(Pocket-lint) - It was back in 2015 when we drove then then-brand-new-generation Audi Q7. How things have changed since. The world is accelerating towards a more electric-based automotive future - indeed, Audi has since launched the all-electric e-tron - and, in a step-change for the series, the Q7 is also following suit.
Say hello to the Audi Q7 TFSi e - that 'e' a nod to 'electric' component - which is the plug-in hybrid variant. There's still a V6 engine under the hood, but that's mated with an electric motor, which can be recharged by plugging in (and, to some degree, through regenerative braking).
That's not all, though. Audi's technology has advanced in the years since the latest-gen Q7's launch, going for a more hands-on touch-based approach, as you'll also find inside here. Outside there are nips and tucks to bring the design even more up to date.
So if you're looking for some big wheels with all the space for a full family, some off-road capabilities when out in the country, plus all the creature comforts of modern tech and that feel-good factor of electrification (plus some tax savings), is the Q7 hybrid the most viable option?
Design & Interior
The Q7 is the biggest Audi on the road. Well, it's the tallest anyway, as it shares the MLB Evo platform with plenty of other cars - even the Bentley Bentayga - which is why its five-metre-plus length offers a lot of space inside. However, it's five seats as standard on account of the battery needing to live somewhere - not seven seats as per the non-electrified versions.
Visually speaking the Q7 is similar to how it's looked for a number of years: less 'station wagon' than the previous generation model, inherently tall (adjustably so thanks to Audi Drive Select's raise/lower suspension adjustments), with Audi's muscular-style plating giving the exterior added shape to its hulking frame.
While all SUVs which look fairly big and burly from the outside, the Q7 PHEV is a different beast on the inside. Behind the wheel it feels like sitting high-up on a road-worthy magic carpet, nothing like the nuts-'n'-bolts harshness of the new Land Rover Discovery, for example.
But it's the abundance of tech on board that really helps to sell the Q7 as a premium vehicle. The otherwise sizeable interior somewhat melts away as, when glancing down, you're naturally drawn into the featured screens - there's a pair to the centre console, while another features behind the driver's wheel, in the staple Audi Virtual Cockpit arrangement.
Virtual Cockpit - which is 12.3-inch screen - comprises a digital speedo and an abundance of other information, accessed through scrolling the thumbwheel that's on the main steering wheel. So whether you want a full-on satnav display or fuel consumption to see your economy or remaining miles on electric-only power, the choice is yours.
Thankfully there's no screen positioned high up on the dash, like there was with the five-year-old Q7, so no distractions here - just a gloriously large (and of course high up) view onto the road.
Drive & Range
The Q7 is quiet - except for the hum of the electric mode's sound output - to the point that you can pull away in near silence. It's all-wheel drive - that's the Quattro part of the equation - so for great adhesion, whether on or off the road. Not that we've done more than drive through some fields in Knole Park in Kent.
There are two variants available: the '55', as reviewed, and the '60'. Both feature a V6 TFSi petrol engine, paired with a 94kW electric motor, and 8-speed auto box. There's no difference in terms of range potential between the two, just that the 60 is a little quicker off the mark - although the 5.9-seconds (for the 55 model) is great for an SUV that's over the two-and-a-half tonne mark, indeed it's faster than the fuel-only version.
But the big reason you'll be considering the PHEV version of the Q7 is for the electric part of the equation. Just how far does that battery - at 17.3kWh - get you? Audi's rating is up to 27 miles. But you'll need to be rather economical in your driving approach on flat roads to get that figure. Force the Q7 into the upper levels of its speedo (which for electric-only goes to 'boost' - its redline equivalent, really) too often and you'll knock a mile off in well under half the distance.
Let's say you could eke out 20 miles in electric-only mode - which is still called e-tron mode, perhaps unsurprisingly - and that's still pretty good innings for those shorter runs. The shopping trips. The school runs. The drive to your sports club. While not 'free' - you've got the pay the electric, after all - it's going to keep your bill much lower than refuelling often, without compromising on speed and control, as the Q7 still goes some when it's in e-tron mode.
For longer journeys, or if you can't help but pull the auto box back into 'S' mode (that's Sport), you can rely on that power of the engine. Or, in Hybrid mode, you can get the clout of both electric and petrol rolled into one, which is when the Q7 plug-in is at its best really. So there's certainly versatility. This isn't the kind of electrified hybrid that'll go half a mile and call it a day, it's got usable range - just not quite as extensive as some other (admittedly smaller) vehicles.
Opting for the plug-in model will cut emissions - so better than the 26ish mpg of the Q7 we drove back in 2015, potentially by a lot if you don't use any actual fuel for your journeys! - but there's an inevitable price jump too. This S Line model - Sport is positioned below this; Black Edition, Competition, Vorsprung all feature above - starts at £69,150 on the road, which is around £9K more than a seven-seat fuel-only model with the same interior/exterior setup. You'll need to do some totting up of figures in your head to configure whether that's longer-term value for your needs.
So is the Audi Q7 TFSi e the plug-in hybrid to beat all others? It's got some big plus points for sure - the interior space, the suite of tech - but it's not entirely rosy.
After all, the Q7, being the biggest SUV in Audi's range, is known for being a 7-seater. As a PHEV version, however, it loses the back row to become a 5-seater - which somewhat cuts back on its unique appeal, and therefore you might instead opt for the smaller Q5 e (or even incoming Q3 e) and save on the bulk and even some cash.
Plus the Q7 PHEV's claimed 27 mile range on electric only - and we didn't manage to achieved that claim over a week of use, including recharges - is only just about OK.
Still, as a big and burly SUV goes, the Q7 plug-in glides along the road with ease, it's got more pep than its base fuel-only equivalents, and with the benefit of electrification it'll deliver far better economy for a certain group of short-haul drivers too.