The very idea of the Audi Q7 V12 TDI seems to go against everything we know about VW Group today. VW Group that loves to share platforms and engines between as many models as possible. VW Group that’s joined forces with Ford to reduce costs.
That’s the reality of post-dieselgate VAG, but back in 2008, it was a different story, particularly for subsidiary Audi. It was in the middle of a hellishly expensive FIA World Endurance Championship assault, and keen to make some sort of vague marketing connection between the R10 TDI and its road cars, it gave Quattro GmbH the task of creating the world’s first production V12 diesel engine. Which would go on to be used in only one vehicle destined to sell in tiny numbers.
Its the antithesis of the S6 we’re running as a long-term test car, which is - in comparison - a paragon of fiscal responsibility with its widely used, frugal yet punchy mild-hybrid V6 TDI engine.
With that in mind, now seems like a good time to revisit the V12 Q7. As luck would have it, Audi UK has one on its heritage fleet - an original press car held back and kept by the company’s British arm ever since. It’s clocked just 17,000 miles, and has the Exclusive Concept pack added, which buyers - having already parted with £96,295 for the base car -were expected to stump up £44,350 for. W and indeed TF.
That pack includes super-shiny 21-inch wheels, copious amounts of Nappa leather, and a colossal helping of walnut. There’s even wooden decking lining the boot floor and the backs of the rear seats, which is so fantastically unfit for purpose, you need to cover it up with a carpet-topped rubber mat. There was still scope to add options, too - this car originally weighed in at £154,175. Even the pricey Audi R8 GT that came along a year after this car was registered cost about £10k less.
This Q7 is so extravagant it’s borderline offensive. It’s ridiculous and ostentacious, and yet I’m digging it before I’ve even started that 6.0-litre engine. Finally doing so by twisting the key in the slot just to the left of the steering wheel, the engine wakes up inconspicuously. I suppose it doesn’t need a fanfare - the 6.0-litre, 12-cylinder engine’s 493bhp and 737lb ft power and torque figures say enough. The only trouble is, in the process of making those figures, the V12 belches out nearly 300g/km of CO2 and manages just 25mpg on the combined cycle.
Disengaging the parking brake involves pulling out a huge spring-loaded tab, which thunks with surprising violence as it’s sucked back into the dash. Engaging reverse, I’m treated to a reversing camera which looks remarkably crisp for 10-year-old technology. Then again, this is nearly a £200k car when adjusted for inflation, so the bells and whistles ought to be outstanding.
On the move and engine warmed up, I decide to see what full throttle is like when your right foot is commanding 1000Nm of torque. And the answer is… not as dramatic as expected. There’s a noticeable pause of turbo lag while the two snails spool up, after which the Q7 surges forward purposefully, but not manically. A six-speed automatic takes swiftly takes care of gear changes, somehow not exploding under the sheer brawn of that V12.
A quick glance at the speedometer, however, reveals how much pace the Q7 V12 can gather in a terrifyingly small space of time. Good job it has vast carbon ceramic brakes. It doesn’t make a particularly big deal of it, though - the muted engine note could easily be mistaken for a V6 oil-burner, if it wasn’t so smooth.
Part of the reason it doesn’t shock on wide-open throttle applications is the weight of the whole package - it’s nearly 2700kg, comfortably more than a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. But it doesn’t feel heavier than the big, supercharged V8 American. Actually, it’s surprisingly handy when the going gets twisty.
The SQ7 - this car’s far less grandiose spiritual successor - would show it a clean pair of heels on a road like this, but the V12 isn’t the wobbly mess I thought it would be. It can be enthusiastically guided through a set of bends and stay composed, so long as you stay vaugely within its comfort zone.
It has air suspension with multiple modes (we’re set to ‘Dynamic’ currently), which does a commendable job of keeping the body roll to non-comedic levels. The operating window of such setups wasn’t as wide back then, of course, so Audi’s efforts to make the Q7 V12 behave itself during this kind of driving mean it’s not the wafiest thing even in ‘Comfort’. Those 21s aren’t helping the ride, either.
With this once enormously expensive vehicle handed back to Audi, I’m left questioning who or what it was supposed to be for. And the answer is pretty much no one - while we haven’t been able to get hold of sales figures, if the numbers on How Many Left are to be believed, fewer than 30 are still registered in the UK.
Cars like ‘our’ S6, the similarly powered S4 and the V8 TDI SQ7/SQ8 siblings merely highlight the absurdity of the V12 TDI. The headline figures of these less complicated powerplants aren’t as attention-grabbing, but they’re still massively potent, and importantly, much more efficient.
The Q7 V12 TDI simply couldn’t get made today. Not just because of regulations, but because of shifting perceptions of the car and - of course - diesel as a method of propulsion itself. It was pointless enough when it first arrived in 2008, and the ensuing years have merely made it seem more outrageous.
However, you can’t help but admire the sheer audacity of the thing, not to mention the costly engineering that went into it, with no hope of there ever being a return on Audi’s investment. It’s bonkers, distasteful and ruinously expensive to keep running. And it’s thoroughly brilliant.