First drive: Audi Q7 e-tron
What is it?
The Q7 e-tron is a plug-in hybrid version of Audi's popular SUV. With Audi's emissions regulations in the spotlight more now than ever, it's a good time for an ultra-efficient SUV to arrive for the company.
Although the addition of batteries means that the e-tron loses the third row of seats, it gains an extended range and the ability for drivers to use 'all electric' mode.
What's under the bonnet?
First and foremost is Audi's standard 3.0-litre diesel engine, which powers all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic. With the conventional section of the car sorted, it's on to the electric technology.
Accompanying the combustion engine is a 94 kW electric motor, which together creates an impressive torque figure of 700Nm, along with 369bhp. It takes just six seconds for the e-tron to make the sprint to 62mph, which makes the large SUV feel much sprightlier than its large size would denote.
Of course, the combination of combustion and electric motors isn't there just for performance, and with a consumption figure of 166.2mph you can be sure that its being used for economy too. Emitting just 50g/km of CO2, the Q7 e-tron is an impressively clean vehicle, which is exactly what the company needs at the moment.
What's the spec like?
Comprehensive and exceptionally well screwed together. As has come to be expected of large, expensive Audi vehicles the general fit-and-finish of the interior is second to none. An 8.3-inch monitor provides access to the infotainment system, while a multifunction steering wheel allows the driver to access major controls without taking their hands from the wheel.
In front of the driver is Audi's 'virtual cockpit' – something we've seen on the most recent TT. However, in the e-tron, information about the electric motor is also displayed. Though it's useful to have all of the readings right in front of you, such is the onslaught of numbers and data in the display that you tend to ignore it and rely on the excellent heads-up display for key information such as speed and navigation. A great piece of technology certainly, but at times it would be nice to have just two clear dials.
Owners of the previous generation Q7 will most likely notice the lack of a third row of seats, which has now been removed due to the added space taken up by the batteries. Though it doesn't diminish the quality of the interior, it will no doubt reduce to appeal of the car to larger families.
Up front there's the ever-popular Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which has enjoyed huge success. You could also look at the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, which offers an extremely premium approach to hybrid technology. For that, you'll also be looking at a much higher price though. Finally, there's the Lexus RX 450h, which was one of the first premium 4x4s to be offered with hybrid technology. With low CO2 figures, the Lexus is cheap to run – though many have struggled see the claimed economy figures when driving in the real world. So although the Q7 e-tron may be ground-breaking for the company, it's certainly not sailing into uncharted waters.
What's it like to drive?
Fantastically normal. One of the biggest compliments that you could pay the e-tron is that, at any speed, it feels like a standard Q7. Of course, around town in all-electric mode the silence in the cabin is noticeable – and incidentally the dampening of external noise is an excellent trait of the car.
Upon heavy acceleration there's the slightest growl from the diesel engine, but there's nothing here to complain about. Body roll is controlled up a point, but it's got to be remembered that this is a heavy car – it weighs just under two and-a-half tonnes. Given that, it doesn't feel cumbersome on the road, with sweeping bends dealt with minimal fuss.
The greatest triumph of the car is the Predictive Assistance, which utilises GPS and built-in maps to scan the route ahead and choose the best driving mode for economy. Around town, the system switches the car to all-electric mode; when it sees that there are a section of steep hills ahead it'll set the car in full-hybrid.
The technology is seriously impressive, and will no doubt be applied in Audi cars to come. Those coming from a standard diesel-powered Q7 would do well to notice the difference between that and the e-tron, and this will easily be the hybrid's biggest selling point. Doing all this while achieving 166.2mpg is something not to be ignored – and its certainly a feature that consumers will be expecting in cars in the near future.
AOL Cars Verdict
The Audi Q7 e-tron is an incredibly capable hybrid SUV. Once you look past the deletion of the third row of seats, there's little to distinguish it feel-wise from the standard diesel-powered car on which it is based. This, in real world terms, is a very good thing.
We do, however, have to approach one as-yet unmentioned subject – the price. Audi is saying that the e-tron will go on sale at "around £65,000". Even at this early estimate, it's a hugely expensive car and that's before you even glance at the extras list. Given the technology on-board you can see where the price has come from, but whether this technology will be enough to win over buyer's minds has yet to be seen. As an overall package, however, the Q7 e-tron is a truly impressive product.
Model: Audi Q7 e-tron
Price: (Estimated) £65,000
Engine: 3.0-litre diesel engine, plus electric motor
Top Speed: 135mph
Economy: 166.2mpg (combined)