Audi's new Q7 e-tron helps owner VW escape Dieselgate scandal

Andrew Brady
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The Audi Q7 e-tron

The Q7 is a big, brash SUV made by Volkswagen Group’s upmarket Audi brand and fitted with a 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine. But you can drive it in London guilt-free, without paying the congestion charge and avoiding road tax. How? Because it’s fitted it with an electric motor alongside the conventional engine – and you can plug it in at home and enjoy almost unbelievable fuel economy.

The idea is you charge it up at home or the office. Audi claims the Q7 e-tron can cover almost 34 miles on electric power alone, before the diesel engine kicks in. But the diesel engine is always there as a backup, so unlike pure electric cars, it’s capable of completing longer journeys. This is an overly simplistic description of how the Q7 e-tron works, however. It’s not simply a case of running on electric or diesel power alone – most of the time it will actually use a combination of the two.

And this is where it gets very clever. Put your destination into its sat-nav and it’ll calculate the best time to use different modes. If your route involves some city centre driving, for example, it’ll save the batteries to allow it to run on emission-free, electric-only mode. Once you’re out on the free-flowing motorway, it’ll switch to “battery charge” mode, which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Now, while this might seem like a hasty response to the “dieselgate” emissions scandal, it’s worth pointing out that technology like this doesn’t happen overnight. The Q7 e-tron is late to the plug-in party, in fact – underdog Mitsubishi brought the technology to the mainstream with the Outlander PHEV, exceeding all expectation (including its own) thanks to its extremely-favourable tax rates for business users.

All the premium brands are now going down this route – Toyota announced a plug-in Prius Prime last month, while Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are all offering plug-in hybrid SUVs. Even Audi is already doing it, with its smaller A3 e-tron. They’re all doing it in their own unique ways, however. Audi is unusual in using a diesel engine in its Q7 (although so does the Mercedes GLE500e); Volvo uses a petrol motor in it “twin-engine” XC90 T8, as does BMW in its xDrive40e. Audi is one of the biggest of its brethren, and its hybrid gubbins makes the already bulky Q7 unnaturally heavy. The performance on offer means it’s not a slow car, but neither is it for the enthusiastic driver (Audi, however, has done a commendable job of preventing the Q7 e-tron from floating around on twisty roads).

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But what’s really impressive about the Audi Q7 e-tron is its refinement. Audi is renowned for its interiors: combine this with the quiet hybrid system and huge interior space the Q7 e-tron offers and it’s a hugely relaxing car to use on longer journeys. That hybrid gear eats up valuable space, mind – unlike the regular Q7, the plug-in hybrid only comes with five seats. Not an issue if you’ve got a small family, but we have to question the logic of buying a car of this size if you’ve only got a couple of kids to ferry around.

Most people considering the Audi Q7 e-tron will be doing so for the favourable tax benefits. If you have a short commute and have somewhere to charge it at home and/or work, it could also reduce your monthly fuel costs. If, however, you’re going to charge it infrequently, it’s not going to be a great deal more efficient than a regular (much cheaper) diesel Q7.

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