First Drive: 2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel  first drives diesel audi
2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel; photo courtesy Audi. Click image to enlarge

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Audi Canada

Preview and photos by Paul Williams

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2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel

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Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario – While North Americans have – in fairly small volume, it must be said – taken to gasoline-electric hybrids as an “alternative” to the standard gasoline engine, in Europe consumers have embraced something else entirely. Europeans like diesels. In fact, over 50 per cent of new vehicles purchased there are diesel powered, with some countries significantly exceeding that amount.

Canadian auto writers have been singing the praises of diesel for years, but it’s only recently that some manufacturers have decided to bring examples diesel-powered European models to our shores. This is partly the result of changing consumer attitudes, partly a belief by manufacturers in the superiority of diesel technology, and partly a result of the low sulphur diesel fuel that is now available in North America.

Audi, the inventor of turbocharged direct injection technology (TDI) and builder of over 4.5 million vehicles with TDI power since 1989, has a full lineup of diesel-powered vehicles that they hope North Americans will embrace (and by North Americans, they really mean Americans; as Canadians are already lining up for diesels).

First Drive: 2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel  first drives diesel audi
2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel; photo by Heinrich Huelser. Click image to enlarge

The first one we’ll see is the diesel-powered Audi Q7 SUV. It debuts here in the first quarter of 2009, followed by the A4 TDI sedan.

The engine that will initially power these vehicles is Audi’s new V6, a 3.0-litre TDI with an ultra-low emissions system (due for almost simultaneous release in Europe and North America later this year). Making 221 horsepower and 406 lb/ft of torque, its maximum tractive power can be achieved at between 1,750-2,750 r.p.m. In the Q7, the 3.0-litre TDI will propel the vehicle from 0-100 km/h in 8.4 seconds, returning a fuel consumption average of 9.5 L/100 km.

When equipped with the 3.0-litre TDI, the Q7′s 100-litre tank provides a range of 950 km, enabling owners to drive from Windsor to Montreal, Quebec City to Manhattan or theoretically Vancouver to Calgary on one fill-up (we may have to actually try that in 2009!).

First Drive: 2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel  first drives diesel audi
2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel; photo courtesy Audi. Click image to enlarge

Later this year the company will also introduce a 6.0-litre V12 TDI that makes an astounding 500 hp and 737 lb/ft torque. The first application of a V12 TDI in a production vehicle, Audi describes this engine as “a new chapter in the history of diesel technology.” In the Q7, the engine is expected to return a combined city/highway average of 11.8 L/100 km, while generating 0-100 km/h times of 5.3 seconds (the V12 TDI isn’t scheduled for the Canadian market at this time).

Diesels, of course, are not just for SUVs and trucks. To fully emphasize the potentially sporty character of diesel power, Audi won the 24-hour Le Mans endurance race for the past two years in its R10 diesel-powered car. It will also make the upcoming V12 TDI available in the production R8 sports car, generating a 0-100 km/h time of 4.1 seconds, with a top speed of 304 km/h.

However, the more humble 3.0-litre TDI itself produces a 0-100 km/h time of 5.9 seconds in the A5 Coupe, where the engine’s light weight (226 kilograms) also contributes to excellent vehicle balance, according to Audi engineers. This car consumes fuel at a combined average of 6.4 L/100 km.

First Drive: 2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel  first drives diesel audi
Author Paul Williams pilots an A5 around Audi’s snowy slalom course; photo by Heinrich Heulser. Click image to enlarge

Canadian auto writers s got an early look at the Q7 TDI with the new 3.0 TDI and the 4.2-litre V8 diesel engines (we won’t see the 4.2L engine here) at a Winter Test Drive in snowy Niagara, along with colleagues from the U.S. and Japan. We also drove the A5 3.2 (gasoline V6) on an ice-covered slalom course and on local highways (this to ensure that journalists didn’t forget Audi’s celebrated quattro all-wheel drive system, another pioneering technology from this company).

There are three main comments to make about the Q7 TDI, however, which may contribute to a clearer appreciation of this vehicle, and the use of diesel engines in it. The first relates to any concern buyers may have about noise from the diesel engine. There is none, at least none that’s discernable from inside the Q7 (and barely from the outside, either). Yes, under acceleration you can hear the faint sounds of an engine at work, but this is also the experience with most gasoline-powered vehicles. In everyday driving, the Audi Q7 TDI is certainly equal to most, and is actually smoother than many gasoline-powered engines on the market today. In fact, if it wasn’t for the low engine speeds registered on the tachometer, occupants simply wouldn’t identify this vehicle as diesel powered.

The second comment is that the vehicle is a pleasure to drive. Because it’s a large SUV, this may be a surprise to some, but the Q7 TDI handles better than some sports-oriented sedans I’ve driven, while preserving a comfortable and smooth ride. Light, responsive, precise, are the adjectives best used to describe the Q7′s handling.

First Drive: 2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel  first drives diesel audi
2009 Audi Q7 TDI diesel; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

The third comment is about power. A TDI engine is plenty sufficient to move the Q7 along at a brisk pace, both from standstill and at higher speeds. In the lighter A5 Coupe with its six-speed manual transmission, the power is even more evident. This vehicle leaps off the line, and accelerates from 70-100 km/h with authority.

Owners of diesel-powered cars have known for years that they can reduce their fuel consumption by over one-third, compared to the same vehicle powered with gasoline (Audi suggests 35 percent, and this would seem entirely realistic). Historically for Canadians, the downside has been rougher engine operation and less responsiveness compared with gasoline-powered equivalents.

But because we haven’t had access to the full range of available diesel vehicles, Canadians have had little opportunity to experience the dramatic improvements to diesel engines in power, versatility, and emissions compliance over the past several years. The Q7 is a good choice to lead Audi’s introduction of their TDI powerplants to North America. Big SUVs typically use a lot of fuel, and they can most obviously demonstrate the fuel saving benefits of modern diesel engines.

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