What's it about?
Audi's X5 and Range Rover Sport challenger, the Q7 4.2 TDI, has upped the performance ante in the higher echelons of the performance diesel SUV segment.
Thanks primarily to a cutting-edge twin-turbocharged diesel V8, it blends astonishing performance with a hint of economy in an oversized, peculiarly-styled package for seven.
Essentially the 4.2 TDI incarnation of the Q7 range is about a technological marvel nestled under the bonnet, behind the distinctive, oversized Audi grille.
Displacing a substantial 4.2 litres, the V8 diesel engine features twin-turbochargers - one per bank of cylinders - which themselves feature variable turbine geometry, enabling the angle of the turbine blades to adjust in providing both low-down torque, or mid-range power.
Beyond the sizeable capacity and surfeit of forced induction, efficiency is particularly lean with a second generation common-rail injection system employing hyperactive piezo injectors.
These in turn provide up to five injections per stroke cycle at 1600 bar, which atomises the diesel into a fine mist and optimises combustion.
Does all the techno jargon add up to something tangible though? Well, the 240 kW power output might still be 17 kW shy of its 4.2-litre petrol V8 cousin in the Q7 range, but 760 Nm at 1 800 r/min is nearly enough to put the earth into counter rotation, all at a claimed 11.1 l/100 km...
On the inside
It's an Audi - that should say everything really. The textures and tones are beyond compare, the ergonomics technologically contemporary without being intimidating, and quality redoubtable.
Oona Scheepers is Audi's interior trim and colour manager, and not for reasons of patriotism, but the former Prieska resident knows her stuff. She endows the four-ringed products from Ingolstadt with an interior ambience and quality that distinguishes them from their German contemporaries by blending style and quality effortlessly without rendering everything overly sombre.
The Q7 4.2TDI is equipped with front/rear split air-conditioning, electric everything and a fabulous sound system. Some additional stowage space at the bottom of the centre console would not go amiss, but in general the doors have capacious stowage slots to compensate.
The best part of Q7s interior experience is undoubtedly Audi's multimedia interface (MMI), Ingolstadt's answer to Comand control and iDrive. With intuitive menus and manual source function root menu buttons located around the navigation dial, it's a pleasure to use and usurps all other infotainment systems.
Considering all-out utility the Q7 has a third row of seats to accommodate children under 10 quite comfortably. A neat removable plastic compartment is hidden beneath the load bay floor - perfect for storing wetsuits or muddied biking gear on the way back after a weekend away.
On the road
So, it weighs in at just under two and a half tons, has 760Nm available at a ridiculously accessible 1 800 r/min and drives all-four wheels through a six-speed tiptronic gearbox - hardly a recipe for slothfulness.
Straight-line performance is comical. The distain with which it is able to dust off hot hatches once on the move is priceless. Although the kerb weight and laws of inertia - not to mention the quattro drivetrain - hamper it off the line, it simply gushes forth on an inexhaustible wave of torque above 80 km/h.
The six-speed tiptronic gearbox is best left to its own devices, while stomping on the throttle yields a single kick-down that is more than adequate for seamless overtaking. You can override it with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifts, but it's a futile exercise.
Performance diesels thrive on being short-shifted into their low rev torque peaks and if you manhandle the paddles in petrol head mode all you do is test the retarding 4 500 r/min redline.
The one area in which the 4.2-litre turbodiesel engine disappoints, and this applies to all turbodiesel engines with the exception of the Range Rover Sport TDV8, is acoustics and it drones along without any characteristic V8 throbbing.
Audi reckons the Q7 4.2 TDI will do 0-100 km/h in 6.4 seconds, if those statistics captivate you. In the real world though, it's absurdly swift and quite economical, too.
We drove it with requisite enthusiasm during a particularly warm Cape weather spell - climate control active all the way - and averaged 13. l/100 km, which is entirely reasonable considering the performance on tap.
The air-suspension copes as well as one could hope in containing a 2.4-ton SUV's bodyroll, while as a cruiser the Q7 tracks with reassuring stability at speed.
Any pretence at off-roading, even soft-roading, with the air-suspension at its most expeditious 240 mm ground clearance setting, is hopeless. And this is the result of fitting huge 21-inch mags shod with 35 mm performance orientated tyres.
The most troubling state of affairs the quattro drivetrain and self-locking centre diff will confront are rain-soaked secondary roads. A shame really, as the 760 Nm torque peak could make the Q7 4.2 TDI a strong dune conquering candidate with the right tyres fitted.
It's a curious car, the Q7 4.2TDI. It makes some impressive numbers: 760 Nm, 0-100 km in 6.4 seconds, 7.6 km/litre. The styling may be polarising (people love or hate it), interior space is capacious and the quality of materials are beyond reproach.
Problem is, with the oversized wheels and tyres, which no doubt help the high-speed handling and balance, it foregoes any off-road ability despite the excellent air-suspension system.
Concerning constraints those beautiful 21-inch rims put on off-road ability, Audi's fans will point out the optional 18-inch, 235/60 off-road tyre package. Yes, these should improve things, whilst spoiling the 4.2 TDI's range-topping styling status and increasing road-noise appreciably.
For similar money you can buy a Mercedes-Benz GL or Range Rover Sport, both are not nearly as fast (hardly slow either), but feature low-range and some intermediate off-road capability. The twin-turbo V8 would be a treat in the VW Touareg too...
The engine is a technological marvel, yet our low mileage test car had to be taken in on the day we received it to have the (empty) radiator filled...
If you add DVD-based satellite navigation, full-house infotainment, lane-assist, adaptive xenon-equipped lighting, heated seats, 21-inch mags, electrically adjustable towbar, some privacy glass and a sunroof, the price balloons from R738 500 to R895 350.
As a diesel-technology showcase it's impressive. As a high-speed weekend getaway vehicle featuring diesel power it's satisfying, especially the cosseting interior and 100-litre tank range. As an SUV though, it fails since it offers a monumental engine in the wrong package.
Smooth diesel engine with epic power
Incomparable interior design and quality
Styling endows it with huge presence
Hapless off-road ability
Expensive options list
Styling endows it with huge presence