As a company constantly pursuing the latest technology for its cars, Audi’s expanding electrification project will eventually make its way across the company’s entire model line-up.
The latest to don the e-tron badge is the big Q7 and we hopped over to Madrid in Spain to put the Audi Q7 e-tron through its paces.
Earlier in the year, Curt drove the Q7 in Switzerland and loved it. Matt then drove it locally and was equally impressed with the dynamic and versatile package. But, how does the addition of batteries and complex running gear affect Audi’s large SUV proposition?
Audi’s e-tron vehicles are marketed as premium, energy efficient examples of their conventionally powered siblings. As such, the Q7 e-tron is expected to wear a higher price tag once it arrives to Australia around the end of next year, with our estimates placing it at around $140-150,000 plus on road costs.
While it may look just like any other Q7 from the outside, the Q7 e-tron is quite a unique machine under the skin. Utilising a 17.3kWh battery set, the Q7 e-tron’s 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine, which produces 190kW of power and 600Nm of torque, is mated to a 94kW electric motor that produces 350Nm of torque. These running in unison increase power output to 275kW of power and torque output to 700Nm.
These figures make the Q7 e-tron good for a 0-100km/h time of just 6.0 seconds, while it can also accelerate on electric-only mode to 60km/h in 6.5 seconds. It also consumes a combined 1.7L/100km and emits just 46g/km of CO2 emissions, according to Audi.
The charging port lives on the left-hand side of the car and is in the shape of a regular fuel filler. Once you open the lid, there is a plug socket and two buttons. One button activates scheduled charging, while the other gives you the ability to lock the cable in position so it can’t be removed by a passer-by.
On pure EV mode (where the car operates exclusively on battery power), the Q7 e-tron can travel up to 56 kilometres. The battery system uses 168 prismatic cells that operate at 308V, weighing in at 202kg.
When it comes to charging, the vehicle can be charged from a standard 10A house plug all the way through to a 400V DC fast charger. Charging on a standard power plug takes around 8 hours from flat.
Part of the downside to the battery pack is that it deletes the third row of seats, making the Q7 e-tron a five seater — kind of defeating the purpose of making an SUV this size in the first place.
Visibly, the only changes to the regular Q7 include the extra fuel cap cover for the charging port, no underfloor storage in the boot (that’s where the batteries and control modules sit), additional e-tron badges, an EV button on the dashboard and extra power gauges on the TFT instrument cluster.
We set off toward some of Spain’s beautiful countryside to test the Q7 e-tron through a mix of highway driving, country roads and mountainous corners.
No surprise that the first thing you notice as you drive off is the silence. The Q7 is already a well-insulated vehicle and the sound deadness is made even more clear as the vehicle takes off on electric power.
This continues until the throttle is pressed further or the car requires the assistance of its diesel engine. Even then, the quiet V6 diesel is whisper quiet, only making itself known at the top end of its limited rev range.
The addition of an electric motor helps reduce turbocharger lag from the sizeable diesel engine, providing torque assistance from a standing start and when full throttle is commanded.
During highway driving, the diesel engine continuously moves between being on at low revs and at times being totally switched off. This freewheeling mode disconnects the engine from the wheels to enable a pure coast mode.
The driver is able to switch between several EV modes. The first is pure-EV, where the car operates on battery power with a firmer throttle response. It will, however, engage the diesel engine if the driver pushes the throttle down far enough.
The next mode is a hybrid setting, where the car will intelligently move between EV, diesel and parallel hybrid as required. The final two modes are a hold, and charge. The hold mode runs the diesel engine to ensure the battery doesn’t drain, while the charge mode uses the diesel engine to produce power for the batteries.
As we joined the highway, it was immediately obvious that the extra pep provided by the battery pack certainly doesn’t hinder acceleration performance. Rather, it provides an added punch on top of the already torque-laden diesel engine.
Likewise, the ride was sensational. All vehicles we tested on this drive program had air suspension fitted, which would explain the extra-plush ride. While it fared well on the highway, the car felt a bit floaty and its size was obvious when thrown at corners.
The Q7 e-tron sits flat through corners, but it doesn’t take much effort to reach the grip limit of its tyres and induce tyre squeal and a hint of understeer. But, it’s worth remembering that the Q7 competes against the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and Volvo XC90 — neither known for being a corner annihilator.
From a standing start, the Q7 e-tron’s acceleration felt brisk and effortless, but it tapered off as it went beyond 100km/h and the diesel engine was left to its own devices. The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, with torque sent through an all-wheel drive system.
The gearbox is a soft-shifting unit that can be controlled via paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel or automatically through the drive and sports modes.
The brake pedal felt uniform and responsive during braking at higher and lower speeds. This is a great sign, given many hybrids struggle with brake pedal modulation while moving between regeneration and braking modes.
To avoid constant engine restarting during stop/start modes with the air-conditioning operating, Audi has employed the use of an electrically-driven scroll compressor that teams with a condenser and chiller to provide heating and cooling via electric means, as opposed to a mechanically-driven system.
This allows the car to enter a stop mode at the traffic lights, with the electrical system maintaining cabin temperatures without needing engine power while the vehicle is off.
The same air conditioning system is used to cool the high-voltage battery components located under the boot floor. The batteries sit on channels that direct cold water around the surface of the batteries to draw heat away from them, effectively reducing their operating temperature. The heat that is drawn from the battery packs is then used to help operate the cabin heating.
Efficiency is further increased by the use of technology that Audi calls the Predictive Energy Assistant. The technology uses predictive technology that utilises both navigation data and the car’s camera to help the driver make informed decisions about their driving style.
For example, if the car is approaching a large downhill section, it suggests that the driver lifts off the throttle entirely so the car can enter a regenerative power mode, which maintains the vehicle’s speed, but regenerates power courtesy of the car’s established momentum.
The system then goes further by scanning road speed signs, using navigation topology data and scanning intersection radiuses to suggest ideal speeds. If the system deems it adequate, it can cause the car to enter a freewheeling mode that disconnects the engine from the wheels, effectively causing the car to coast.
It can also provide haptic foot feedback and an icon on the heads-up display to inform the driver it is time to lift of the throttle. It works very well and, as an example, by following the car’s instruction to lift off the throttle at the entry to a residential area, it slowed down almost perfectly to the city speed limit from 90km/h just by coasting.
The Audi Q7 e-tron really is an impressive technical masterpiece, offering a neat split between technology, efficiency and versatility. The interior is an impressive place to be seated with class leading fit and finish and if the fuel efficiency claims pan out in real world conditions, it could be a great option for environment-conscious families.
With pricing yet to be announced for Australia, it will need to come with a heap of standard equipment to justify what is likely to be a $150,000+ on road price tag. We look forward to putting the Audi Q7 e-tron through its paces once it arrives locally closer to the end of 2016.