STROLLING around the house in shorts and a t-shirt in 24ºC heat at the end of November got me thinking about my carbon footprint.
I’ve always considered myself environmentally friendly — more the recycle food, plastic and glass type of activist than the board the sea-destroying oil tanker from a speeding rib type of guy, but conscious all the same.
I turn off the heating, I preach about the evidence of global warming and have embraced the rainbow collection of recycling bins permanently parked round the back.
I even toyed with the notion of fitting solar panels on the roof (didn’t get past the grant application paperwork) and chatted daily to the nice men that fitted the now redundant water metre outside my house.
I paid my first water bill without much fuss and then held my head in despair as the whole sorry initiative unfolded, disintegrated and was eventually scrapped.
Much like the embattled Irish Water, the motor industry too is at a crossroads.
The diesel-emissions scandal has all but signalled the end for what was once thought to be a clean fuel. That folly has now been fully exposed for the lie it was.
Governments are pushing for change in a bid to tackle the growing pollution problem. The mayors of Paris, Mexico, Madrid and Athens recently pledged to ban all diesel powered cars and trucks by 2025. Others will follow suit.
The drive now seems to be all about electrification and alternatives fuels – with mixed motivations, reaction and results.
With that in mind, I was genuinely excited when the opportunity arrived to drive the Audi Q7 e-tron.
I had the pleasure of driving the standard Q7 earlier this year — if you can call a 7-seat, €100k, luxury liner standard — and was curious to see how the more expensive hybrid version matched up.
The big selling point of the e-tron, besides giving us a glimpse of what the future of motoring might be at Audi, is that effectively you get two power sources for the price of one.
The engine is the same 3-litre, 272bhp, V6 diesel you get in the standard Q7. Added to that is a 94Kw electric motor that brings the output to an impressive 273bhp.
Combined, the powertrain delivers in spades — a total output of 700Nm of torque allowing the e-tron to cover 0-62mph faster than a Golf GTi.
In normal drive mode, the e-tron switches between the diesel and electric modes, improving overall efficiency. But you also have the option of driving it solely on electric power for up to 50km at a time — enough to get you to and from work, or so the theory goes.
I tried it, and it works, but to be honest you spend so much time watching the power and energy gauges, it takes all the joy out of it. But that’s the beauty of a hybrid, simply flick a switch at any stage and the powerful diesel engine kicks in — removing any and all fear of being stranded in a silent and darkened beast on some lonely country road.
And that’s one of the main misconceptions with hybrids, judging by the many questions and comments the e-tron generated from interested bystanders for the week I had it.
The process of plugging it in is simple — what’s not so straight forward is finding a socket to do so. At work, I found an external socket in the carpark, but for whatever reason that didn’t seem to work. The practicalities of running an extension lead out of a window at home, or out the side door for eight hours (length of a full charge) was not very practical, although I did manage to plug it in for an hour or two.
The other option is to use one of the 1,200 public charge points that are dotted across the country. But again, good luck with that.
There are four of these charge points within a 10-minute drive of my house in Cork city centre, but over the space of the week I had the e-tron, none were free.
On the five occasions I rolled up, invariably there was a collection of Nissan Leafs already plugged in —some of which I suspect were using the space as a convenient place to park, given most charges take no longer than 20 minutes.
Unlike some electric cars, there is no issue with ownership or leasing of the battery in the Q7. It’s part of the package and does not have to be replaced.
That’s the burning question. The e-tron is the best part of €12,000 dearer that the standard Q7. Ok, for that you get an extra 100bhp and a leaner, greener and meaner machine. But you also lose the third row of seats to accommodate the large battery pack.
While the combination of the diesel and electric engines is no doubt more frugal and economical, whether it can save you €10,000-€12,000 of its lifetime to justify the inflated price tag is impossible to answer, but unlikely.
God knows. Then again, many of those who buy a Q7 are not looking to house a large family — it’s more of a status thing. Whatever about practicality and logic, the Audi is hard to beat for sheer luxury, the perfect marriage of comfort and technology.
Other than the back two seats, no. If anything, you get more bang for your buck. The e-tron handles beautifully, it’s one of the more luxurious large SUVs on the road and is a technological marvel, without losing the driver in the process.
But would you choose the e-tron over the standard and almost flawless Q7 — well that’s between you and your green conscience.
At a glance
Audi Q7 e-tron
3.0TDI Quattro/Hybrid Output: 373bhp
Fully charge – 2.5 hours on charging point / 8 hours household socket
up to 56km
€83,620 (€103,637 as tested)