Let’s talk about the Yin and the Yang of cars. You usually have to sacrifice comfort, luxury and space for the sake of being ecologically sound. Same for SUVs, where these hulking vehicles are mostly utilitarian in form and nature without the techno-awesomeness of a great luxury sedan. It’s the nature of the auto beast.
For 2017, Audi has new models on opposite ends of the model range with±the Yin of environmental and the Yang of SUV technology.
Audi’s smallest—and cutest—car, the A3, is being offered with a first-for-Audi plug-in hybrid powertrain with their Sportback e-tron. Meanwhile—and some may say, overdue—an all-new Q7 makes its debut with an all-new design, a lot less weight and a metric ton more technology.
The A3 Sportback e-tron is Audi’s first foray into the plug-in hybrid world, which makes sense, as it’s the brand’s most fuel-efficient and smallest offering in the line up. The A3 e-tron is the Yin to the Q7’s Yang. Powered by a turbocharged-four combined with an electric motor, the A3 puts out a total of 204 hp and 258 lb-ft of electric-boosted torque. The electric motor is large enough so that in most real-world instances, the A3 uses electric power alone, and it does so brilliantly.
Like any EV, the e-tron smoothly and quietly pulls away from a stop—and it’s instantaneous acceleration combined with the car’s small size makes it perfect for squeezing around the city in traffic and it can do it in all-electric mode for 16 miles—two more than the average American commute and enough to take Audi’s millennial target from Santa Monica to Venice and back on electric power. Combined with gas engine, the A3 is very efficient, getting an estimated 83 mpg-e.
The A3 e-tron starts at $38,825, but its price drops to $33,157 after a $4,168 federal and estimated $1,500 California tax rebate, which is the same price as Chevrolet Volt and Volkswagen e-Golf, but you’re not driving an Audi, are you?
For the Audi Yang, we had a chance to spend time with just-getting-to-dealers-now 2017 Audi Q7. To say it’s leaps and bounds better than the previous generation does the new Q7 a disservice—the new Q7 is, unequivocally the best SUV I have driven in years.
The new Q7 is based on the new MLB II architecture that underpins the next-generation A8 as well as the upcoming f-you priced Bentley Bentayga. With a high-strength steel and aluminum structure and a claimed 474 pound weight reduction, the new Q7 is considerably lighter than its predecessor. Less weight means better performance and the improvements brought about by the new platform were noticeable during our drive in inclement weather.
The Q7 has Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged V6 and it’s the perfect mill for the SUV. With 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque delivered at just 2900 rpm, the supercharged six scoots the still-hefty Q7 to 60 mph in the mid-five-second range, making it quicker than the BMW X5 xDrive35i and the new Volvo XC90 T6.
The engine provides more than ample power throughout the rev range while maintaining a high level of response, making the Q7 easy to drive in any situation and on any road, be it dropping your kids off at Crossroads or a scoot through Malibu Canyon. Paired with an excellent 8-speed automatic, Quattro all-wheel-drive, and a willing chassis, and you have one of the best-performing SUVs available on the market.
Also, it looks fantastic. The new Q7 follows Audi’s new design language and styling trends and looks less like the hulking behemoth of yore and more like a muscular tall wagon with some well-placed cut lines, “double-arrow” LED headlights and taillights and mean edge to the whole package.
It’s very European and you could see the late Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber and his crew heading into a Nakatomi Plaza takeover in a fleet of these.
Step inside and you’re greeted by a beautifully minimalistic interior. The dashboard has a particularly low cowl for excellent visibility, with a trick 8.3-inch screen that retracts into the dash when you don’t need it—a much better solution than the fixed, tacked-on screens that other luxury automakers have favored (we’re looking at you, Mercedes!).
You often won’t need the extra screen because you’ll have Audi’s 12.3-inch “Virtual Cockpit” configurable display in the cluster. It can be anything you want it to be, from a traditional speedometer and tachometer to a gigantic navigation display that’s right in front of you, all controlled by Audi’s intuitive MMI control knob on the center console.
As usual, Audi’s level of interior quality and materials is superb, with beautiful open-pore wood, matte aluminum, and rich leather everywhere. It’s a great place to be, as long as you’re not in the diminutive third row if you’re adult. That said, it’s perfect for kids’ soccer practice.
Safety aids are an important concern for most crossover buyers and the Q7 is brimming with techno-wizardry assistance systems. Basic systems include front collision avoidance and rear cross traffic alert, but we’re incredibly stoked on the Q7’s slick new semi-autonomous functions optional on the Premium Plus model.
With Audi’s adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist, the cruise control and a camera allows the Q7 to keep up with traffic and stay in lanes, all on its own. While it’s no Tesla Autopilot, you could only take your hands off the wheel for a few seconds and let the Q7 take you through the corners on Highway 1 (note: don’t try this at home). Meanwhile, the turn assist prevents you from turning into oncoming traffic.
With a base price of $55,750, the new Audi Q7 is six grand more expensive than the last model, but is priced competitively with other upscale SUVs. While not inexpensive by the time you’re all in, the Q7 is a luxurious, tech-laden tour de force that drives smaller than it looks. Pick the Yin or pick the Yang, you can’t go wrong with either, as both are perfect options for the mean streets of L.A.