable of 6.5L/100km in real world-driving.

Dynamics

We were only able to sample the Q7 e-tron on optional air suspension, so we can't comment accurately on the handling of the conventional, steel- sprung model that will be the starting point in Australia. On air, the big SUV rides with a smooth, unruffled compliance that's been missing from lesser Audi models for years. In Comfort mode, sharp edges disappear with a distant thud that never make themselves felt in the cabin; ripples and patchwork bitumen are glossed over with nonchalance.

It's when undulations are introduced at speed that the Comfort mode starts to feel a bit floaty and nautical. Switching to Dynamic instantly corrects this, bringing a far more tied-down feeling without forcing the ride to become brittle or harsh. However, push on in a way that admittedly few owners ever will, and the car’s extra weight and top-heavy bias can't be hidden. It will heel over hard in tight corners, and clumsy or over-enthusiastic driving will push it into fairly pronounced understeer, which the ESC system quickly steps in to curb.

Inside

All of which feels a bit outside the Q7 e-tron’s core remit. Far better to ease back, let the electronics take care of the quiet efficiency going on underneath, and soak up the interior ambiance. Of which there is plenty. Even in option-free guise, the Q7 exhibits an uncommon sense of style and occasion inside.

Surfaces are carefully sculpted and contact points lovingly attended to. There's lots to take in, in terms of features and equipment, but it all falls to hand intuitively, and the complexity of the car's entertainment, information and safety systems is easily distilled into a welcome coherence.

Our test car boasted a leather-finished upper dash section, contrasting dark timber and polished aluminum trim, Alcantara headlining, mocha-coloured perforated leather seats, and a rich, lush-sounding B&O audio system. It was an environment impossible to not feel both seduced and soothed by.

Sceptics will argue, with some degree of validity, that recharging the battery of a plug-in hybrid like the Q7 e-tron using the coal-fired electricity that powers much of Australia is simply an exercise in problem shifting, not problem solving. Greenhouse pollution merely moves from the car’s tailpipe to the powerplants' stacks. However, Audi would counter that many of its key markets have access to power produced by sustainable, green sources, Australia included.

Pricing and value

The e-tron’s local arrival is still too far off for Audi Australia to be talking pricing, but our best estimate, based on European modeling, suggests it should lob at around $140,000, or about $36,000 over the conventional diesel-only model. Which sounds like a fair hike, but you need to consider that, as the range topper, it will come as standard with a fair serve of features and equipment that would quickly add up to multiple thousands if fitted as options to the base car; gear like the more advanced satnav, adaptive lighting, larger wheels and a whole bunch more.

Verdict

As for the pragmatic argument that it would take many years to recoup the e-tron’s elevated purchase price in diesel-pump savings, well, again that's impossible to refute. But I suspect that it’s also an equation that will never be entered into a Q7 e-tron customer's iPhone calculator. They will simply see this car as the model that crowns Audi's SUV range; a vehicle of great technical sophistication, inherent luxury and beautiful finishes, that also just happens to be remarkably efficient. And whether they know it now, or are yet to be converted, that lure will be impossible to resist.

Pricing Guides

$69,990
Based on 85 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$58,800
Highest Price
$83,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
3.0 TDI Quattro 3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $58,800 – 83,990 2016 Audi Q7 2016 3.0 TDI Quattro Pricing and Specs
3.0 TDI QUATTRO (160kW) 3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $59,620 – 68,530 2016 Audi Q7 2016 3.0 TDI QUATTRO (160kW) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8