Hybrid vs. Diesel SUVs: Environmentally-friendly or environmentally-full-of-it?
Earlier this week, Audi released photos of the upcoming SQ5 TDI, which we love. It's based on the popular Audi Q5 crossover, which we love a lot less. However, all is forgiven thanks to the V6 TDI motor making 313 horsepower and 400+ lb-ft of torque. All that grunt means the SQ5 rockets to 60 in 5.1 seconds. Oh yeah, it also happens to get 32.67 mpg. Q: Where do we sign? A: Nowhere! A big problem. We here in the good 'ole U.S. of A. will never get our grubby mitts on the SQ5. Audi is NOT bringing this German bulldog to the states because it intends to sell us lowly Americans the Q5 hybrid instead. What gives? Full Disclosure: All of the facts, numbers and figures are pulled from government and manufacturer websites. We would really like the chance to test these numbers out for ourselves. Seriously, we would really like that. A lot. The reason is some kind of regulatory loophole that will allow Audi to continue to produce obnoxiously fast things like the R8 GT Spyder. This is the kind of inefficent government we can get behind. But there's two relatively minor issues with this proposal: 1.) Most people I know can't afford an R8 (they can't find a job or something silly like that), and the availability of supercars matters very little in the real world. 2.) The SQ5 offers much better performance, comparable fuel economy and would likely cost about the same as the Q5 hybrid (around $50,000+). So, why would anyone in their right mind buy the slower, heavier hybrid over the SQ5? This is exactly what Audi fears you will ask, and is exactly why they won't be selling it state-side. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YrOa2waMdvY Listen to this thing, it sounds like a mini R18 Ultra. How could you not want it? Audi's fears bring up a very valid point about hybrids in general. Here in the USA, they appear to be outselling their oil burning brethren despite the fact they are terrible value for the money. Alas, hybrids do have one major selling point; straighline acceleration. However the performance, price and mpg of the SQ5 would make the hybrid version moot in every measurable category. A simple luxury hybrid vs. diesel match-up from popular SUV manufacturers highlights Audi's dilemma. Hybrids are nearly identical to their diesel twins with the exception of performance and cost. Take a look at the amazing chart below and you'll see what we're getting on about:
The hybrids from Porsche and VW are by no means cheap. The cost of acquiring a hybrid over the diesel is the price of a used Volkwagen GTi or a 70's Porsche 911. Miles per gallon is virtually a toss up with the diesels tending to be more efficient cruisers than the hybrids, while the difference in city driving could go either way based on how heavy your right foot is. However, there's no denying that the Cayenne S Hybrid and the Touareg Hybrid are very fast. Despite weighing two and a half tons, they get to 60 mph almost as quickly as the V8 powered versions. The immediacy of the torque delivered by the electric motors feels like a mule kick to the pants, which is something neither V8's or diesels can match. That said, it's hard to justify the drastic price difference, even with the boost in performance. It's probably safe to assume that if the Cayenne Diesel and the Cayenne S Hybrid were more evenly matched in terms of performance (like the SQ5 and the Q5 hybrid), no one would buy the hybrid. Of course, CO2 emissions are much improved on the hybrids thanks to the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries ability to provide power without the use of the engine. The NiMH batteries are more environmentally friendly than the Nickel Cadmium predecessors whose key component, cadmium, was responsible for polluting the water of 1.5 million people in China earlier this year. Unfortunately, the reduced efficiency means the NiMH battery pack is larger. That comes at a cost of roughly 3 cubic feet of cargo room in the Cayenne S Hybrid, or a medium-sized suitcase.
- Luxury SUVs: Hybrid vs. Diesel
So does the decrease in CO2 emissions and improved straight line performance really justify the increased price tag? Sure, if you believe in wasting money. We would rather pick up a diesel SUV and use it to slowly tow a cheap car to the track. Because no matter how well the hybrid SUVs accelerate, they're still porkers, and the only big boy we've seen corner gracefully is Jerome Bettis. He's retired. Besides, with the money you save by skipping the hybrid option, you could recycle a classic car or two. Who said us car guys don't care about the environment?
- The battery now lives where we used to store dead bodies. So much for utility.
OK, lets be serious for a minute here. The rising price of gas is a real threat to drivers, whether you're in the market for a luxury SUV or not. Driving around in a two and half ton land yacht is not a good look, unless you're an oil sheikh who refines his own gas in his bathtub. In all, we like where hybrids are going, even though it appears that diesels are the smarter bet right now. However, if electric propulsion is definitely the future of day-to-day transportation, why doesn't the Volkswagen-Audi Group just ditch the gas motor altogether and build an all-electric SUV? Give the "average American" an all electric Cayenne/Touareg/Q7/Q5/Tiguan/Cajun to drive to soccer practice and the country club. They'll love it. Then give us enthusiasts a really fast diesel like the SQ5, to embarrass BMW M3's while still getting 30+ mpg. When the fun is over, we can hitch a trailer to it and tow our weekend warriors to the track. You know you want to, and you know we'll buy it. So what's the hold up?
- This is not "The Bus".