Intensely politically incorrect though they may be, you can see where the absurdly powerful luxury SUVs that sit at the very pinnacle of the market are coming from.
These off-road gin palaces with sportscar performance are the logical extreme of a luxury SUV genre which is all about size, status and opulence, even in its more basic forms. Buyers who don’t go for a circumspect diesel usually don’t have cost as an overriding concern. So why not go all out for a V8, V10 or even a V12 petrol model and hang the expense? In a way, it’s trickier to get a handle on luxury SUVs with more modest petrol engines like Audi’s Q7 3.0 TFSI. Fast but not insanely so, economical but not on the level of the diesel alternatives, it occupies an interesting spot in the range.
At the time of the Q7’s launch, it had long been something of a mystery as to why Audi hadn’t committed to the sports utility vehicle market earlier. With an all-wheel drive pedigree to be proud of, and enough badge equity in the tank to drive premium sales, Audi watched rivals such as BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volvo clean up. Even sister company Volkswagen brought the Touareg to market while Audi twiddled its thumbs. The twiddling stopped and soon afterwards the Q7 arrived. It was big, heavy, imposing and luxurious, a king-sized hunk of car. It looked somewhat at odds with the Audi brand which always aimed to be cool and ever so slightly self effacing but these are hard qualities to replicate in a two tonne SUV.
These days, the 3.0 TFSI version of the Q7 is the only petrol option available to buyers. That’s going to be no great hardship for the majority of people considering a Q7 in the UK because sales of all SUVs are centred around diesel on these shores and those who will use none but the green-handled pump on a matter of principle are unlikely to feel short-changed by Audi’s 3.0-litre supercharged V6.
Two versions of the 3.0 TFSI unit are available, the entry-level one packing 268bhp and a meatier option with 328bhp. The latter unit produces 440Nm of torque between 2,900 and 5,300rpm, a 40Nm increase on the not inconsequential output of the basic engine. Audi is at pains to point out that in its most powerful form, this direct injection supercharged engine makes the Q7 faster than the old 4.2-litre V8 could. It covers the 0-60mph sprint in 6.9s which is plenty quick in a vehicle of the Q7’s size and a full second faster than the 268bhp alternative.
"The 3.0 TFSI petrol Q7 will have a tough job convincing UK buyers but some will see its charm"
The Q7 is equipped as standard with quattro permanent four-wheel drive. Its Torsen centre differential directs power to all four wheels, on-road and off-road, which means fast-reacting power to whichever wheel can best deploy it and excellent lateral stability. The standard gearbox is Audi’s eight-speed automatic which can be operated through paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Normal or Sport modes can be selected for the automatic shifting and the unit improves fuel economy by five per cent compared to the old six-speed system.
There are small aircraft carriers that would cut a less commanding dash than the Q7 if parked on a suburban driveway and the latest facelifted models do little to tone down the shock and awe attitude of the original. The suck-you-up-and-spit-you-out front end is enhanced by more shapely bumpers incorporating under-body protectors while the rear gets a natty set of LED light clusters.
Inside, the instrument cluster and the controls have been redesigned and nudged up market. The Q7 is 5,086mm long and very nearly two meters wide so despite the inefficiencies of the high riding SUV shape, it still has bundles of room in the cabin. Build quality is up to Audi’s usual high standards and the control interface remains arguably the most user-friendly in the sector.
There are three rows of seats that slide and fold in the usual MPV-like fashion. Audi claims 28 seating and loading configurations are available in the Q7 and the seats in the second row are adjustable for fore/aft movement. This allows Audi to not only lay claim to the most generous second row legroom in the class but also – with the second row slid forward and the rear folded – to also pinch first prize for luggage capacity, a huge 775 litres.
The 3.0 TDI diesel engine is likely to be the big seller in the Q7 range by virtue of its low running costs and the 3.0 TFSI petrol is priced £1,100 above it in standard trim. Buyers who want the 328bhp version of the engine will need to upgrade to SE trim for close to £3,000 and find a further £4,000 premium for the extra horses. Will buyers be willing to pay extra for the lesser 3.0 TFSI than they would for the 3.0 TDI diesel which offers similar performance and superior economy? It looks doubtful. The more powerful petrol engine costs more but is easier to justify thanks to its fiery performance. Its problem is that Audi is offering the mighty 4.2-litre V8 TDI diesel for just £4,000 more and that is an enticing prospect.
SE models get 19" alloy wheels and Bluetooth mobile phone technology while the range-topping S-line adds LED running lights, heated front seats and xenon headlamps. The options list includes a hard disc based sat nav system with music storage functionality, climate controlled front seats and carbon ceramic brakes amongst other expensive niceties.
The Q7 has a whole catalogue of rivals in the luxury 4x4 sector, not least the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne which ride on the same platform. There’s also BMX’s X5, the Mercedes ML-Class and the Range Rover but the Q7 doesn’t give much away to any of them in terms of size or road presence.
Whereas the 3.0 TDI version of the Q7 returns a creditable 38mpg with emissions of CO2 measured at 195g/km, this 3.0 TFSI petrol variant chips in with 26mpg and 249g/km. It means the diesel is going to be a cheaper option by some margin, especially considering its lower asking price and stronger residual values. The more powerful 3.0 TFSI models return identical economy figures to the standard versions and all Q7s feature the kinetic energy recovery system which uses energy that would have been lost as the vehicle slows to charge the battery.
Mention luxury SUVs with powerful petrol engines to many UK motorists and their thoughts immediately turn to the kind of bills such models are capable of generating. It’s no surprise that diesel engines are the big sellers in this market but where does that leave Audi’s Q7 3.0 TFSI? It’s not one of those money-no-object choices for buyers who just want the fastest, plushest and baddest SUV going. It’s fast but also reasonably economical and reasonably priced. It’s just that the diesel alternative is as fast and more reasonable.
The 3.0 TFSI petrol Q7 will have a tough job convincing UK buyers but some will see its charm. The big Audi is large and roomy inside but also well designed with a slick control interface. The engine is a fine unit that makes most sense in its more powerful guise where it really will make you question the need for a V8. Just don’t analyse the numbers too closely or you might find yourself edging towards the diesel.