First Drive: Audi Q7 e-tron

The rear exterior of the 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron.
The rear exterior of the 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron.

What’s new?

The second-generation Q7 hasn’t even reached its first birthday, but there’s a new version just around the corner. Lighter, stiffer and packed with more technology than ever before, the new Q7 is exactly the kind of car that big Audi buyers are looking for. But this e-tron version is something altogether different.

The exterior of the 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron.

The exterior of the 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron.

Mixing diesel power with electric motors, the Q7 e-tron is a plug-in hybrid promising exceptional fuel consumption and emissions alongside similar performance, similar pricing and barely diminished practicality, although it still has to compete with the overall excellence of the standard car.

Looks and image

To look at, there’s nothing to distinguish the electric Q7 from its combustion-only counterpart. If you’re really paying attention, you may notice the additional filler flap, but the e-tron is as chunky and prestigious as the standard car. It’s a matter of taste of course, but the Q7 has plenty of presence.

On the image front, Audi has always been strong, and while emissions issues may have had a negative effect, what better way to move on from that than with an SUV that can run on just electric power?

The interior of the 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron.

The interior of the 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron.

Space and practicality

The Q7 e-tron is unquestionably a sizeable car, but in e-tron guise there are a couple of compromises. The substantial battery pack sits in the boot where the third row of seats would normally sit, so the Q7 e-tron is a five-seater only, although you still get the flexibility of individual chairs in the second row that can slide and fold. The boot space is also reduced as a result, but there’s still a sizeable 650 litres on offer with the seats in place.

The cabin itself is as spacious and comfortable as the standard Q7, with generous space front and rear as well as excellent materials. The Q7’s virtual cockpit comes into its own here too, giving you a full update on what the complex power train is up to.

Behind the wheel

Complex it may be, but the Q7 makes life easy for you where driving is concerned. Defaulting to electric mode on start-up, acceleration from rest is smooth, near-silent and usefully brisk considering its size. There are four operation modes to choose from; EV mode, hybrid, battery save where the charge stays unused until you request it and battery charge, where the engine will charge the battery whilst you drive.

So far it’s as with most other plug-in hybrids, but the Q7 has another trick up its sleeve. You can leave it in hybrid and it will engage the battery, the diesel engine or both depending on how you drive but if you use the sat nav Predictive Assistant will determine what combination to use based on the road - and even the traffic - in the miles ahead.

As the driver all you notice is that this Q7 is even quieter than the standard car, and while the increased weigh might mean it’s not quite as quick or quite so agile, the potential economy results are worth the small sacrifice.

Value for money

On the one hand the Q7 in e-tron form is significantly more expensive than a comparable diesel model, but that extra outlay brings with it a number of significant advantages. As well as being obviously cleaner and greener than a standard diesel it qualifies for the Government’s £5,000 grant, will pay no vehicle excise duty or London congestion charge. It would also bring substantial BIK savings for company car buyers.

Who would buy one?

Not everyone needs so much space and comfort of course so there are smaller plug-in hybrids and conventional electric cars that can be as frugal, but no rival can offer the same combination of comfort, space, luxury and economy all at the same time. Company car drivers will love it, families with the funds will love it too and active lifestyle types with a conscious might not baulk at the idea either. It’s clever technology that is well executed and installed in a useful and desirable SUV.