2015 NAIAS: Audi Q7 e-tron Becomes World’s First Plug-in Hybrid With a Heat Pump

At this week’s 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Volkswagen’s luxury brand Audi held the world premiere of its all-new 2015 Q7 crossover SUV. Designed from the ground up to be more fuel efficient than its predecessor, the 2016 Audi Q7 is has shed more than 325 kilograms (716 pounds) from the previous-generation model thanks to an entirely new, multi material chassis, aluminium body panels and doors and even a lighter, stronger drivetrain and suspension system.

The 2016 Audi Q7 will be available in range-topping plug-in diesel hybrid guise.

The 2016 Audi Q7 will be available in range-topping plug-in diesel hybrid guise.

Audi’s second-gernation iteration of its full-size crossover SUV is also the latest full-size luxury SUV to be offered with a range-topping plug-in hybrid performance model — the Audi Q7 e-tron– following in the tyre tracks of other luxury SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne S-E hybrid and Volvo XC90 T-8 plug-in hybrid.

While the physical appearance of the all-new 2015 Audi Q7 e-tron isn’t meeting with everyone’s approval, it can claim some new world firsts when it comes to its drivetrain and energy-saving technology.

First, as we mentioned last year, the Audi A7 e-tron is the first plug-in hybrid to be offered with a 3.0-litre V-6 diesel engine and Quattro all-wheel drive. Integrated into the specially-designed eight-speed tiptronic gearbox, there’s also a 94 kilowatt electric motor which can drive the Q7 e-tron in all-electric mode for around 35 miles per charge from the rear-mounted 17.3 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

Inside, there's seating for five.

Inside, there’s seating for five.

Secondly, the Audi Q7 e-tron is the first plug-in hybrid in the world to be sold with a heat pump instead of a traditional resistive-based heating system. Offered on many all-electric cars already, heat pumps are far more efficient — up to three or four times more efficient — than traditional water-based immersion heating systems.

By using less electrical energy to heat the cabin than it would with a water-based cabin heater, the Audi Q7 e-tron can devote more of its on-board battery charge to motion than its competitors, and means that total all-electric range is affected less in cold conditions than a plug-in hybrid without a heat pump heating system.

Unlike the Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid, the Q7 e-tron retains its traditional four-wheel drive gearbox and mechanical prop shaft, allowing front and rear wheels to be driven by either the diesel engine or the electric motor as required.

While this reduces the electrical complexity of the Q7 e-tron’s drivetrain however, it does mean that all four wheels are permanently driven, something which will affect efficiency at higher speeds due to mechanical losses in the transmission.

Not everyone is a fan of the new Audi Q7 e-tron's design, but it does offer practical all-wheel drive capabilities

Not everyone is a fan of the new Audi Q7 e-tron’s design, but it does offer practical all-wheel drive capabilities

In total, the Audi Q7 e-tron produces a total power output of 373 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, making it possible to accelerate from 0-62 mph in just 6 seconds flat and go on to an electronically-limited top speed of 140 mph. In electric-only mode, 0-37 mph happens in 6.1 seconds, and electric only mode disengages just above the legal limit.

Overall, Audi says the majority of its Q7 range is around 26 percent more fuel efficient than their predecessors, but with a combined fuel economy of 138.4 US MPG on the NEDC test cycle, the 2016 Q7 e-tron is by far the most efficient of the Q7 lineup.

While real-world ranges and fuel efficiencies are likely to be less — nearer 25 miles per charge and 120 U.S. MPG — the Q7 e-tron could be a good choice for someone who doesn’t want to opt for the all-electric charms being promised by the 2016 Tesla Model X crossover or needs fossil fuel backup for truly off-grid operation.

Prices have yet to be announced, but we’re guessing the range-topping Q7 e-tron will likely command a price of at least $70,000 before incentives.

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  • Apart from manufacturing the luxurious four wheelers (sedans and SUVs), the Audi has also indulged itself in the manufacturing of the semi electrical runabouts such as this Q7 e-tron. But, I still likes the looks of BMW i8 as compared to this one.