Newest addition to the Q7 lineup, the turbodiesel TDI Quattro model arrived in mid 2009 and quickly established a formidable niche for itself. Now accounting for roughly one third of all Q7 sales of Audi's largest SUV, the TDI variant offers all of the standard goodness of its gasoline-powered Q7 kin in a markedly more fuel-efficient package. We recently spent time in one of these squeaky-green, seven-passenger oil burners to see just how well it coped with the demands of Southern California traffic, both in town and on the freeway.

Anyone familiar with the Q7 will note the 2010 versions on all levels sport a number of minor cosmetic tweaks meant to add a bit more visual spark. Mildly recontoured fascias boast slightly massaged lighting elements, the most notable additions being the use of LEDs for the front running lamps and all rear lights. New alloy wheel designs, two new colors, two-tone mirrors and a bit more brightwork round out the primary exterior changes. Inside, there's an equally subtle shift evident, with the latest and most intuitive iteration of Audi's MMI (Multi Media Interface) controller, new chrome and wood accents, revamped interior lighting and available heated/ventilated seat covered in Premium Cricket Leather. Stepping up to the new third-generation Navigation system brings enhanced 3D graphics, SIRIUS traffic-based routing, and a new ability to understand and respond to simple voice commands like "I need gas" or "I'm hungry."

In addition to its impressive standard feature set and nifty Navi, the vehicle we drove was a seriously loaded example with options that included the Prestige Package, Panorama Sunroof, S-Line Package, Warm-weather Package and Towing Package. That roster of extras, which brought everything from Bose Surround Sound Audio and four-zone climate control to 20-inch alloy wheels and shifter paddles for its six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission also bumped the price of entry from $51,725 -- $4,000 above a comparable Q7 3.6 Premium model but $8,320 under its 4.2 V8 kin -- to a rather stout $62,375.

It takes only a few miles behind the wheel for the Q7 TDI to begin making some serious and primarily positive first and lasting impressions. Although the 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 underhood develops a serviceable 225 horsepower, its formidable 406 lb-ft of peak torque is what really speaks loudest and most effectively when it comes to motivating 5,512 lb of all-wheel drive SUV as well as whomever/whatever else is inside and/or being pulled behind. Smooth, quiet, and odorless, the TDI alternative to the Q7's more powerful but far less torque-rich 3.6-liter/V6 and 4.2-liter/V8 gasoline engines will get you from 0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds and makes changing over to diesel as effortless as remembering to use the proper pump when refilling its 26.4-gallon tank. To meet 50-state smog status, the Q7's engine also uses urea-based AdBlue fluid to automatically treat its exhaust gases. However, that gets stored in a separate 6.5-gallon reservoir scaled to last until it's replenished by the dealer when the Q7 goes in for scheduled servicing.

Dynamically, the TDI is typical Q7, exhibiting a bit of body roll as you press harder through corners but quite capable of negotiating twisties with no small degree of enthusiasm helped by its highly efficient Quattro all-wheel drive. The steering feels positive, and the big anti-lock brakes confident, despite a softish pedal. Frankly, multi-hour stints had us wishing for more rake adjustability on the driver's seat, but overall the TDI merits relatively high marks when it comes to user friendliness and basic control configurations. The Q7's 40/20/40 split-folding second row seat proved a good place for two full-size adults, and its fore/aft adjustability makes life in the headroom-restrained 50/50 third row a lot more usable for a pair of mid-size kids. We suspect most owners will put that area to even better use by flipping the seat down and expanding cargo bay capacity from 10.9 to 42.0 cu ft.

In a week that encompassed over 600 total miles of mixed-mode driving, we averaged 21.2 mpg against the Q7 TDI's EPA combined figure of 20 mpg. At its best, on a 400-mile freeway/scenic-route ramble from Los Angeles up to Avila Beach and back, it returned 24.7 mpg, just 0.3 mpg shy of its EPA highway mark. Even the worst-case scenario, 90 miles of all in-town slogging, netted 16.3 mpg against its 17 mpg city rating. With its excellent balance of functionality and efficiency, the Q7 TDI deserves serious consideration by anyone in the market for a premium seven-passenger SUV with a distinct "eco" orientation.

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