2011 Audi Q7 TDI Clean-Diesel SUV: Quick Drive

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2011 Audi Q7 TDI test drive, Catskill Mountains, Nov 2011

2011 Audi Q7 TDI test drive, Catskill Mountains, Nov 2011

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We tend to prefer smaller cars here at Green Car Reports. Since far more than half of U.S. car journeys are made by a single occupant, smaller could often suffice--and cost less, and pollute less.

But some buyers simply need larger vehicles--or at least want them--and seven-seat sport-utility vehicles are probably the top of the "larger vehicle" category.

Further stratify that list by moving from, say, a Toyota Highlander fitted with a third row into the German luxury category, and you end up at our latest quick-test vehicle, the 2011 Audi Q7 TDI clean-diesel sport-utility vehicle.

Seven seats, 400 lb-ft of torque

It's a hulking all-wheel drive vehicle that costs almost $73,000 and seats five adults and two somewhat-less-than-adult-sized people, and it's powered by a 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The Audi TDI diesel puts out a whopping 406 lb-ft of torque, which makes it rewarding to drive once you understand how the accelerator is mapped.

2012 Audi Q7 quattro 4-door 3.0L TDI Premium Dashboard

2012 Audi Q7 quattro 4-door 3.0L TDI Premium Dashboard

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Which is to say, it does nothing for the top third of its travel, and is linear thereafter--in contrast to some modern small cars, which seem to put about two-thirds of their engine power in the top inch or so of accelerator travel.

EPA: 20 mpg combined

The EPA rates the 2011 Q7 TDI at 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 20 mpg. That's better than the Q7 fitted with a 3.0-liter gasoline V-6, which is rated at 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway, and 18 mpg combined, but not breathtakingly so.

On a 340-mile weekend test, we did better than the ratings, achieving 27.3 mpg on a route that was about two-thirds highway travel. Many diesels are believed to deliver better fuel economy than their EPA ratings.

That message may be percolating into the market. Audi says that roughly half its Q7s are sold with the diesel now--though the car is a low-volume one for them, with less than 7,500 sold during the first 10 months of the year. Of the 710 Q7s sold last month, it said, 43 percent were TDI models.

Intimidating to others?

The Q7 styling is large and aggressive in other cars' rear-view mirrors, with its toothy grille causing at least a few to move over smartly as it loomed in the rear window.

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