By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
So, what’s the real-world mileage of Audi’s Q7 TDI? I wish I could give you an exact number but while I was trying to get the Q’s fussy trip computer to spit it out, I inadvertently cleared the memory.
But, I can tell you this:
I have driven “down the mountain” (and back), a round trip of more than 60 miles, three times now – plus some local running around – and the fuel gauge is still showing just under three-quarters full. That is damn impressive for a 5,000 pounder with three rows of seats and a foot-plus of ground clearance.
An Infiniti FX50 I had before the Q was half empty three days after they dropped it off. Put another way, the gas V-8 powered Infiniti sucked its tank dry in 476 miles of highway driving. In the Q7 you’ve got 660 miles before it’s fill-up time again.
Even if you’re well-heeled – and the typical Q7 buyer is that by default – that’s a difference that makes a difference, money-wise as well as convenience-wise.
So, are there any downsides to the diesel?
WHAT IT IS
The Q7 is a full-size (and high-end) luxury-sport crossover SUV with standard third row seating and Quattro all-wheel-drive. It’s available with your choice of two gas V-6 engines (both supercharged) or a turbocharged, direct-injected diesel (TDI) V-6.
Prices start at $46,250 for the standard model with 3.0 liter gas V-6, automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel-drive. The TDI diesel (also with automatic and Qutattro) starts at $51,450. An S-line version of the Q7 with a more powerful supercharged gas V-6 is also available. Its base price is $59,950.
Competitors include the $60,950 (to start) Mercedes-Benz GL series – the only other large luxury crossover SUV which is also available with a diesel engine.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012
The formerly optional 4.2 liter, 350 hp gas V-8 has been dropped from the lineup. In its place is a more fuel-efficient (and almost as powerful) 333 hp supercharged 3 liter gas V-6. Base models get a toned-down version (272 hp) of the supercharged 3 liter V-6. The optional 3 liter TDI diesel – and both gas engines – now come standard with a new eight-speed automatic transmission that boosts economy and performance.
A significant redesign is on deck for 2013, so this may be an opportunity to get a good deal on the current model.
TDI diesel smooth as soft-serve gelato; as quiet as the gas burners; effortlessly powerful – and turns this massive (almost 5,600 lbs. empty) ship of the line into a more economical ride than its gas-powered equivalents.
More powerful, better mileage – and much less expensive than the Benz GL350 Bluetec diesel.
AWD is standard.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Concrete-crushing curb weight reduces potentially much higher mileage potential of TDI engine.
Fussy (and buggy) MMI controls for media/info/entertainment systems.
For-looks-only third row seating.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Q7’s gas V-6 engines both displace 3 liters, feature direct injection and supercharging. One makes 272 hp, the other 333 hp (vs. last year’s 350 hp V-8). Both get better gas mileage – 16 city, 22 highway – vs. the V-8 used in previous models (13 city, 18 highway).
The highest mileage engine you can get in the Q7, though, is the TDI diesel. Its 25 MPG highway rating is almost decent – is decent – for a vehicle this big, this powerful… and this heavy.
Also: You don’t have to rev the diesel much above a fast idle to get more motive power (405 lbs.-ft. of torque) out of it than the previous Q7’s V-8 could give maxed-out, so it’s feasible to wring maximum mileage potential out of this unit without creating a Prius-like rolling roadblock.
All Q7s come standard with an eight-speed automatic that features tighter gear spacing through the lower ranges for less RPM drop between shifts, plus a very deep overdrive top gear that allows 80 MPH cruising at just over 2,000 RPM.
One of the Q7’s most obvious competitors, the Benz GL, is much less economical – both to buy and to operate. Its Bluetec diesel engine only rates 21 MPG on the highway, makes 10 less hp (210) and five fewer lbs.-ft. of torque (400). The Benz also costs more than $60,000 vs, just over $51k for the TDI Q7.
Max tow rating for the Q7 is 6,600 lbs. (The Benz wins on this score with a very stout 7,500 lb. max rating.)
ON THE ROAD
I give Audi a lot of credit for masking the incredible bulk of the Q7 everywhere except at the pump. The tested-out TDI version leaps up and forward when you gun it at low speeds and (thanks to incredibly low rolling resistance done Elvis-knows-how and that new eight-speed transmission) you can approach triple digit speeds without using even 50 percent of the available RPM range. Keep it within legal speeds of 70 or so and the TDI is barely even running – around 2,000 RPM.
The other thing that’s impressive is how adroitly something this big, this heavy – and riding on super tall 20-21 inch wheels – can hustle through a corner if you want to do that. People who don’t get to test-drive new vehicles may not appreciate how capable almost any new car is in terms of cornering grip/stability at high speeds relative to the typical car of say 20 years ago. This is especially true of modern SUV-type vehicles vs. similar vehicles of the past. The road manners of the new stuff are strictly coat and tie now and you almost have to be almost willfully stupid or deliberately reckless to unsettle one of them.
My only beef with the Q was its not-easy-to-use control Multi Media Control (MMI) interfaces for the audio, GPS and info systems. There are too many buttons, too many steps involved. For example , to adjust the fan or set the temperature you have to do two things instead of just one. Push to engage the function you want, then rotate a knob. For other functions there are menus to scroll and mice to manipulate. Arghh! Its not a Moon Shot; it’s a trip down the road.
Probably the owner would eventually imprint all the protocols and be able to execute them with one hand, eyes still on the road. Not me. I even managed to delete the memory of the trip computer while trying to get it to tell me what the Q’s average fuel consumption was. The other thing was, the unit in my test vehicle had some bugs. The satellite radio, for example, would just turn itself off every now and then – with the screen display reading “no medium selected.” It’s a small thing, but still annoying.
On the upside, the Benz GL’s COMMAND system – and the similar systems found in every high-end luxury car – are every bit as aggravating. This business of making what ought to be routine functions excessively complex is becoming a signature feature of vehicles in the $50k and up range. It is a good thing that only people with lots of money can afford these vehicles, because it may soon be necessary for them to hire a Vehicle Valet to accompany them on drives and manipulate all the controls for them.
AT THE CURB
Behemoth is a dinosaur… . Yes, indeed. And so is the Q7. At 200.3 inches stem to stern, it is just two inches shy of the dimensions of the Cadillac Escalade – and it’s heavier (by more than 100 pounds) than the body-on-frame constructed, truck-based Caddy.
But, the Audi’s wagon-like shape helps mask the poundage and the overall size of the package… at least, until you have to parallel park it or squeeze it into the garage. Detail touches on the outside include LED (12 of them on each corner) parking/turn signals flanking a huge maw of a grille with oversized Audi signet rings in shiny chrome to let ’em know what you’re driving.
The interior is beautifully finished and while so is the Benz GL’s cabin, the Audi has a livelier – more sporting – look to it. My TDI tester was finished in mocha leather accented with pewter/aluminum trim. Interesting/useful features include redundant ignition (you have a physical key and a slot for the key on the dash; or, keep it in your pocket and use the Start/Stop buttons on the center console), twin 12v power points, “keyless” access to the glovebox and a Valet button to limit access/various vehicle functions.
Second-row passengers enjoy Business Class seating, and not just leg and headroom-wise. The seats can be reclined and occupants enjoy their very own (optionally available) sunroof, with independent control over its operation, including sunshade.
But the third row is frankly useless – except perhaps for agile young kids who can mountaineer themselves over and into them. But older teens and adults will be sitting prepare-for-impact-style, with their knees up against their chests. If you need a viable (adult-usable) third row, the Q7’s not going to work for you.
As further evidence of the Q’s not-so-great use of space, consider that it’s only got 10.9 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the third row (vs. 16.9 for the Benz GL350) and even with the third and second row seats folded flat, space maxes out at 72.5 cubic feet – vs. 108.9 in the about-the-same-size on the outside GL350.
I wanted to ask Audi: Why the beef? 5,600 pounds is several hundred pounds too much for a car-based unibody crossover SUV. Again, consider the Q7’s bulk relative to the Cadillac Escalade – a real-deal SUV (not a crossover) that’s built on a truck platform and has truck-type 4WD (not AWD). Yet it weighs less than the Q7 – and not by just a little.
It’s too bad. If the engineers had done as well curbing the Q’s curb weight as they did with the low (almost no) rolling resistance and the outstanding new eight-speed transmission, and brought the beast down to around 5,100 pounds or so, the TDI would likely be able to deliver 30 MPG on the highway and that would really be something. Almost economy-car fuel consumption in a full-size, luxury sport-crossover.
As it is, the TDI’s full potential is not allowed to blossom – and that is a shame.
The other thing – and this applies to all of the new “clean” diesels – is that you have a urea tank to top off every now and then. The urea gets sprayed into the exhaust stream to help cut back emissions, which is what makes it possible for Audi and other car companies to sell their diesel passenger vehicles nationwide and not just in a few markets, as in recent years. But it also means you have another thing to do – as well as another expense. It’s not Audi’s fault – it’s Uncle Sam and his “clean diesel” rigmarole. It is affecting everyone from high-end luxury vehicle buyers to over-the-road truckers and making everything associated with diesels cost more than it used to.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even though it’s a few pounds heavy, it’s still a better deal – and a better performer – than the Benz GL350.