Driven: 2009 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI

If there’s one group of people in world who have figured out the best way to improve fuel economy it’s the Europeans.

If there’s one group of people in world who have figured out the best way to improve fuel economy it’s the Europeans. Now, I am not saying that America has fallen from its perch as the world leader on everything, but maybe on this count we have fallen behind…significantly. You see, the Europeans have developed this cool invention that uses an internal combustion engine and conventional transmissions and provides an astonishing 30% improvement in fuel economy. No, it’s not some new-fangled plasma bio-fuel transformation unit, but the diesel engine. Yes, something invented more than 100 years ago has allowed the Europeans to gain a leg up on America—gasp!—in improving the efficiency of the automobile—although America still can claim it invented the horseless carriage, because President Obama (mistakenly) said so.

And as Americans are getting more concerned with fuel efficiency (although not as much as they were a year or so ago, when regular was about four bucks), some European vehicle manufacturers are getting gutsy enough to transfer this mind-blowing invention onto the other side of the Atlantic by bringing a number of diesel products to America’s shores. I recently had the opportunity to get acquainted with one of the latest European diesels arriving on our shores—the 2009 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI—and I can tell you it deserves more than a second look.

Some question the true benefits of diesel, like the aforementioned statistic of achieving a 30% improvement in fuel economy. I can tell you first-hand that is a fact. During my few days with the Q7 I was able to achieve 22.7 mpg. And this is in a vehicle that weighs two-and-a-half tons. What’s more, it’s significantly better than the other engines Audi makes available: the V8 is rated at 15 mpg combined and the V6 gets 16 mpg. Yes, I did drive like I normally do—in fact, I hit the peddle a little harder than normal to experience the power under the hood. Which brings me to the second benefit of diesel: improved low-end torque. The 3.0-liter TDI V6 produces 406 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,750 rpm—pretty good when you compare it to the 325 lb.-ft. of torque generated @ 3,500 rpm by the larger 4.2-liter V8 gasoline engine also available on the Q7. Torque is, after all, the force you feel when you hit the accelerator—or can feel, because there aren’t a whole lot of full-size SUVs that have this kind of power. Still, for those of you who are traditionalists, the TDI produces 225 hp @ 3,750 rpm—respectable, but not jaw dropping.

Beyond power and fuel economy, the Q7’s diesel defies convention in another area: quietness. For some reason, most auto experts say Americans still have indelible memories of the horrific diesels created by GM in the 1980s—they were obnoxiously loud, smelly and dirty. The Q7’s diesel is nothing like that at all. Even while standing outside the idling Q7, it’s hard to recognize that there’s a diesel under the hood. The engine purrs like any other and there’s no black soot coming out the tail pipe. So those of you who think diesel is dirty, get over it!

What Audi has managed to do with the Q7 is provide a great option for those who want to be “green,” yet don’t want to fall victim to the hybrid hype. Incidentally, the Q7 I tested carried a sticker price of just slightly over $59,000, which included the panorama sunroof, navigation and a prestige package. Compare that to the Cadillac Escalade hybrid’s $73,135 base price—which only achieves an EPA average combined fuel economy rating of 21 mpg--and you begin to realize that maybe all those batteries aren’t worth their added weight.

It’s time for America to wake up to the benefits of diesel.

2009 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI

Engine:  3.0-liter turbo diesel

Horsepower:  225 @ 3,750 rpm

Torque:  406 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm

Length:   200.2 in.

Wheelbase:   118.2 in.

Width:   78.1 in.

Height:   68.4 in.

Curb weight: 5,512 lb.

Base MSRP: $50,900