First Drive: 2011 Audi Q7

2011 Audi Q7

For 2011, Audi will jettison its V-6 and V-8 engine in the Q7, and replace them both with its supercharged 3.0T V-6, in 272-hp and 333-hp strengths. Although this strategy might leave you scratching your head, the idea is to simplify the powertrain lineup while still preserving the idea of a base engine and a more powerful step-up offering. (The TDI V-6, by the way, will remain.)

We recently sampled both variations of the Q7 3.0T around Ingolstadt, and appreciated the smooth power delivery as well as the new eight-speed automatic transmission's wide spread of gear ratios. In high-output trim, the 3.0T is down 17 hp versus the old 4.2-liter V-8, but matches the 325 lb-ft torque rating. Thanks to the versatility of the eight-speed automatic, the Q7 never feels lacking in forward thrust. We found the performance of the high-spec 3.0T strong enough to make it a credible replacement for the 4.2-liter V-8.

The base 3.0T's 272 hp can't quite match the old 3.6-liter V-6's 280 hp, but the 295 lb-ft of torque betters the 266 lb-ft offered by the previous, normally aspirated V-6. The slightly dulled reflexes of the lower-output 3.0T are still perfectly adequate for a people hauler - acceleration isn't neck-snapping, but you'll have no problem merging with traffic or passing dawdlers.

Both versions of the 3.0T are projected to use less fuel than the engines they replace, but exact EPA numbers are not yet available; the eight-speed automatic transmission alone is supposedly good for a 5 percent fuel economy gain.

What we don't yet know is the price difference between the two. Currently, $14,100 separates the base V-6 at $47,725 from the V-8 at $61,825, with the TDI nestled in between at $51,725.

Speaking of the diesel, it too receives the eight-speed automatic for 2011. During past drives of the TDI Q7 we were very happy with its 406 lb-ft of torque and 25 mpg highway rating. Emissions regulations mean diesel exhaust fluid, known as AdBlue to Audi customers, is required at regular service intervals.

The rest of the 2011 Audi Q7 is essentially unchanged. Driving dynamics are still impressive for the class and interior appointments are as luxurious as anything else coming from Ingolstadt these days. Last year, Audi added its latest MMI system, which now offers 3D navigation and a joystick controller for making your way through the various menus and functions of the advanced infotainment system, to the Q7. Voice command is also part of the MMI package and understands inputs like "I'm hungry" or "I need gas."

Right now, Audi is setting the standard for downsizing engines without making consumers feel like they've given up anything. Additionally, the company's willingness to serve up one engine with multiple outputs (which it does with the 2.0T as well) pays dividends in terms of saving development dollars and reducing assembly line complexity. It's an interesting strategy that we wouldn't be surprised to see competitors adopt.

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