Driving NW: The Audi Q7 TDI

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by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING5.com

NWCN.com

Posted on August 20, 2009 at 10:16 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving NW: The Audi Q7 TDI

We get along great but my wife and I are completely different.  Without getting into matrimonial detail, our approach to nearly everything couldn't be more dissimilar.  For us it's the classic phrase "I say to-MAY-toe, you say … spaghetti sauce."  The great thing is we nearly always arrive at the same place, we just take different paths there. 

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That pretty much sums up America and Europe when it comes to saving fuel.  We Yanks have embraced hybrids, across the briney blue they go for diesels.   For years VW, BMW, and Mercedes kept their efficient engines on home turf because they didn't meet the emission standards of the states that adapted California's strict pollution control standards.  It doesn't help that they have the reputation of being "oil burners," stinky, smoky and smelly. 

 

Wake up folks.  Things have changed.

The Audi Q7 TDI Premium I've driven for the past week is everything you'd expect from a modern diesel, if you knew how good one is.  It's squeaky clean, refined, quiet and powerful.  I've written about today's diesels before, the , and .  They're terrific engines.  Americans love the torquey low-end power.  We also like the 25 percent increase in fuel economy.

 

A good vehicle to find a diesel engine in

For now let's focus less on the engine and more on the vehicle that is Audi's Q7.  Hey, if you don't like the car, the whole engine thing is a moot point, right.  The TDI engine adds 4 grand to the price of the V6 gas version.  Starting at around $51,000 this particular Q7 TDI Premium is closer to 60.  This is not cheap. 

A few things soften that price tag.  Inside and out Q7 looks and feels expensive so those who can afford this rig will feel like they got their money's worth.  Second?  Uncle Sam is giving out tax credits for diesels, $1,150 in this case.  Finally, even with the AdBlue solution that needs replenishing every so often, lower fuel costs, higher efficiency and Audi's claim that resale will be higher should level the playing field.  Remember, there's an additional cost to going for the hybrid model of, oh, let's say the Lexus RX450h that only seats five. 

 

The Q has moves

Q7 handles crisply for a larger vehicle that seats seven.  The noise level is low, comfort is high.  You may hear a little diesel growl when launching hard from a stop but it disappears the moment the Q reaches cruising speed.  After a few days I stopped listening for the quintessential sound and it faded from my attention.  None of my passengers have mentioned it. 

Steering is a skosh lighter than expected from either a sport ute or German vehicle.   A 6-speed automatic transmission with manual control on the shift lever and steering wheel is silky smooth with decisive gear changes.  There's a work ethic here too.  Q7 TDI can tow up to 6,600 hundred pounds with the optional tow package.

Back to the engine

The TDI's 225 horsepower may be 65 less than the V6 gasoline version but the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 TDI has much more torque.  406 ft-lbs of it to be exact.  Torque provides that powerful Hand of God oomph off the line that we all crave.  Even with much less horsepower than the V6, the diesel's 0-60 time is 8.5 seconds, just a tick slower than the gas V6 Q7's 8.2 figure provided by Audi. 

Again, the TDI gets 25 percent better fuel economy and diesel is generally cheaper than the premium gasoline that luxury sport utes like to chug.   The EPA rating is 17 city, 25 highway. I'm seeing a 20 MPG average in mixed driving.  Not too shabby.  In order to get 50 state certification, a liquid called AdBlue spritzes the exhaust.  It's easy to refill, right next to the fuel filler. 

Head for the great outdoors in a great interior 

Audi does great cabins and this one is best in class.  Materials are high quality, the S-Line package on my tester gets aluminum trim that looks right at home against the soft touch instrument panel.  Supportive and heated leather seats are road trip approved, however, at this price there's the expectation they'd be cooled too.  Also, keyless ignition is MIA. Doors to the center console and glovebox move with a weighted quality that says an owner spent a lot of money.  With full integration, iPods can be hooked up to a nice Bose sound system.  The info screen is a little on the small side.

Open the pod bay door HAL

That brings up their Audi's interface called MMI.  Multi Media Interface is Audi's answer to iDrive or Comand.  Using a multi function rotary knob and surrounding buttons, it controls a number of things like the nav system, audio, and climate control.  There are also voice commands too, but like many other systems it doesn't like my voice.

Some functions are duplicated by dedicated buttons so you'll probably never set the AC with MMI.  The screen graphics are first rate.  The system is better than some but there's still a bit of a learning curve for the new owner.  Try it in the driveway first, just to get comfortable.

3 rows of seating.  12 bundles of TP.    

The middle row does everything an owner could ask it to do.  It splits and slides fore and aft to adjust legroom.  Reclines and folds flat too.  A Warm Weather package adds quad, yes quad zone climate control.  It also includes built-in retractable sunshades. A 115V home style outlet would be appreciated back here, anywhere really.  It may be easy to get back to the third row with the easy gliding seat but once there you'll want to be a smaller person.  Two 10-year-olds will be fine. 

One note, bringing that third row back up requires hopping into the cargo area and yanking the seats up.  Not exactly elegant.  It might be that straps found on competing vehicles to help out were missing from the tester.  Something for you to check out if you plan on doing this a lot.

A little behind the scenes about my now infamous trunk test.  Costco lets me borrow the bath tissue I use for an hour while I find the best way to wedge the maximum amount of it in the given space.  Bringing out 16 bundles, I've come with high hopes.  With three row vehicles I do two tests, one with the third row up (where the Q7 scores a three) and one with it down.  With seating for five, the Audi swallows a dozen bundles. That's a bit low for a larger vehicle like this but it represents a lot of camping gear.

Diesel or hybrid?

In the U.S., hybrids got the jump on clean diesel and the low sulfur fuel they use.  Maybe they're too exotic for us.  Perhaps Joe and Mary America will fret that a pump spewing diesel fuel won't appear in time.  Because of this my wife would probably go for a hybrid such as the five-seat RX450h or seve-seat GMC Yukon or Cadillac Escalade 2-Mode hybrid.  Worry not.  Diesel is at many stations now and it's common to find it cheaper than gasoline.  Personally, I enjoy the torquey dynamic of the diesels.   Different?  Yes, but we'd both be spending money to save it, just taking a different path.

Audi has provided fun facts in the press kit.  If one-third of Americans fueled their vehicles with diesel instead of gas, we'd save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.  Always appealing.  TDI clean diesel engines reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent over gasoline engines.  And finally, if one-third of Americans switched from gas to clean diesel, it would be the equivalent of planting 2.2 billion trees.  Imagine if we did both. 

The Q7 is handsome inside and out and its TDI engine makes a pricey rig less expensive to operate.  Competing against diesel versions of the Mercedes M-Class and BMW X5, Audi's Q7 TDI is a great way for sport ute drivers to avoid filling up so often. However it's done, efficiency is a good thing.  Perhaps, like hybrids, the TDI's best attribute is to sooth a wealthy family's conscience. Something to talk about with your spouse.

 

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