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2012 Audi Q7 TDI Clean Diesel Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 Green SUV Buyer's Guide - Road & Travel Top 10 Picks

Audi Q7 TDI Clean Diesel

Jeep Grand Cherokee FFV

BMW X5 xDrive 35d Diesel

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid

Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

Consider the three word phrase many environmentalists love to hate - sport utility vehicle -- maligned for its oversized footprint and brazen ownership of the road. We probably all can relate to "utility" without going into spasms of tsk-tsking, since utilizing something confirms its worth. Same with "vehicle," a necessity in getting around. But "sport" has been described as a selfish use of modern technology that dominates more than its share of road life. If you're thinking in terms of the new 2012, full-size clean diesel powered Audi Q7 TDI, a luxury SUV for seven, however, you might just have neutralized this argument.

Sport utility vehicles and environmentally friendly might have seemed like polar opposites in the past. But German luxury auto maker Audi is proving one can have the best of a good thing without meriting a slap on the wrist for doing so. In addition to its standard gasoline powered version, the "clean diesel" turbocharged edition is designed to keep "sport" in focus, without being detrimental to its surroundings.

Clean diesel, for the puzzled, is an industry term for vehicles designed to spritz a blue-colored neutralizing mist at diesel fumes from the engine and control the emission of polluting nitrous oxides and something called "particulates" that used to pour out of diesel exhausts as pungent, dark smoke laden with tiny pieces of black grit.  With clean diesels, vehicles have removed much of that problem and auto makers claim a 20 percent reduction in lung choking carbon emissions as a result.

Power for the all-wheel-drive Audi Q7 TDI comes from a direct injection 3.0-liter V-6 that generates 225-horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, the twisting, driving force that kicks one into high gear while passing,  or overcomes inertia during takeoff from a stop. The eight-speed automatic has manual shift mode. EPA fuel economy ratings are 17-city/25-highway and 20-MPG combined.

Outside, the Q7 TDI has a somewhat beefy, but not burly look, made more aggressive by a dominant nose compared with a lower, sleeker body. That look relates somewhat to its luxury workhorse capability. This is a large vehicle designed for some heavy duty hauling despite its premium nature. When properly fitted with towing gear, it can drag a maximum of 6,600 pounds behind it -- making it an ideal way to get a small boat to a vacation home, or maybe a horse trailer to an equestrian event. Aluminum strip trim on rails and around windows keeps visual proportions in line.

Inside, the emphasis is definitely on luxury, with a well laid out, functional dash, handsome, standard leather trim, heated and cooled front seats 12-way power adjustable front seats, and reclining second row seats that slide forward or backward for more comfort options. Think of the third row as jump seats, however.

New for 2012 is the available Audi Connect navigation system to upgrade the voice activated audio system. The system coordinates with Google Earth for high resolution, wide view navigation images. The system's WIFI capability can accommodate eight electronic devices. But layered electronics might cause some consternation for the high tech challenged.

On the driving side, one buff magazine coined one of the most delicious descriptions we've ever heard, calling it an "elephant in ballet shoes," for its ability to dance easily through traffic despite its size. We won't go that far with descriptives, but will qualify it as maneuvering well with exceptional grunt power.

There are three levels of luxury available in the Q7 TDI lineup, Premium, Premium Plus and top-of-the-line Prestige model. Base pricing begins at $46K and tops out at $51K-plus for the Prestige level. Adding some of the tantalizing available options, like the panoramic roof with electric sunshade can jack up that price several grand.

But getting back to the size issue: If one wants to play math games with haulability, they could divide the impact of seven in one vehicle, versus the impact of two small cars with three or four inside, or a super mini car that can carry only two, therefore requiring four on the road. We think a single footprint, multi-purpose vehicle -- luxuriously trimmed, with amusements to keep small ones (not adults) in the third row happy -- makes more sense than multiples, or having to leave a couple of passengers back at home.

For more info on Audi brands, click here.