New e-tron models widen Audi's electric highway
When you've got something large and ostentatious to tow like 2500kg-worth of boat and trailer, it sure helps to have an electric motor on board to help the initial shifting of such mass.
Thus equipped, the new Audi Q7 e-tron hybrid makes light work of a mammoth-moving task that can stress some vehicles towards breaking point.
At the New Zealand launch of the newest electrified Q7, it was such a convincing mover of five occupants (mostly well-fed motoring journos), its own 2.5-tonne mass, and the equally-heavy boat rig, that it's surely only few years before the trucking industry cottons on to the many benefits of plug-in hybrid vehicles like this one.
You do lose a third row of seats in the e-tron in order to accommodate the huge 17.3kWh battery residing beneath the luggage bay floor, and pay roughly $19,000 more above its single-motored, similarly-equipped equivalent within the Q7 range; but the gains are definitely worth both the seating sacrifice and the extra outlay.
* Audi A3 e-tron is now cheaper, but still struggles to make its case
* Plug-in Audi Q7 e-tron will get your three-tonne boat clean into the water
* Audi unveils next-gen electric concept at Shanghai auto show
There's the ability to handle commuting duties using just electric power alone by extracting the 56km range of the energy stored in that humungous battery, That's provided you're the regimental sort who will relish the routine of plugging in the Q7 into the domestic electricity supply at night.
When the 94kW/350Nm electric motor is used in tandem with the 190kW/600Nm 3.0 litre V6 turbo-diesel, the eight-speed automatic gearbox can direct a total of 275kW and 700Nm to all four wheels of the Audi, making the e-tron the second quickest-accelerating Q7 model after the tuned-for-purpose SQ7.
The lab coats have found that this fully-equipped SUV drinks diesel at a rate of just 1.8 litres/100km over the 20-minute city/highway driving simulation that is the test result usually quoted by car-makers as a guide to expected fuel use. It may be a fuel use figure that bears little relation to the e-tron's actual consumption over a wider range of real driving applications, and it's still not the absolute deal-clincher when considering buying this $158,500 diesel-electric SUV.
Nor is it the fitted heat pump that allows three climate zones (two up front), and increases the battery-only range of the e-tron by 20 per cent when conditions allow. Thanks to the heat exchanger, the cabin climate system has no draw on either the battery or the rotating mass of the combustion engine, leading to further efficiencies. It's a further touch of class in a cabin that's furnished to please, with its multi-screen virtual cockpit display, supportive cricket leather upholstered seats, and myriad driving aids and safety enhancers.
But the most impressive thing about the Q7 e-tron is that it is the first diesel-powered SUV that doesn't accrue road user charges (RUCs). Being a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) means that it's exempt from paying RUCs until the next decade, or whenever the game of musical chairs that decides who gets to be transport minister picks one who is determined to make EVs pay something towards their use of the road network. So all the advantages of diesel power – high torque output, higher extraction of energy – come home to roost in the Q7 e-tron without attracting a government tax penalty.
The Q7 e-tron is also an accomplished drive, the adaptive air-sprung suspension soaking up the bumps with aplomb, and masking the ride-harming effects of the fitted 20-inch wheels and low-profile tyres. And the dual-power Audi sure talks the torque, whether it's getting a heavy trailer moving out of an intersection or being asked to overtake slower traffic in a steep uphill passing lane.
The three operating modes – EV, Hybrid Auto, and Hybrid Hold – let you add or subtract electric motor assistance whenever it suits the journey best. Naturally, using the 3500kg towing capacity is best done in Hybrid Auto – which effectively turns the electric motor into a second turbocharger for the diesel V6.
Audi's electric journey began in NZ with the A3 e-tron model back in 2015, and that plug-in pioneer now gets repositioned and upgraded with the arrival of the Q7 version. A big improvement is the fitting of Type 2 charge plugs to both e-trons, allowing them to conform with newly introduced government charging infrastructure standards. The other big improvement is the extra affordability of the A3 e-tron. It now costs $69,900 instead of $75k, and therefore asks for the payment of a reduced $7500 premium above the $62,400 cost of an A3 2.0 TSFI Sport.
What you get in return is a quicker A3, one that can accelerate from 0-100kmh in 7.6 seconds if that's your desire. You can also plug it in at night, and never visit another petrol station again if your daily use of the car doesn't stretch beyond 50km or involve speeds above 130kmh. According to the lab test, the A3 e-tron consumes just 1.7 litres/100km.
So, similar consumption figures then for two widely-divergent Audis, but there are big differences in the time it takes to recharge them. On a 10-amp three-pin plug, the lighter A3 will recharge in four hours, half the time of the Q7. But then, the A3 will struggle to tow that 2500kg boat and trailer package if you've got one.