The 2009 Audi Q7 TDI Premium Quattro is the latest addition to VW/Audi/Porsche's trio of platform-sharing SUV siblings. According to the official narrative, Volkswagen's Touareg 2 is the sensible one, the Q7 is the big (three rows of seating) one that went to finishing school, and Porsche's Cayenne is the superstar jock in designer duds. The Volkswagen is nearly as refined and spacious inside as the larger and more expensive Audi, however, so unless that third row is a priority, be sure to take a close look at the VW.
Complicating matters is the existence of the Touareg 2 V6 TDI, which employs the same 50-state-legal turbodiesel V6 as the Q7 TDI. To the Q7's credit, its extra foot of overall length makes room for that third-row seat that the VW lacks, and its suspension is notably more compliant than the Touareg 2's stiffly sprung standard setup. VW's optional air suspension, which improves ride quality dramatically, is not available on the more expensive Q7 TDI — only the gas-swilling V8-powered Q7. And while the Audi's interior is undeniably upscale, the Touareg 2's is comparable aside from its hard-plastic lower dash.
Still, if you're after a premium-badged SUV with diesel power, know that the Q7 TDI is wholly competitive with its German rivals, namely the BMW X5 xDrive 35d and the Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC. The pricier X5 dominates in the powertrain department, but the Q7 is a solid second, and the Audi's pleasant driving dynamics are a happy medium between the X5's sharp reflexes and the ML320's bus-like steering feel and response. The Q7 also matches the X5's available seven-seat capacity (the Mercedes ML is available only as a two-row, five-seater), making it a top choice among diesel-powered premium SUVs.
The 2009 Audi Q7 TDI Premium Quattro is powered by a smooth 3.0-liter turbodiesel TDI V6. As with many so-called clean diesels, VW/Audi's emissions control system eliminates the stereotypical black puffs of smoke — and much of the polluting particulate matter they contain — by injecting urea into the exhaust stream. The TDI power plant doles out 225 horsepower and a stout 406 pound-feet of torque, with the latter available in full from just 1,750 rpm. A smooth six-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles (the only available transmission) routes the power to all four wheels via Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
At the test track, our Q7 TDI took 8.4 seconds to reach 60 mph. That's three-tenths slower than the Touareg 2 V6 TDI, a gap attributable to the truly massive Q7's 311 pounds of extra weight (5,672 vs. 5,361), but it's also just one-tenth slower than the top-of-the-line Q7 with its thirsty V8. EPA fuel economy ratings are 17 mpg city/25 highway and 20 combined, and we observed a respectable 18.9 mpg over 1,150 relatively enthusiastic miles. Maximum towing capacity is 6,600 pounds — 1,100 pounds short of what the Touareg TDI can handle, but still a formidable figure. Our best panic stop from 60 mph required just 123 feet, though there was notable brake fade after the first run.
On the road, the turbodiesel V6 is a perfect match for this enormously heavy SUV, moving the Q7 off the line smartly with its robust low-end torque. The Q7 TDI is a good performer in other respects, too. Handling is pretty sharp for a 5,700-pound luxury-oriented SUV, and the tri-mode transmission is so smooth in regular Drive and so responsive in Sport that there's really no need for the S line package's manual paddle shifters. Unlike the Touareg 2 and Cayenne, however, the all-wheel-drive Q7 lacks low-range gearing, so off-road jaunts should be limited to light-duty dirt roads and such.
The 2009 Audi Q7 TDI's ride is significantly suppler than its VW relative's, but the structure still jiggles in a vaguely truckish way over rutted pavement. Unfortunately, Audi has chosen not to offer the electronically adjustable air suspension on the Q7 TDI, even though it's available on both the Touareg 2 V6 TDI and the top-of-the-line Q7 4.2. The Q7 TDI's standard suspension should please most consumers, but it's a shame they won't have a choice in the matter.
Otherwise, the Q7 largely satisfies in the comfort department. For front passengers, our Q7's hushed cabin was generally deemed a pleasant place to be, though one editor complained of inadequate thigh support from the extensively adjustable power seats. Knee room in the second row can be a bit tight if the adjacent front-seat bottom is slid all the way back, but average-sized adults shouldn't have any issues. The standard third row is another matter: Cramped and difficult to access even for our most athletic editors, it was quickly identified as the "children only" section. But as long as the only humans in the way back are small ones, the Q7 TDI should provide plenty of comfort for the average shopper in this segment.
In the Audi tradition, the Q7 TDI's controls are comprehensively backlit in red, making for a cockpitlike nighttime driving environment. Gauges are legible and attractive. The optional back-up camera and front and rear parking sensors made parallel parking about as stress-free as possible in a vehicle of this size. The standard Multi Media Interface (MMI) is more of a mixed bag: Its combination of buttons and a control knob works well enough, but it lacks the new-generation MMI system's joystick button for lateral movement, which greatly eases navigation within and between screens, especially while driving. Speaking of navigation, our Q7's system was certainly functional, but its digitized female voice — a fixture in every recent Audi navigation system we've tested — is so annoyingly stilted that we immediately turned it off.
In our real-world functionality tests, the Q7's cargo-hauling ability proved disappointing. There are just 10.9 cubic feet of space behind the third row — enough for a standard suitcase, but not for a golf bag unless it's quite compact. With both the second and third rows folded, maximum cargo capacity is 72.5 cubic feet, a puzzlingly low figure given the Q7's substantial footprint and the fact that the smaller Touareg 2 holds 71 cubic feet. Our child safety seat fit easily enough in the Q7's second row, but the above-mentioned caveat about tilted front-seat cushions applies here as well.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Audi Q7 TDI Premium Quattro's stretched dimensions are evident from the outside, as the Audi has more of an elongated wagon-esque profile than the tidy Touareg and Cayenne. Inside, the Q7's attractive dashboard layout is mostly outfitted with Audi's trademark high-quality materials, though the gauges and MMI display are surrounded by a tacky piece of silver-painted plastic that looks out of place. Build quality on our test Q7 TDI elicited no complaints.
Who should consider this vehicle
If you're smitten with this excellent turbodiesel powertrain and require a third-row seat in your luxury SUV, the Q7 TDI is the only way to go. If you want maximal power, though, get the X5 — and if you don't need a third row, the ML320 and Touareg 2 V6 TDI deserve close looks as well.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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