Vehicles like the Audi Q7 TDI have done a lot to change the perception that diesel vehicles are crude, stinky, black smoke-spewers, and the company's lone turbodiesel gets even better for 2011. (Sister company Volkswagen has several other diesels in its line, including the Touareg, with the same engine as the Q7.)
When it comes to performance, the biggest difference is the use of an eight-speed automatic in place of last year's six-speed. This new transmission provides seamless, smooth shifts. The TDI's engine remains unchanged from last year, and is still a pleasure to drive. Upon cold start, diesel noise is barely noticeable, and it gets even quieter as the engine warms up. Thanks to the 406 pound-feet of torque at a low, low 1750 rpm, it takes very little throttle to accelerate or pass in traffic. Braking is precise, and the discs respond seemingly instantly to driver input. Steering is typical Audi: plenty of accuracy without feeling nervous. While the ride is very firm on highways and straight roads and communicates bumps, the big payoff is in the canyons. This is where the large SUV feels more like an athletic sedan, but with tons of torque.
At the track, the TDI went from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, which is about a second slower than the gas 4.2-liter V-8 we tested a couple years ago and the 2011 got through the quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 82.3 mph. Braking from 60 mph took an impressive 124 feet, not bad for a 5400-pound vehicle. Despite having a third row of seats, the 2011 Q7 weighs 27 pounds less than the 2010 Volkswagen Touareg TDI we tested last year. Yet that VW sport/utility vehicle with the six-speed automatic was actually 0.7 second faster to 60 and went through the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds at 83.5 mph. For those who are looking for gas-powered Q7 options, there are two choices: the 3.6-liter V-6 has been replaced by a 272-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, and the 4.2-liter V-8 was replaced by a supercharged 333-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6, both backed by an eight-speed automatic.
The interior has all of the quality and elegance you'd expect in an Audi, with beautiful leather, clean layout, and supportive but comfortable seats. One staffer said the front seats feel like La-Z-Boys. The MMI still takes a little time to get used to, but otherwise the cabin is beautiful. There are new lux options for 2011, including HD radio and a panorama roof. But there are some quirks in the cabin. If you aren't familiar with the glovebox, you might find yourself pulling on the edges of it, trying to find a handle or a lever. It's actually opened by pushing a button next to the nav/MMI screen, and also reveals the iPod connection. You can decide whether that's a smart security feature or silly and unnecessary. Also be warned that the A-pillars are fairly thick, slightly reducing front side visibility.
While carpooling, you can expect city/highway fuel economy of 17 and 25, and a fuel range of 660 miles. On our drive -- a combination of hard running on twisty roads and freeway cruising -- we recorded 20.2 mpg. The diesel emissions system uses AdBlue, a urea-based solution, and the refill point is a second small filler neck to the right of the diesel fill point behind the same fuel door.
The Audi Q7 TDI is fast, efficient, quiet, and handles well. Of course, that comes at a price, and on our test vehicle, that price is significant. This very well-equipped topline Premium Plus Q7 cost $58,275 as tested. But this SUV is one you can proudly use as a carpool vehicle with even the most gossipy of neighbors, to tow your boat with, or to take to dinner.
| 2011 Audi Q7 TDI Premium Plus
| Base price || $51,775 |
| Price as Tested || $58,275 |
| Vehicle layout || Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV |
| Engine || 3.0L/225-hp/406-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6 |
| Transmission || 8-speed automatic |
| Wheelbase || 118.2 in |
| Length x width x height || 200.3 x 78.1 x 68.4 in |
| Curb weight (f/r dist) || 5402 lb (52/48%) |
| Towing capacity || 6600 lb |
| 0-60 mph || 8.6 sec |
| Quarter mile || 16.5 sec @ 82.3 mph |
| Braking, 60-0 mph || 124 ft |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || 17/25 mpg |
| CO2 emissions || 1.12 lb/mile |
| On sale in the U.S. || Currently |