My Road Rush colleague Peter Cheney here at Globe Drive recently went into apoplexy over SUVs.
No one needs a big SUV like the Audi Q7, he said. They waste fuel, clutter up the roads, waste resources and are generally an eyesore. I, of course, calmly replied on our video that he was spouting politically correct nonsense – the typical finger-wagging blathering of a certain breed of central Canadians who want to tell all the rest of us what to do, what to drive, how to live, breathe, tie our shoes and go to the bathroom.
I am not some screeching right-wing-nut, anti-science, climate-change denier, either. The science shows that a significant part of climate change can be traced to all the carbon we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere.
I also support the latest CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) regulations that are driving massive fuel economy gains right now and into the future. While not ideal, the rules are pushing fuel-efficient vehicles into the marketplace. I do, in fact, consider myself an environmentalist, just one who likes cars.
Where Cheney and I differ is on the notion that big SUVs like the Q7 are a problem. They’re not. Canadians bought exactly 18,616 big rigs last year, in a market of nearly 1.7 million, notes DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. Less than half were luxury SUVs like the Q7.
Audi Canada sold a whopping 1,653 Q7s last year. So Q7 sales accounted for one-tenth of one per cent of all the new vehicles sold in Canada. Most were fuel-efficient diesels. A herd of flatulent cows did more to create global warming than the Q7.
Which brings us to the $63,200 Q7 (base price) with the TDI diesel. Thanks to its after-treatment system, the diesel engine is as clean as the cleanest gasoline engine. The diesel Q7 is a big boy of an SUV, but the 3.0-litre direct injection, turbocharged diesel engine (240 hp/407 lb-ft of torque) is more economical per litre (11.5 litres/100 km in the city, 7.1 highway) as a Dodge Journey (12.8 city/8.2 highway) with a 283-hp gasoline V-6.
Look, the Q7 and its ilk appeal to a narrow sliver of the marketplace. Buyers want a hulking, versatile SUV. They want power, style and they want it in a vehicle from a brand that projects success. They have money and they want to spend it in a certain way when it comes to a family vehicle. I mean, failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney just bought a Q7. He’s worth at least a quarter-billion.
Let’s also give credit to Audi for doing a few things to cut weight to boost fuel economy. The hood, front fenders and wrap-around tailgate are lightweight aluminum, as are the double wishbones of the suspension. You can get the Q7 with seating for up to seven, so it’s possible to make the case that, if you fill the seats, the Q7 is an efficient way to move people around. Cheney, of course, would say that he only sees big SUVs being driven by a single person, never with multiple passengers. Whatever.
Take a closer look at how the Q7 TDI uses a relatively modest amount of fuel given its size and the excellent quattro permanent all-wheel drive. Aluminum aside, the standard eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission has a wide spread of gear ratios and the long-ratio upper gears, in particular, contribute to efficiency.
The high-tech engine itself manages heat in a smart way. For instance – and excuse the gearhead stuff – the crankcase and the cylinder heads have separate cooling water circuits; coolant is not circulated within the block while the engine is warming up and that improves efficiency. The fuel injectors are slick piezos. A start-stop system deactivates the engine as soon as the vehicle comes to a stop, and an energy recovery system – standard for the entire model line – stores energy during deceleration. And yet the Q7 will do 0-100 km/h in 9.1 seconds, according to the factory.
The cabin design is clean, uncluttered and roomy, I can manage Audi’s multi-media interface (MMI) reasonably well, the seats are comfortable for two, three, four hours at a stretch and you get plenty of luxury features in even the most basic model. Audi is even moving forward on the quality front. Consumer Reports ranks Audi at No. 8 for predicted reliability, up from 18th in 2012. And the Q7 is loaded with safety gear, which means it gets top marks in crash tests.
No, the Q7 is not a problem, my dear Cheney. On the contrary. That efficient and powerful diesel engine, the lightweight materials, the brainy engineering and more mean that for the time being, the Q7 is actually a part of the solution. Not a permanent one, but in the big picture, a step forward.
2013 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI quattro
Type: Large luxury SUV
Base price: $63,200 (freight $1,995)
Engine: 3.0-litre V-6, turbocharged diesel
Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/407 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/7.1 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: BMW X5 xDrive 35d, Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec, Porsche Cayenne diesel, Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI