Audi's Q7 seven-seat luxury SUV has always made a big impact. This second generation model is lighter, cleverer and smarter - and in this 'e-tron' guise, comes with plug-in hybrid technology driving impressive standards of efficiency. As a result, if you really want a car of this kind, you may well find yourself really wanting this one.
Ten Second Review
Just as the dinosaurs evolved to suit a changing planet, so have large luxury SUVs - Audi's enormous Q7 more than most. Proof of that is delivered by this clever e-tron plug-in diesel/electric hybrid model. With one of these, if all you need this car for is the school run, you might never have to visit a filling station.
The second generation Q7 model has enabled Audi to rejuvenate its proposition amongst large luxury SUVs - which is just as well given that this segment is a tougher place to survive in than ever before. Impressive new rivals from Volvo and Land Rover directly target Q7 buyers, while smaller compact luxury SUVs also threaten this car's market share from below. Even so, for many - ourselves included - there remains something tantalisingly tempting about this big Audi. The way it dominates the road as it'll dominate your driveway. You'll want to justify buying one - and from an efficiency point of view, you'll be able to much more easily if the variant you have in mind is this one, the e-tron 3.0 TDI quattro plug-in hybrid derivative.
This Q7 e-tron mates the pokier 272PS version of the 3.0 TDI diesel that Audi offers in the standard range to a 94kw electric motor. The result is the potential for ludicrously low running costs, assuming you keep the batteries charged up and make regular commuting use of the 35-mile all-electric driving range. Alternatively, the e-tron model's 373PS output can offer impressive performance, with 62mph from rest achievable in 6s flat en route to 140mph. That quattro all-wheel drive system is a proper permanent set-up with a self-locking differential. It normally distributes power between front and rear axles in a 40:60 ratio, but if a loss of traction is detected, can instantly transfer as much as 70% of power to the front or up to 85% of power to the rear to help you retain grip. With air suspension, your Q7's ground clearance can potentially be up to 245mm, plus with this package you get MMI infotainment screen displays showing pitch and roll angles, your steering wheel angle, your tilt angle and even geographical altitude, compass and GPS co-ordinates. Plus you get an 'off road' mode as part of an ESC stability control system that incorporates hill descent control to ease you down slippery slopes.
Design and Build
This second generation Q7 model's styling theme is evolutionary, although the car seems to sit lower on its springs, almost like a beefed up Audi super-estate than a typical SUV, an impression compounded by the aggressively raked windscreen. The chassis on which the Q7 sits will also form the basis for forthcoming Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg designs, with Lamborghini and Bentley SUVs also using a version of this platform. An increased reliance on aluminium has shed weight, with 100kg coming out of the suspension, 71kg out of the body and a massive 24kg from the doors alone. Despite being 370mm shorter, Audi has only reduced the wheelbase of this MK2 Q7 by 10mm, so the amount of room available for passengers is still vast. In fact, Audi claims an extra 21mm of kneeroom in the back seat. There's no third row seating in this e-tron model thanks to the positioning of all those batteries under the boot floor. Still, that means a large boot that's 650-litres in size - or 1,835-litres if you flatten the rear bench. At the wheel, you're ensconced in a world of measured elegance, with beautiful ambient lighting, a luxurious blend of craftsmanship fused with technology and a wrap-around dash fashioned in a wide arc that spans the cabin, encircling the slim, sleek instrument panel. The instrument binnacle features Audi's clever 1440 x 550 pixel Virtual Cockpit where you can configure the fascia display as a giant screen in a number of modes.
Market and Model
Expect to pay around £65,000 for your Q7 e-tron: unfortunately, it's high price means that owners won't qualify for the government's Plug-in vehicle grant. So you're looking at a premium of around £15,000 over a normal Q7 3.0 TDI quattro 272PS: time to do your sums. At least the standard equipment levels are generous, highlights including LED headlights, the 'MMInavigation plus with MMIallintouch' infotainment package and the fully digital Audivirtualcockpit with its incredible flicker-free digital rendering. You also get the Audi smartphone interface embedding Apple Car Play or Google Android Auto functionality in the car's onboard infotainment system via a compatible connected handset. And 'Audi connect' connectivity bringing the many benefits of internet access to the car. The Audiconnect module links to the Internet via the high-speed LTE standard, and with the help of the AudiMMIconnectapp, it enables owners to use a smartphone to remotely control the charging process and interior climate control, and to access data relating to previous journeys. There's a whole host of clever options available for the car, but we particularly liked the optional Audi tablets for the rear seats. One (or optionally two) Audi tablets with 10.1 inch screens serve as rear seat monitors.
Cost of Ownership
As with any plug-in hybrid, this model offers the option of charging from mains power. Owners will be able to buy a wallbox that will charge their car on 16-amp power in two and a half hours. However you charge your Q7 e-tron, once it's powered-up you can, providing you drive sensibly, expect up to 35 miles of electric-only progress. That's more than the total distance most people drive in a day and, incidentally, is 9 miles more than you'd get from a rival Volvo XC90 T8. Theoretically then, you could use a Q7 e-tron throughout each week without ever visiting a fuel station, unless you needed to undertake a longer trip. In reality of course, most owners will more commonly be using the hybrid capability of this car and selecting a drive mode that will allow the engine to continually alternate between diesel and electric power, a setting that forms the basis for a faintly incredible-sounding set of running cost figures: 166.2mpg on the combined cycle and 46g/km of CO2. While we can't imagine any Q7 e-tron owner ever actually achieving these sorts of returns, the important thing is that the government believes them, so business users will be able to write down as much as 100% of the cost of this car against their tax liability. And a 40% tax payer could be driving this car while incurring a BIK tax bill of no more than around £100 a month.
The Q7 e-tron is a big Audi SUV that, in an eco-conscious world, you could own proudly, rather than slightly awkwardly. A statement of technology and innovation with electronic intuition anticipating needs you didn't know you had. As well as simply a very plush and practical way to transport your household just about anywhere. Audi are certainly aware that a model of this kind can never be completely eco-centric, but as they've proved in this case, there's certainly plenty that can be done to reduce its environmental impact. In short, what we have here is simply this: a lesson in vorsprung durch technic.