Not all diesel cars emerge from a cloud of smoke denser than the one surrounding Jonah Hill (cough, cough...)
The new breed, like the turbodiesel-powered Audi Q7 SUV I recently checked out, claim to be clean and green, boasting low, odor-free emissions, big torque, and a 30% bump in fuel economy compared to similar gas engines, resulting in an epic mileage range from a single fuel tank. Like mimes and men’s turtlenecks, clean diesel vehicles have been popular in Europe for a while. Jury’s out on whether or not they’ll catch on here, but if the upcoming diesels perform as solidly as the Q7 TDI, I hope to see more of them.
Audi claims the seven-passenger Q7 TDI can go 600 miles on a tank. Naturally, a great claim for an enterprising journalist like myself to test. I signed up for a loaner, and by the time a Q7 arrived, I had already sought out a point roughly 600 miles away from Brooklyn—Columbus, Ohio. I told a few friends to hop in back, and bring comfortable shoes. Because if we didn’t make it in one tank, we’d be walking. No joke.
Long story short: I didn’t think we had a shot. My ragtag crew sat in the Q7’s luxe leather confines in Manhattan traffic for over an hour, and by the time we finally hit the interstate I was in no mood to drive conservatively. But nearly 580 miles on the odometer later, we arrived in Columbus, fuel alert beeping, but 90 miles worth of diesel still in the tank. That’s over 26 miles per gallon—really impressive for a nearly-three ton SUV loaded with dudes, a dog, and about 80 pounds of fast food trash.
The Q7 TDI just eats up the miles, and luckily its thrifty fuel economy doesn’t come at the expense of power. Its 3-liter, direct-injection V6 powerplant provides plenty of grunt, so you get a kick off the line and a sweet 406 lb-ft of torque—at just 1,750 rpm. Of course, the six-speed Tiptronic gearbox is foaming-at-the mouth, Tea Party conservative, programmed to shift way before the redline to wring a few more miles out of every gallon. You can manually paddle shift to keep the revs up, if you really want, but once you’re at speed, there’s really no point. All the 220-hp engine’s fun is had at the low end.
That’s fine, while cruising at highway speed I had plenty of time to play with the vehicle’s adaptive suspension, three-piece sunroof, ambient lighting, and 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen soundsystem. I found the Q7 to have just one high tech hangup: every time it entered interstate I-270 going toward Dayton, Ohio, the computer voice called it “Daytona Beach.” I wish.
The loaded-to-the-gills Q7 I test drove is priced at almost $60K; pretty rich stuff. If you already blew your holiday bonus on a monkey rodeo team and can’t swing that sticker price, check out clean diesel tech on a more affordable ride like the VW Golf TDI ($22K, 40+mpg) or Audi’s brand new A3 TDI ($30K, 40+mpg).
The bottom line: It’s a greenish monster, and a high-tech bachelor pad on wheels.