Audi’s smarter oil baron

The gigantic Q7 has been given a facelift and a couple of smaller, more efficient engines. But the 4.2-litre V8 diesel still makes a lot of sense.

The gigantic Q7 has been given a facelift and a couple of smaller, more efficient engines. But the 4.2-litre V8 diesel still makes a lot of sense.

GOOD as the revised Q7’s new 3.0TDI diesel engine is, Audi’s vast Q7 rather swamps it. For many customers, what’s needed is something bigger and brawnier to power this leviathan SUV and it’s here in the shape of the 4.2 V8 TDI. The latest model’s economy figure of 30.7mpg, 340bhp power output and an ability to get from 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds speak volumes.

Start reviewing any vehicle the size of the Audi Q7 and the familiar theme of urban 4x4s soon raises its head. For once, let’s put that argument to one side and just celebrate what is, by any standard, an incredible piece of engineering. The Audi Q7 4.2TDI features a diesel engine that can not only beat the fuel economy figures of many petrol-engined family saloons but also has the pace to keep a proper sports car honest. Prices start north of £50,000.

Revealed for the first time at the 2007 Geneva Auto Salon, this car’s engine is the successor to the Volkswagen Group’s incredible 5.0-litre V10 TDI unit - a powerplant that wouldn’t comply with ever stricter emissions regulations. So it is that we got this smaller, cleaner but more powerful turbodiesel fitted to the big Audi 4x4. Whether it will prove quite so popular now that there’s a re-engineered version of the 3.0 TDI diesel engine, assisted by start-stop technology, that’s still cleaner and more economical time will tell. For lovers of truly effortless performance, I suspect not.

The Q7 chassis will never be at the sportier end of the luxury 4x4 continuum but it’s nevertheless a tidy handler. The car could use a little more steering feel but the standard fit adaptive air suspension allows the Q7 to be dropped into a ‘Dynamic’ low ride height mode when you want to hustle and hustle you will with this powerplant. Cranking out some 800Nm of torque, this engine is more muscular than many fully-fledged supercar units. Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, Ferrari 599GTB, Porsche Carrera GT, McLaren F1 - none of these can match the torque of the Audi.

The best part about this engine is that the vast reserves of torque allow it to run at low engine speeds while still generating all that muscle. In fact, you need barely exceed tickover as peak torque is available anywhere between 1,750 and 2,750rpm. Should you wish to extend it, the Q7 4.2TDI will bludgeon its way to a top speed of 150mph. The Q7 makes a superb motorway cruiser with its suspension set into cosseting ‘Comfort’ mode. The eight-speed tiptronic gearbox has normal and Sport shift patterns or you can operate it manually via the steering wheel paddle shifters.

As good as the Q7 is on longer runs, get it in town or in tighter country lanes and you’ll soon appreciate that it’s a sizeable thing. You’ll probably look at two or three parking spaces before finding one that the big Audi will fit into and that gets tiresome quickly. It runs on a stretched version of the original Volkswagen Touareg chassis and features a seven seat configuration, making it ideal for bigger families. If you can get away from the rugged mud plugging mentality and instead think of it as a multi-purpose estate car on growth hormone, you’ll bond with the Q7 a whole lot quicker. Even its styling seems to distance it from off-roaders.

The latest models display the results of a mild facelift with the key changes being more shapely bumpers incorporating under-body protectors and LED rear light clusters. Inside, the instrument cluster and the controls have been redesigned and nudged up market. The coupe-like dipping roofline isn’t standard 4x4 fare, nor are the resolutely horizontal shoulders. Audi even offer contrasting body colours in a bid to emphasise the car’s shapely profile. Audi claim 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 Q7 4.2TDI comes stacked with equipment. Full leather trim is a standard fit, as are inlays in three different types of wood or aluminium. All V8 TDI models get 19” alloy wheels and Bluetooth mobile phone technology as standard while the S-Line adds heated front seats and xenon headlamps. There’s also an onboard coimputer, cruise control and multifunction steering wheel. Adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems are optional as is an advanced hard disc satallite navigation and stereo system.

There are some extremely thoughtful touches to the Q7. The ability to raise the tailgate from the keyfob is one that draws jealous glances from other 4x4 owners. Likewise, the ability to raise the car on its air suspension going from autoroute bullet to almost monster truck clearance in a matter of seconds is also something it’s tough to get tired of. What really impresses about the Q7 though is just how accessible all of these systems are. Yes, there are manuals in the glove box that together total over 700 pages but you’ll rarely need to consult them. Unlike in a rival BMW or Mercedes, there are very few times when the control systems flummox you.

If you need a spacious seven seat 4x4 vehicle and can afford the Audi Q7 4.2TDI, there’s very little reason why you shouldn’t indulge yourself. What are the alternatives? You could opt for something like a top of the line Chrysler Grand Voyager or Renault Grand Espace but neither of these have the image of the Audi nor do they possess an engine as efficient. This leaves other 4x4s such as the new BMW X5 or the Volvo XC90. If you’re a keen driver, the BMW might well edge the decision but there’s something about the Q7 that’s enormously appealing. Perhaps it’s the accessibility of its functions or the fact that it’s just so easy to drive. Only in confined areas do you feel its bulk. It’s impossible to escape the sense of wonderment this engine generates though. It defines this vehicle and puts rivals in the shade. It’s almost worth the price of admission alone.