Audi Q7 e-tron: Future first with torque on tap
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The Audi Q7 e-tron Quattro delivers a couple of significant firsts to New Zealand.
For a start, it's the first turbo diesel plug-in hybrid electric passenger vehicle on sale here. Sitting alongside the refreshed Audi A3 e-tron -- which has received a bit of a specification update - the plug-in Q7 signifies the way forward for Audi's alternatively-powered vehicles by pure dint of being part of their premium SUV range. But more on that in a sec.
Another first? The Audi Q7 e-tron quattro is the first diesel vehicle you don't need to pay Road User Charges for in order to run. Huh? How can this be? Simple: as it's a plug-in electric vehicle, it's exempt from the RUC, in line with the Government's EV stimulus strategy. (In the future you may also be able to drive in special vehicle lanes, although with the 'leccy Q7 looking so much like a conventional one, prepare yourself for some misguided road rage as a result.)
So, without Road User Charges to pay, this is one turbo diesel that, with its alternative power source in mind, allows the owner to save at both the legislative end of the ownership process, and at the pump.
Thanks to all the torque on tap, this plug-in electric vehicle will also tow a big boat in full EV mode like it isn't even there. That's right: it's still useful for the sort of stuff its audience buys it for in the first place.
As an exercise for media, Audi created a bit of a "launch event" within a launch event, letting us tow an XL-proportioned power boat on a tandem trailer with the Q7. With the combined torque from the SUV's conventional turbo diesel (a not-insubstantial 600Nm to begin with) supplemented with the instantaneous torque from the electric motor (a further 350Nm), the Q7 e-tron has almost as much torque on tap as the absolute top 4.0-litre V8-powered SQ7, which costs nearly $20,000 more.
Also, with the obvious benefits of quattro four-wheel drive still pushing grip to every wheel, you can make full use of the model's 3500kg braked towing capacity, even on the slimiest boat ramp.
Clearly, with a Q7 to build on, there is no crimping on spec to get the plug-in version. Having the plug-in option adds rather than subtracts, and I'm not just speaking of the 56km-ish electric-only range the Q7 e-tron offers in full EV mode.
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Aside from the fact you can't have this Q7 with a third row of seats (the battery under the boot floor makes that a no-go zone), it still boasts as standard, among many other highlights, an eight-speed automatic, Audi's awesome virtual cockpit instruments, 20" alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, leather upholstery and a 360-degree camera to ease you in and out of restricted parking spaces or allow you to back up to that aforementioned boat in one accurate manoeuvre.
Above and beyond its individual merits, the Q7 e-tron quattro is also the first in terms of a much broader focus on luxury SUV-sized Audis we'll be seeing launched here over the next two years that feature either PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) or BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) technology.
The A3 e-tron aside, why is Audi pushing leading-edge EV tech into its larger, higher-end models first? Simple economies of scale, really.
High tech developments fitted to lower-cost hatchbacks and city cars tends to drive the purchase cost of those cars skyward, to a point where the benefit of electric technology is lost on the audience for the car itself. Develop that technology in a higher-end vehicle where a tech-savvy, early-adopter buyer group (potentially with more discretionary spend) will consider your vehicle, and the buyer uptake increases. As does the likelihood of eagerly adopted electric vehicle technology making its way into models further down the food chain.
The Audi range is about to go through a large transition. With the A3 and Q7 e-trons, we're seeing the manufacturer's move to adopt alternative drivetrain technology for each of its existing models. Other sedans, wagons and crossovers will all receive similar electric options in the near future; the e-tron badge becoming a familiar component of the established range over the next 12 months.
The exciting stuff though, will arrive in the form of the all-new BEV models Audi has waiting in the wings. The Audi BEV SUV will offer an impressive 320kW peak power with a boost mode that takes power up to 370kW, with 800Nm of torque on tap. Range anxiety? No such thing with 500km of power at the ready from a full charge (depending on driving style). The BEV SUV will be followed a year later by the BEV Sportback, shown off in concept form last month at the Shanghai Motor Show.
And if you think these additions are the stuff of sci-fi; think again. The Audi BEV SUV and Sportback models are due here in 2018 and 2019 respectively. They might look like the work of a designer's fever dream (Google them), but they are real and ready for production.
Audi has been tagged as the EV leader for the Volkswagen Group and by 2025 anticipates a third of its global volume will be BEV models. Things have begun tentatively here in New Zealand, but that is all about to change.
As for midway points, the Q7 e-tron quattro offers up an impressive solution and more than a hint of what the German carmaker's electric future holds.
Audi Q7 e-tron Quattro
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6 TDI turbo diesel engine (190kW/600Nm) w/ electric motor (94kW/350Nm)
Pro: Heaps of space, awesome torque, plug-in hybrid early-adopter brownie points, Audi builds quality
Con: No third-row seating, if you're wanting your plug-in Audi to stand out from the crowd; sorry but the Q7 e-tron plays it subtles