Along with its not too distant cousin the Porsche Cayenne, the Audi Q7 is one of the pantomime villains of the motoring world, at least to those who believe that anything this size which is a form of private rather than public transport is a thorough waste of resources. It’s an understandable view to have, but on paper it has become more difficult to sustain with the arrival in summer 2016 of the Q7 e-tron.
The e-tron is a plug-in hybrid, and in fact Audi’s first SUV of that type ever to be sold in Europe. Like all other Q7s (other than the high-performance SQ7 which will largely be ignored in this review except for a brief mention seven paragraphs down from here), it uses a three-litre V6 turbo diesel engine, backed up in this single case by an electric motor.
Together, the two power sources can develop a maximum of 368bhp, transmitted to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The engine and motor can run together or separately, and Audi claims that the motor can work on its own for up to 34 miles, depending of course on how and where you drive the car and how much charge is left in the battery.
As with all plug-in hybrids, the battery of the e-tron can be replenished via a cable rather than simply through energy recovery, and this leads us into shadowy territory in the matter of fuel economy and CO2 emissions. You could use a tremendous amount of diesel by driving very hard everywhere, or you could make very short trips, recharge regularly and sell the car after several years with as much diesel in the tank as it had when you bought it. In other words, fuel economy could be anything from terrible to infinite.
Finding a balance in order to calculate official figures is not easy, and may in fact be impossible. By the accepted European method, the Q7 e-tron’s combined fuel economy is just short of 157mpg and the CO2 rating is 48g/km. However realistic or otherwise these numbers may be, they are the ones used to determine how much tax you’re asked to pay, which turns out to be as little as it could possibly be.
Vehicle Excise Duty? No. London congestion charge? No. Benefit In Kind? Yes, but only the minimum amount. Large diesel engine or not, the e-tron is exactly as expensive to tax as a Renault Twizy.
Well, you can see the appeal of that to business users. Here’s the fastest accelerating Q7 of all, with the same 2800kg towing capacity as all the others, nearly as much luggage space (actually a bit less, but 650 litres with the rear seats up isn’t bad), plenty of standard equipment and of course excellent build quality, to say nothing of a much sought-after badge, and as far as the Chancellor is concerned you might almost not have bought it at all. Sure, it’s very expensive for a Q7, costing nearly £65,000 without optional extras, but the tax implications are still very tempting for those concerned with that sort of thing.
Speaking of optional extras, there are naturally a great many of them, enough on the test car to raise its price by over £20,000. Two of these were adaptive air suspension for £2000 and 20″ wheels (to replace the standard 19s) for £1200. The wheels affect the fuel economy and CO2 emissions, but the latter rise to only 50%, so all comments above about tax payments still apply.
Since this is the only e-tron Audi has made available to journalists I can’t say whether they make the car better or worse, but in this state it’s awful to drive – cumbersome, uncomfortable and absolutely not what ought to be expected of a Q7. Having driven both models over the same roads on the same day, I’m surprised to have to mention that the SQ7 (on 21″ wheels!) feels more refined and luxurious. With the electric motor and battery pack on board, the e-tron is the heaviest of all Q7s, which may have something to do with it, but surely Audi could have found a way round that?
Still, much as it pains me to admit this, it may be that e-tron customers don’t give a damn about what a car is like to drive, and greatly prefer the idea of a large, desirable SUV on which they need pay very little tax. If that’s the case, Audi is on to a winner here.
Engine size 2967cc plus electric motor
Top speed 143mph
0-62mph 6.2 seconds
Fuel economy 156.9mpg combined
CO2 emissions 48g/km
Towing capacity 2800kg (braked)
Euro NCAP (2015) Overall 5 stars Adult occupant 94% Child occupant 88% Pedestrian 70% Safety assist 76%
Information correct at publication date