The Last Days of the Audi Mileage Marathon: Vegas to LA
As you might remember, the Audi Mileage Marathon featured 21 teams in four different classes of car - A3, A4, Q5, and Q7 - and the challenge was to see which team could get the best mileage in its respective category. Prizes and accolades were given out every evening to those who won the day, fairies threw roses, and forest animals chirped, howled, and lowed in appreciation. It really was something special.
But we had a different calling. Even though our Q7 was equipped with wi-fi and satellite radio and was roomy and polished in that Audi interior way, we had no desire to spend all day in it. We wanted to get to the next destination driving with our typical alacrity, and find out how the mileage suffered... or didn't.
Our first leg left from Vegas, our mission was to get to Mammoth Lakes, and the first thing we noticed is that the 3.0-liter TDI in the Q7 is a terrific engine. It's so quiet that wind and tire noise were the only things to be heard. It only has 240 hp, but it has 405 lb.-ft of torque, with the surprising and welcome result that we never wished for more power. We spent quite a bit of time well north of 60 mph - it was Death Valley, after all - and whether cruising or climbing, at no time did we whine "Wish this car had more giddy up..."
This was convenient, because we had to climb from below sea level to more than 9,000 feet to get the first night's stop in Mammoth Lakes. And not having any desire to let off the gas while we scaled the heights - this was in the name of science, remember - our results were a bit far removed from the "33.1 MPG" sticker on our rear window. The verdict: about 340 miles, 46.8 mph average speed, and 22.9 mpg. In case you want to poo-poo that mileage, the highway rating for the 3.6-liter gas-engine Q7 is 16 mpg, while the Mercedes ML 320 BlueTEC (diesel) gets 24, and we're pretty sure neither one of them achieved those numbers while doing 75 up a moutainside. That day, Car #5 came in position #6 out of seven teams.
Day Two was a trek from Mammoth Lakes to Monterey. Leaving Mammoth Lakes, and hence, being so close to the sun, we got to do a lot of downhill running. There was still plenty of climbing, though, because the valley in Yosemite is at 4,000 feet, and its tucked in a set of mountains of its own. Still, while there wasn't as much non-stop uphill work, we laid it on as far as accelerator treatment went, and we did even better than the day before: an average speed of 54 mph at 23.9 mpg. That put us in second place on the day - driving with our usual heavy metal alloy feet - and we're pretty sure the gap to first really all came down to footwork: first place posted an average speed of 50 mph but got a stupendous IMSA-certified 31 mpg. That's pretty bloody good.
And on Day Three we rested, as long as "resting" is defined as watching Audi win another ALMS race at Laguna Seca with one eye, waiting for the caterers to load up the buffet with the next course with the other eye, and doing a lap of Laguna in our diesels for the fawning crowds in between courses. This is what it takes to bring you the story.
The final leg was from Monterey to Los Angeles. While most of the other troopers took Highway 1, we opted for the wide open stretches of the 101 and a sure-to-be high average speed. We didn't get printouts of the day's performance, but we didn't need it: the gas gauge was all the indicator we needed of the car's performance. It took us about 5 hours to cover the 342.5 miles from our hotel in Monterey to LAX, and when we got there we had a tad - a small tad - less than a half a tank left. That's 342.5 miles on a half a tank. The Q7's tank is 26.4 gallons large (100 liters). That means we got at least 25.9 mpg, and that's assuming the tank was completely full when we started... and it wasn't. Sure, at today's prices, in Los Angeles, it would cost about $90 to fill the tank - but you could drive for 700 miles. Quickly. Who's not in favor of that?
At the (ultimate) finish line, we held our place in sixth position: 1024 miles at an average speed of 51.1, with an average mpg of 24. The winning team did 954 miles at an average speed of 49.8 and returned 30.2 mpg. Our mpg numbers weren't that much different than the Q5's, intriguingly, but of course we were trounced by the A4s and the sole A3. Still, the A4s only beat us by about 10 mpg on average, and the A3 posted 40.1 mpg. While that might sound low for the A3, that was just the overall figure - the day before, it did 47 mpg. If we all hadn't been climbing mountains and stopping for photographs and tourist spots every day, we would have done even better.
Yet, we would trade the swallow-anything and lounge-in-comfort capabilities of the Q7 any day for the extra mileage put up by the sedans and the hatch. The 3.0-liter TDI has all the gut, gumption, and refinement you'll need, and will let you collect all kinds of dead presidents with its frugality. The only thing we'd like better than that Q7 TDI is if they'd slip the 3.0-liter into a TT... We can dream, eh?
Speaking of dreams, the last two days of the trip featured a speech by Audi head Johann de Nysschen, akin to Moses beseeching Pharoah, calling on the U.S. Government to 'let my diesel go!' and give it some hope of price parity with gasoline. When the diesel revolution begins, we will be happy to get into the fight with the #5 Q7, please.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
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