Brace yourself. There’s a windstorm of electric vehicles coming from the premium Germans in the next 12–24 months. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Porsche will all be joining the EV road train and pushing electric mobility into the (premium) mainstream.
Before then, though, the Germans have dabbled and dipped toes in beautifully cool and unpolluted waters by offering a range of plug-in hybrid vehicles to advertise their green credentials.
Case in point? The 2018 Audi Q7 e-tron that slipped quietly into Australian dealerships last year asking for a cool $139,900 (plus on-roads). That’s a hefty premium for your greenie-feels considering you can get into a 160kW diesel Q7 for a smidge under $100K, or a more powerful 200kW diesel variant for $106,900. Actually, you can’t get either of those models currently, with Audi removing both 3.0 TDI variants from its local line-up over concerns about its AdBlue diesel exhaust treatment system. Ironic?
So what does your circa $33–$42K premium over standard oilers get you exactly? Starting at the front, there’s the same 3.0-litre diesel V6, albeit with 190kW of power and 600Nm of torque. Those outputs are bolstered by an electric motor good for 84kW and 350Nm, which gets its juice from a 17.3kWh lithium-ion battery. All up, the Q7 e-tron boasts a combined 275kW and 700Nm. All that power and torque is transmitted to all four wheels via Audi’s eight-speed tiptronic auto transmission.
Performance? It’s surprisingly spritely despite hauling a kerb weight of 2520kg – a premium of 385kg over conventional Q7s (2135kg). Lithium-ion batteries, it seems, are heavy. And yet, despite hauling all that heft, Audi claims a 0–100km/h sprint time of 6.2 seconds, all while sipping a claimed 1.9L/100km of the black stuff. Yeah… Nah. More on this later.
Visually, both inside and out, there’s almost nothing to distinguish the Q7 e-tron from its non-hybrid brothers, the only clue an extra fuel-filler cap on its rear-left flank. It’s peak Audi austerity, particularly in this Glacier White metallic paint, a $2250 option. Speaking of options, that’s it. The Q7 e-tron is loaded with standard kit, meaning you won’t need to waste any ink ticking boxes on the list of extras. As-tested price? $142,150 plus on-road costs.
Let’s look at the standard inclusions: LED headlights with dynamic indicators at the rear, 19-inch alloys, adaptive air suspension, ambient lighting package, heated seats at the front, three-zone climate control, Audi Virtual Cockpit, and Audi’s Assistance Package (which adds lane assist, adaptive cruise control with pre-sense front and traffic jam assist, and collision assist with turn assist) are key highlights.
Then there’s a 360-degree camera, park assist, hill descent control, hill-hold assist, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, Audi’s exit warning system, and a 180kW sound system.
Infotainment comes courtesy of Audi’s excellent MMI navigation plus. Anchored by a crisp 8.3-inch colour display, the system scores 3D mapping with live traffic updates (and five free map updates at six-month intervals), a CD player, DAB+ digital radio, Audi connect Wi-Fi hotspot and smartphone mirroring. It’s controlled by Audi’s functional and intuitive rotary dialler, which doubles as a touchpad for handwritten inputs.
In short, Audi hasn’t spared the parts bin, somewhat justifying its hefty price premium over the standard (albeit currently unavailable) oilers.
To be clear, no-one is buying this large – and heavy – SUV to save money at the bowser over the term of its natural life. The price premium it commands over regular Q7 models in the range guarantees this is no automotive piggy bank. But, it does come with a modicum of greenie smugness, particularly if the Q7’s battery pack is charged with electricity sourced exclusively from renewable sources, and not Australia’s preferred dirty brown coal.
That 17.3kWh battery pack is good for a – theoretical – range of 56km of motoring in pure EV form. That might not sound like much, but for a lot of people it could well be enough to complete their daily commute, all with the surety back of mind that should things get a little sketchy on the range front, there’s a nice 75-litre fuel tank filled with diesel to get you out of a tight spot.
I spent a week with the Q7 using it in what I imagine is a ‘typical use case’ scenario. My commute to and from work is a round trip of around 18km (18.6, to be precise). That meant, on a full tank of juice, I could complete the trip to work and back for three days without ever using dinosaur juice. Nice in theory. Not so much in practice. I did manage two days of electric motoring, but by the end the range was showing a measly 1km, meaning I achieved a real-world figure of around 37km – a long way off Audi’s 56km claim.
Audi states its battery array can be charged via a standard 230V/10A household socket in around 10 hours. That seems bang on the money, with the Q7 taking eight hours to replenish from one to 80 per cent charge using the standard plug at work. Obviously, industrial sockets would decrease charging times dramatically, and according to Audi a 400W/16A socket can complete refuelling in 2.5 hours, while a slightly lower output of 230V/16A should take around five hours. Fast-chargers rapidly reduce those times further.
There’s a case to be made that if your daily commute was somewhere around 50km, you could feasibly spend the week running around town using nothing but sweet, guilt-free (dirty coal notwithstanding) electrons. The caveat? You do have to plug in regularly to top up the battery, and as I discovered after just a week with the Q7, this gets pretty boring pretty quickly. Still, there’s something satisfying about seeing a fuel consumption reading of 0L/100km after five days of commuting.
To achieve zero consumption, pure EV has to be selected from one of three drive modes available. This mode ensures only the battery pack is used to provide motivation, although it has to be noted you need to be light on the throttle. Become a little too eager on the right pedal, and the turbo-diesel fires up and starts eating into that 0L/100km readout.
Hybrid mode is probably the e-tron’s happiest setting: a blend of electric and internal combustion power, while also offering a smattering of energy regeneration. That recuperation starts as soon as you lift your foot off the accelerator and intensifies under braking. An extended highway run in Hybrid mode saw the Q7’s electric range increase from 5km to 10km (yes, I was riding on the ragged edge of range anxiety), but those 10 clicks disappeared pretty quickly once I hit a traffic snarl.
Finally, there’s a Hold mode, which simply means the Q7 retains whatever charge the battery has left by using only its internal combustion engine for power. So, a regular car, then.
Hybrid mode really is the pick of the bunch – a blend of electric and diesel motivation that’s as seamless as it is refined. That 3.0-litre oiler, even at highway speeds, remains deathly quiet, with only the softest rumblings of revolutions permeating the Audi’s well-insulated cabin.
The ride too is beyond reproach. Riding on adaptive air suspension, the Q7 remains unruffled, cushioning occupants from imperfections and road acne. Around town too, where Sydney’s roads aren’t exactly the poster child for smooth, unblemished surfaces, the Q7 simply swallows up everything in its path with minimal fuss. It’s pleasant all-round.
But, a vehicle like this doesn’t come without compromise. And in the case of the Q7 e-tron, the biggest compromise is in the third row. Because it doesn’t have one. Yep, unlike the rest of the (truncated) Q7 family, the e-tron is strictly a five-seater thanks to the battery pack stored under the floor in the Q7’s boot. That also means there’s no spare, not even a space-saver. Got a puncture? Fire up the supplied tyre repair kit.
Those batteries also impact on boot space with 650L (expandable to 1835L with the second row folded flat in 40/20/40 fashion) on offer. Regular Q7s have 770L/1955L for you to play with.
Regular Q7s also claim a fuel consumption figure of 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle against the e-tron’s 1.9L. However, having spent a week behind the wheel of the e-tron, and having traversed everything from peak-hour traffic to extended highway runs, having run extensively in both full EV mode and hybrid, having travelled close to 1000km, the Q7 returned a number of 6.3L/100km. Not even close then. For the record, according to the Q7’s readout, I covered 312km (or 31 per cent) on electric power alone and 687km (69 per cent) using the internal combustion engine.
The experience of a week and a thousand clicks behind the wheel of the Q7 e-tron offered me an insight into what it means to own a plug-in hybrid. Yes, unlike closed-loop hybrids (such as the Toyota Prius), it has the ability and feel-good factor of being able to propel you in full electric mode. But, with limited range, the benefits are minimal and quite possibly outweighed by the constant, i.e. daily, need to recharge.
Really, think of a plug-in hybrid as a gateway drug. That stepping stone into full-electric vehicle ownership that some are not prepared to make. A ‘light green’ step into environmentally conscious motoring.
And, as we discovered with the Q7 e-tron, that step into the ‘light green’ takes effort with recharging, is compromised in terms of space, and doesn’t return anywhere near the claimed consumption figure, neither electric nor diesel.
Still, if it makes you feel good, the Q7 e-tron offers something for those looking for a premium motoring experience, while also keeping one eye on our blue and green planet. But with an all-electric Audi e-tron due on our shores towards the back end of this year, going ‘full green’ might just offer a better solution in the not-too-distant future.