2011 Audi Q7 TDI

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So, what’s the real-world mileage of Audi’s Q7 TDI diesel? 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. Hulk smash!

But, I can tell you this: The Q7 was dropped off last Thursday and today it’s Tuesday. 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. The Infiniti FX50 I had last week packed a 5 liter gas V-8. It was half empty three days after they dropped it off. Put another way, the muscular iInfiniti sucked its tank dry in 476 miles of highway driving. In the Q7, the TDI diesel burbling along oh-so-quietly – 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 and convenience-wise. Many people will be able to go two weeks or more before tanking up.

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; the higher-performance S-Line model starts at $59,450 and the higher-efficiency TDI diesel starts at $51,450.

Competitors include the $60,950 (to start) Mercedes-Benz GL series, which is also available with a diesel engine.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011

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.

WHAT’S GOOD

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 (by almost $10k! ) than the Benz GL350 Bluetec diesel.

Standard AWD

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Concrete-crushing curb weight reduces potentially much higher mileage potential of TDI engine.

Fussy controls for media/info/entertainment systems.

Not much cargo space; for-looks-only third row seating.

UNDER THE HOOD

The Q7’s two new gas V-6 engines both displace 3 liters, feature direct injection and supercharging. One makes 272 hp (vs. last year’s 280 hp 3.6 liter engine) the other 333 hp (vs. last year’s 350 hp V-8). Both get better gas mileage – 16 city, 22 highway – vs. last year’s 14 city, 19 highway V-6 and last year’s 13 city, 18 highway V-8.

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 and this heavy.

And because 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 last year’s gas V-8 could give maxed-out, it’s feasible to wring maximum mileage potential out of this unit without creating a Prius-like rolling roadblock.

All Q7s get a smart-shifting 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 jumps forward if 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 65-70 or so and the TDI is barely even running – around 1,800 RPM at those speeds, in top gear. On the rolling resistance, try this: Get it up to 60 and then let off the gas. The Q7 slows, but very slowly – almost imperceptibly. You will likely need to use the brakes. This is most impressive. I have no doubt a great deal of Midnight Oil was burned working on extremely low friction bearings, greases and so on.

The other thing that’s impressive is how well 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 stuff being built even as recently as 10 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 willfully stupid or deliberately reckless to find yourself in a sticky situation.

My only beef with the Q was its not-easy-to-use control interfaces (MMI) 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 road trip… .

Maybe the owner would eventually imprint all the protocols and be able to do 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.

On the upside, the Benz GL’s COMMAND system is 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… a dinosaur is he! Yes, indeed – he is. And so is the Q7. A behemoth, that is. 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.

Wow!

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.

THE REST

I wanted to ask Audi: Why the beef? I see no reason for the excessive avoirdupois the Q7 is carting around. 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 exploited – and that is a shame.

It’s pretty much my main disappointment with this otherwise excellent – and appealing – vehicle.

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… so long as you don’t need to carry seven people.

Throw it in the Woods?

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