2011 threw up an unexpected googly when environment minister Jairam Ramesh threw a tantrum over diesel SUVs. In his opinion they were gas guzzling, pollution spewing behemoths whose owners should be taxed heavily. Matters reached a head last month as I was boarding a flight to Munich. The diesel subsidies and debates over the exclusion of diesel Benzs and BMWs from our roads seemed to gain further momentum as the budget approached closer. That seemed like such rotten luck especially at a time when Audi is considering bringing to India their most illicit and seriously bonkers SUV to India, the Q7 with the V12 diesel engine which I would be driving a few hours from now.
It's an SUV that reeks of excesses. Too much engine, too much firepower and way too much to pay for such indulgences. An SUV with the most powerful diesel engine in the world is nothing but an indulgence. Seriously, very seriously do you really need a 6.0-litre V12 engine that makes 506Ps and 1000Nm of torque to power an SUV. Let me spell that out one-thousand, just so you don't think it's a typo. This very unique V12 pushes out the most amount of torque ever to be experienced in a stock SUV. Mind you this isn't a tuned engine, it does not come from the R or the RS department. Yet where, and think deeply, would you use that kind of firepower. Maximum speeds on most cars are clamped down at just 250kmph, unless you were a supercar and lived in a realm above all else. So in the case of the Q7 V12, you just can't do more than 250kmph. But you can touch 100kmph in 5.5 seconds which is incredibly fast. That's incredibly close to sports car territory, only difference being that a sports car can't carry the entire FC Bayern Munich football squad and get them from last night's party to the stadium in time!
More on the engine then. It's based on a V10 engine, specifically the one used in the multiple Le Mans winning R10 TDI race car that runs in the top flight LMP1 category. So you could expect to read about some exotic technology inside the engine and you will. For starters it's not a 90 degree V12 but has a 60 degree bank which makes it a bit more refined. The common rail injection pressure is 2000bar, an incredible feat if you consider that most modern high end cars still run 1800bar max injection pressures. The crankcase is made from cast iron with vermicular graphite (it's a marvelous material called GJV-450). Its advantage is that it's way more rigid and enduring than grey cast iron and helps make for lighter components. There are also a significant number of alloys used to make the crankshaft, pistons and cylinders. And there are two variable geometry turbochargers one for each bank of cylinders. All of it makes a massive engine that finally manages to utilise every bit of space under what we used to think was a ridiculously enormous hood.
So what's it like to pilot a 2.7 tonne SUV? Scary! The twin turbos spring to life at a ridiculously low rpm and the shove they deliver is immense. This catapults the Q7 forward in a mad rush and you get this incredible sense of being jackhammered into your seat every time it shifts up a gear. The rush to 100kmph is intense and it continues relentlessly when you literally hit a wall at around 250kmph on the speedometer. The scary bit is when you realise that such incredible speeds are usually done in cars that are way lighter, smaller, stay off the ground by just a few inches and feel like a coffin on the inside. A 2.7 tonne SUV with enough room to store everything on Asma Al-Assad's shopping list, hurtling towards a rapidly growing horizon isn't a very pleasant thought and yet it's a magnificent rush for a petrol head. Punch the gas pedal and the shove you get from those 12 barrels firing their salvos is nothing short of spine bending. It probably explains why the seats are so supportive!
Only disappointing bit? The lack of an engine or exhaust note; there is no rumble, there is no roar there is none of the V12 sonata that makes a petrol engine so delicious. It makes this engine highly refined and luxurious but the highlight of a V12 is the drama it creates when fired up and what is drama if not accompanied by a complementary soundtrack.
To manage its immense torque the Q7 has received a chassis upgrade with stiffer spring and damper ratings, stickier tyres and more powerful brakes. The adaptive suspension has been tuned for a much sportier ride, so while it does feel stiff even in Europe it's a trade off that's worth the additional confidence it provides when hustling this behemoth through fast corners. The tyres are wider and lower in profile but Indian spec cars may see some changes here. Finally the brakes, massive 20-inch carbon ceramic discs are clamped down by 8-piston calipers at the front and 4-pots at the rear. Of course there is also Audi's quattro four wheel drivetrain with a 40:60 torque split between front and rear wheels respectively.
Cosmetically it's the same as any other Q7 and the insides of my Q7's cabin were tastefully appointed and generously specified. But it's an individual priority thing and you can choose to customise these interiors as it pleases you. Swathe it in the finest leather, get a boot floor that looks like a teak deck from a luxury yacht or spec it with an entertainment system that will put to shame most multiplexes and discos.
So the question that begs asking is just what sense does an SUV with such immense technical specification make? Absolutely none! The Q7 is perfectly happy being united with a 3.0-litre diesel which will propel it to triple digit speeds in single digit times. The 3.0-litre will also be more fuel efficient and frugal ensuring that more of your money stays in the bank. Not to say that the V12 isn't efficient, for a large engine Audi claims it is decently efficient. And yet what do you do with a V12 which others would only recognise if they stop to look at who is alighting from the cabin and stare at the tiny V12 badge on the fender instead. The V12 then is a statement you make when discussing the size of your car's package in your social circles. It is a thing of insanity and impracticality, and an immensely powerful and blindingly quick slap to the face of the jokers in politics. And that is why we love it, it makes no sense whatsoever today, but thanks to its technical brilliance it leaves an impression forever.