By Kris Hansen
AudiWorld Editor Kris Hansen and contributing photographer Rob Clifford recently drove from Vermont to Braselton Georgia for the 13th Petit Le Mans. Here is the recap of that trip, and the amazing vehicle that they drove.13 states. 1200 miles. 16 and a half hours driving time. 5 Red Bull energy shots. 3 cups of coffee. 2 bathroom stops and driver changes. 2 drivers. 1 car. And most impressively, ONE stop for fuel. You read that correctly.First off, the car: 2010 Audi Q7 TDI quattro. There could not possibly be a more appropriate vehicle available in the USA for making such a trip, especially given that we were going to watch Audi run the Petit Le Mans, which incidentally is 1000 miles, or 10 hours (which ever comes first). Obviously it would take us considerably longer than 10 hours to cover the distance, but it didnt go unnoticed that we were covering roughly the same distance as Audis amazing crew of racing drivers! In essence, we were staging our own endurance event prior to the real deal in Georgia.
At first glance, the Q7 TDI seems to be too big, too tall when compared to a smaller sedan or Avant. But once you settle in, and adapt to the car, you realize, its just right. No, its not too wide to fit in normal parking spaces. The turning circle is in real life about the same as an A4. Yes, really. It made the turn into the AudiWorld headquarters easier than a B5 A4 does. Its tall, but it fit into our low overhead garage just fine, lengthwise too, which honestly was a big surprise. In other words, its not exactly as huge as it seems. Yet, inside, there is a huge amount of space. Its wide enough that 2 large men dont smash their elbows together fighting for the center arm rest. Its long enough that front seat occupants dont need to move forward to accommodate back seat passengers, even when the back seats are moved forward to allow the 3rd row seats to fold up. And did we mention that you can still bring things along for the trip, even with the 3rd row of seats upright? Amazing!
Then there are the Q7s driving manners. Again, it does take a few miles to get used to the higher seating position of the Q7, but at no point does it feel unstable or tipsy, just tall. Once comfortable, you discover that the Q7 doesnt mind being driven aggressively. Much like the rest of the Audi line with ESP, the Q7 will understeer more dramatically when the ESP is turned on, and is much more neutral feeling when its turned off. This is of course because when driven correctly, a quattro car will always want to drift the rear end a little bit, and ESP tries really hard to prevent that. The Q7 TDI also responds very well to generous applications of power at or just after the apex of the turn, which helps the car finish the corner. For its size, the Q7 is a very satisfying car to drive if driven correctly in the big Audi way. You cant force it, you have to let the car do things at its pace.
But the real reason we chose this car of course, is the engine. The Q7 TDI uses Audis robust 3.0 liter turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engine. As mentioned in our A3 TDI writeup, we have a very soft spot for diesel engines, and this example is no exception. We LOVED the 3.0 TDI in the Q7 immensely. We feel that without a doubt this is the perfect marriage of car and engine. Its been a few years since weve driven the 4.2 FSI gasoline powered Q7, and weve yet to sample the 3.0TFSI version, but we found the 3.0 TDI Q7 was pure joy to drive. With 406 lb/ft available basically immediately off idle, and petering off to 225hp, never is the driver left wanting power. Even though the Q7 weighs in at 5512lbs, the TDI engine moves the car with incredible ease. Acceleration is brisk, not necessarily fast at 7.5 seconds in the run from 0 to 60, but once at speed, the car accelerates briskly, and overtakes slower cars with ease. Even loaded up with all of our gear and supplies for Petit Le Mans, the car never even noticed the weight.
This brings us to the actual road trip. We loaded the car up with all of our photo gear, laptops, chairs, tent, coolers full of water and food and other drinks, clothes for a couple of days and various weather conditions (remembering last years absolutely horrid weather, we werent going to be without some wet weather gear!). Stopping at the fuel pump just before departing, and filling the tank to the absolute max, we reset all of the #2 trip computers so we could track our trip accurately. We also programmed the exact route into the NAV system so we could monitor our ETA and miles traveled and remaining at all times, and hit the road.
Our first impression of the Q7 as a road trip car was impressive. There is a ridiculous amount of room in the front seats. The front door pockets are huge, so huge in fact that it can swallow a 2 liter soda bottle and a bag of chips quite easily. Passengers can slide the seat back and recline into a very comfortable position for sleeping. The Q7 rides very well even with the 20 inch wheels and massive tires. Expansion joints and rough pavement do not phase this car in the least. Its long wheelbase gives it a very stable feel. At cruising speeds, the Q7 is incredibly quiet, and smooth. Miles are devoured by this car in such a way that long trips are just simply easy.
As we drove south through New York, we started encountering some weather. Signs on the Tappan Zee Bridge indicated high winds, and they werent lying. The Q7 rides high enough that its more susceptible to winds, and we certainly felt the wind on this bridge. It was spooky, but the car remained composed while we made constant steering adjustments to compensate for the gusting.
More or less around this point we encountered the leading edge of a massive rain storm that blanketed the whole east coast at that time. With the wipers on their auto setting, the car perfectly sped up and slowed down the wipers as needed based on the amount of rain that was hitting the windshield. Auto wipers are one of those modern advancements in automotive engineering that you never knew how much you needed them till you had them. One less thing to think about on a 17 hour drive is very nice. As the miles went by, the rain increased in its intensity. Somewhere around Pennsylvania, it was raining incredibly hard, and there were signs warning of standing water on the roadway. The wide 275 cross section tires did tend to float up a little in some of the deeper pools, but again, the car recovered very well from a potentially very dangerous situation by simply easing off of the accelerator.
We ended up driving through this heavy rain all the way to our fuel stop in West Virginia. Part of the problem with the Q7s fuel range is even if you dont have to stop for fuel, you will have to stop for restrooms eventually. At around 11pm, 8 hours after we departed Vermont, we had to stop for a break. The car thought it had around 80 miles left in the tank, at around 530 miles of driving. The fuel light had not yet lit up. We filled the tank with diesel for the one and only time on the way to Braselton, and switched drivers.
Just over the border into South Carolina, bladder fatigue struck for a second time. Rob peeled us off for a break, and we switched drivers again. At this point, we realized based on the NAV, we were on target to make the 7:30 photo meeting. We were making unbelievably good time, thanks no doubt to the lack of having to stop for fuel.
Since we wanted to get to Road Atlanta in time to make the meeting, we decided to increase the average speed, even at the cost of lowering the economy. Turns out, it really didnt make much of a difference, maybe 1 or 2 mpg to up the speed a bit. Once we got to Braselton, the fuel light had been on for quite a while. When it first illuminated, the trip computer thought we had around 60 miles in the tank. Comparatively, the NAV said we had around 50 miles to go. The decision was made to not stop, knowing that there was a fuel station immediately at the exit we were taking. Ultimately, we made it all the way to Road Atlanta, with around 5 miles left in the tank according to the trip computer, and the car was running just fine.
We were late for the photo meeting, so we decided not to go, and went to fill up the car, get some ice, and head back into the track to get a good parking place in the Esses. Every drop of 25.5 gallons of diesel went in to the 26 gallon tank, and we had covered over 580 miles on this second leg of the trip. That works out to less than 23mpg, but, its still impressive considering the size of the car, the massive tires, cruise control usage, and the fact that we had the AC, heated seats, lights, wipers, radio, and other various items charging in the 12v sockets throughout the car. Also consider that we were fighting rain and wind much of the way.
When Audi ran their own Mileage Marathon, they were able to get over 28mpg with the Q7 TDI repeatedly (and thats what they use to claim the 600 mile range with the Q7). There are some important things to keep in mind regarding that feat. First, the cars were equipped with low rolling resistance tires, much narrower and lighter than the huge monsters that were on our Q7. Second, the average speeds they ran were more around 50mph for the trip. We averaged 64mph, and obviously the extra pushing hurt our overall economy somewhat. Thirdly, we ran the cruise control most of the time. I dont know if the Marathon drivers did, but I do know that the cruise control in the Q7 cares less about consumption than it does maintaining exactly the speed that the driver prescribes. On the return trip to Vermont we played a little with some efficiency techniques, and we were able to increase our miles per gallon a bit. Using a very light foot on the pedal, not accelerating aggressively, maintaining the accelerator position on hills even if we slowed down, speeding up on down hills gradually, all the while watching the instant MPG readout to keep it above 30 at all times. In fact, it was somewhat easy on the highways.
Another thing our Q7 didnt have was the adaptive air suspension. What that meant was, our car sat way up in the air, further hindering ultimate mileage. If we had the air suspension, we could have lowered the car down as far as it can go, which would have helped make it a bit more slippery and probably gained us a few MPG.
On the return trip, we did have to fill up in Connecticut which gave us our first taste of diesel frustration. We stopped at 2 stations that didnt even have diesel pumps, then found one that was out of diesel. Finally the 3rd station had diesel, and we were happy. But it was mildly frustrating to find truth to the rumor that diesel can be hard to find, especially on the parkways in CT and NY, which do not allow trucks.
A few things to watch out for with diesel pumps, there are 3 kinds of diesel nozzles. There is only one that fits in the Q7 filler with ease, and its the larger size car nozzle. The nozzle that is used in the large truck tanks has a flange on the end, and it will not fit in the Q7 filler. The Q7 is wisely fitted with a safety feature that will prevent a gasoline pump nozzle from being inserted, to keep gasoline from being loaded in accidentally. Unfortunately, there are diesel pumps out there which for some reason have the same size nozzle as a gasoline pump. The owners manual suggests a technique for inserting these smaller nozzles to engage the trip for the filler safety door, which involves rotating it in a certain way. We struggled with this a few times, and eventually got it to work. It would be nice if there was an easier way to bypass this safety measure.
All in all, with everything working against us for ultimate fuel mileage, the Q7 TDI was flat out amazing. We drove it as wed normally drive, and we achieved amazingly good mileage for the type of vehicle. If were honest, part of the reason for the mileage was simply because we enjoyed the thrust from the engine too much. It was just too much fun accelerating in the way only a diesel can. We didnt set out to max the mileage, our only goal was 1 fuel stop on the way down, which we achieved. We were delighted with that result, and overall the Q7 TDI could not have been any better for this trip.
As an aside, after the Georgia trip, we drove the Q7 TDI for our daily routine for 3 days. We dropped the kids off at school, ran errands, and got the kids from after school activities. With this kind of driving, we averaged 29mpg over the course of 3 days. Honestly, that was with a little trying, and more gentle acceleration, but nevertheless, it was incredibly impressive for a vehicle of this type. And, the car was still amazingly comfortable and easy to live with.
Also keep in mind, this was a 2010 model with the 6 speed transmission, were looking forward to spending some time with the 2011 version with the 8 speed transmission, which should be even better. Well let you know!