Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Audi Q7 SUV gets an efficient new engine

The restyled Audi Q7 gains a 3.0-liter V6 diesel.

Audi was late to the luxury-SUV ranks, watching for almost a decade as BMW and Mercedes-Benz took the initiative with the popular U.S.-built X5 and M-class.

But since the Q7 launch in 2006, Audi has made quite an impression. In three years, the Q7, which shares mechanicals with the Porsche Cayenne and the Volkswagen Touareg, has had sales of almost 230,000 worldwide. Not bad.


Now, with the global credit crunch, Audi is introducing a facelifted Q7, which, at prices similar to those charged until now, is claimed to offer greater value while providing the choice of a frugal new 3.0-liter V6 diesel. This pitches the Q7 against BMW's X5 xDrive 35d and the ML350 CDI Bluetec from Mercedes.

The exterior changes to the Q7 are slight, mostly affecting the headlamps, subtle makeovers with new LED graphics and the option of a new high-tech projector for improved long-range illumination. The big grille has a new insert, making it even bolder.

Interior changes are minimal, including redesigned instruments and some changes to the MMI (multimedia interface) controller. Buyers can still choose between a five- and a seven-seat layout, although the latter comes largely at the expense of trunk capacity. Still, it's an impressive cabin, built to a level of quality comparable with the German carmaker's flagship A8 sedan.

The engine in the Q7 3.6 FSI is a 3.6-liter V6 with 280 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Next up is Audi's 4.2-liter V8, with 350 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. That engine propels the Q7 from 0 to 62 mph in 7.4 seconds, with a 154-mph top speed. The six-speed automatic is standard.


The new Q7 uses the latest generation of Audi's MMI multimedia interface.

The big news is Audi's 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine, which receives a catalytic converter with urea injection, making it 50-state legal.

With 240 hp and an extraordinary 406 lb-ft of torque, the common-rail diesel claims an 8.5-second 0-to-62-mph time and a 130-mph top speed. The new diesel's big draw is its 26 mpg, almost 8 mpg better than the V8 gasoline engine, for a theoretical range of almost 700 miles on the Q7's 26-gallon tank.

Audi will not offer a Q7 hybrid, at least until the next-generation model arrives in 2012, when it likely will adopt the system revealed in the Cayenne and the Touareg.

Given the emphasis on comfort, we recommend that buyers look at the optional air suspension. It operates in one of three modes--dynamic, comfort or automatic--all selectable via the MMI controller. It smooths out the ride and provides four levels of ride height, including an off-road setting with 9.5 inches of ground clearance.

It's tough peddling a luxury SUV, especially one that starts at more than $40,000. However, the changes made to the Q7 help give it an added touch of class. It continues to feel unwieldy around town, with its generous dimensions and big turning circle. The upside is its impressive ability on the highway, where it devours big distances with ease and with the sort of refinement matched by only a handful of rivals.

SPECS
2010 Audi Q7
ON SALE: September
BASE PRICE: $44,525 (est)
DRIVETRAIN: 3.6-liter, 280-hp, 266-lb-ft V6; AWD, six-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 5,100 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 8.2 sec (mfr)
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 16 mpg

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