It was exactly zero degrees on the Fahrenheit scale, eighteen below water freezing point on the scale that Anders Celsius invented – a significant morning warm up from the overnight low of -12 degrees Fahrenheit. Not even lifelong Vermonters expected the temperatures to be this low in the middle of March. With some great apprehension I pressed the “engine start” button this diesel-powered Audi Q7.
A second after I released the start button, without any drama, the 3.0-liter diesel came to life, happily murmuring at its normal idle speed. Evidently no one told VW/Audi engineers that diesel engines are not supposed to start up in cold weather. It was probably the same people who told them that diesels should be loud and smoky. The old diesels are dead, long live the new diesels.
Obvious comparisons between the TDI should be drawn to Chrysler’s EcoDiesel engine. The TDI is quieter in operation, especially at idle, and generally more refined than Chrysler’s diesel engine. On paper, the TDI engine is the same in displacement (3.0-liter, single turbo) and very similar in performance (240hp/406lb-ft vs. 240hp/420lb-ft for the Chrysler). The numbers don’t tell the whole story however, there is a difference in driving feel. The TDI power-band feels more even throughout its rpm range, while the Jeep was a little peaky once the turbo really kicked in. Both the Jeep EcoDiesel and the Audi engines are matched to eight-speed automatic transmission and, frankly, both are fantastic.
Note: Mercedes also offers a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine with 240hp and 455lb-ft, but I have not driven any vehicle equipped with it. BMW’s new 3.0-liter turbo-diesel makes 255hp and 413lb-ft, but I’ve only driven BMWs with the previous versions of that engine.
In addition to smooth and plentiful power, the advantage of any diesel vehicle is in its fuel economy. Here the big Audi delivers an impressive EPA rating of 19mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. On my weekend excursion I achieved approximately 27mpg as per the dash computer. This is quite spectacular for an SUV of this size; for comparison GM managed to get only 20mpg from its GMT900 hybrids, and conventional V6-powered SUVs of the same size struggle to achieve low 20s. The really nice feature is the huge 26.4 gallon fuel tank which gives the Q7 TDI a cruising range of over 700 miles.
Other than the engine, Audi’s Q7, a three-row SUV based on the PL71 platform, has been around since 2007 and does not really need an introduction. While seven years may seem like a lot in the current automotive world, Audi has done a great job of keeping the model current with mild refresh in 2010. The vehicle pictured here has the optional S line plus package with 21” titanium-colored wheels, sporty bumper covers and side trim, and Black Optic exterior trim color which really make it stand out.
Audi typically does interiors well, and the Q7 is no exception. While companies such as Kia say that their vehicles have the same features, it’s the execution of those features and the overall feel that gives a vehicle that special feel. That said, the Q7interior is not perfect; first, like in the SQ5, there is no auxiliary or USB audio inputs, the cup-holders are flimsy and inconveniently located, the engine start button and audio controls are placed randomly around the shifter, and no one will ever find the secret button that opens the glove box without looking in the owner’s manual, which, ironically, is in the glove box.
Audi does give its owners a CD slot and two SD card memory slots, as well as an old-style iPod/iPhone connection inconveniently located in the glove box for music connectivity. Otherwise everything needs to be connected via Bluetooth, potentially effecting music quality, which is a shame because the Q7 Premium comes equipped with a nice Bose audio system or tremendously expensive Bang & Olufsen 1001-watt 14-speaker system, such as the vehicle pictured here. I was not blessed with a golden ear and I don’t think I could tell the difference between the two systems, but the iconic B&O pop-up dash tweeters were fun to watch.
On the positive side, the seats are superior, there is plenty of space for occupants of the first two rows, and plenty of cargo space with the third row folded. When the third row seats are raised, and with the middle row slid forward, its passengers won’t happy for long and the cargo space shirks significantly, neither of which is surprising. All rear seats fold flat, and the middle seat in the middle row folds flat allowing transport of longer items. The power tailgate operates quicker than most but not as high as some, and those over six feet tall may bump their heads.
The Q7 does not pretend to be an off-roader; there is no two-speed transfer case, no locking differentials, and no off-road gadgets with pictures of rocks, stones, or trees. The Quattro system does its magic work quietly, and this winter-tire equipped vehicle felt confident no matter what road it was working with; secondary, dirt (GPS directed me), snow-covered, pothole-ridden, or highway. Switching between comfort, dynamic, and automatic modes on the optional adaptive air suspension did not make a dramatic difference from the driver’s perspective. Overall, it was set more for comfort than spirited driving, which is not a bad thing.
In my wintery weekend trip to Vermont, in really cold and snowy weather, the Audi performed flawlessly. The HVAC fan has ten speeds, more than any other vehicle I’ve ever seen, and the heated front seats have six settings, again more than any vehicle I’ve seen. This car was not equipped with the optional cold weather package which includes a heated steering wheel and rear seats, so boohoo. The snow tires provided great traction, much better than the Range Rover on all-seasons, even with all its gizmos.
Sometime ago Audi decided to take their cars further up-market, and with them went the price. The Audi Q7 TDI starts at $52,900. The vehicle pictured here had the $12,000 Prestige package, $6300 Bang & Olufsen audio, $2600 air suspension, $2400 technology package, $3200 S line package, and a $1500 black alcantara headliner, for a total price, as delivered, of $81,795. While the price for this loaded Q7 sounds high, its German rivals can be easily optioned to the same amount.
Disclaimer: Audi lend me this vehicle for a weekend for the purpose of this review. I returned it washed (unlike what’s seen in these pictures) and with a full tank of diesel fuel.
[Images copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski]