California is a big state. For anyone who has ever driven from south to north or vice versa, knows that this state is big and diverse in more ways than a short article can describe. Imagine my delight when Audi gave the go ahead for me to test the 2014 A7 TDI on a road trip that would take me from San Diego to Sonoma and back with a few detours along the way including the Sierra Nevada mountains.
In theory, the purpose of this test was to see how efficient this car is. Driving in and around metro areas like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco can make it a bit challenging to do. With stop and go traffic as well as higher than normal rate of speed (especially in Southern California), making a pure efficiency run is hard to do. With that said, I started my trip from downtown San Diego at 5:30 in the morning on a Friday. As soon as I got onto the freeway, I noticed there was quite a bit of traffic. Nevertheless, I tried to stay at 70 -72 mph. While the speed limit is 65 mph, the normal flow of traffic on I-5 can sometimes exceed 75 mph. The amazing thing with diesel engines – they are remarkably efficient on the freeway. The Audi A7 TDI proved this out. In Friday morning traffic, I made it up to LA hitting an average of 40 mpg. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a 4266 pound car that hit 40 mpg. No hybrid or plug-in wizardry here. No regenerative braking either. Just start and stop technology. Some cars half the weight cannot even manage 40 mpg. Think about this way – if you are a high powered business person and can afford this car, you can drive in style and still claim that you are supporting the environment because you are driving a very efficient car.
Traffic on the 405 and the 101 was a snarl for a bit. Oh well. Such is life. The first stop on the trip was Santa Barbara. This is such a sleepy and relaxing town that a stopover was a must. Unfortunately, the sun was not shining and slight sprinkles were coming down from the sky. No luck and a little early for lunch, I decided to make my way out of Santa Barbara. Instead of driving steadily along the coast, I opted for the mountains and took SR-154 out of Santa Barbara. In near white out conditions, the A7 TDI performed flawlessly carving the turns and rising to the peak. Sure, fuel efficiency suffers a bit, but heck, I already proved that you can hit 40 mpg in Friday morning driving without hypermiling.
Next stop, the quaint town of Paso Robles for lunch. After I parked the car, one passerby commented how beautiful the car was, particularly the front end. Then I told her that the car is fuel efficient too. I’m sure she said something afterwards to her companion who was driving a BMW 335i.
After lunch, it was a strait shot so to speak to downtown San Francisco. Along the way, I put the car in cruise control surely expecting that I would raise the fuel efficiency of the car. Nope. As I was leaving Paso Robles, I was down to 36 mpg. Between Paso Robles and San Jose, the car was only reading 37.2 – 37.3 mpg. I chalked it up to cross winds along the route which passed by Gilroy, CA, the garlic capital of the world. By the time I had reached downtown San Francisco, I was back to over 38 mpg. So there you have it, from downtown San Diego to downtown San Francisco, I hit 38 mpg. That is the EPA estimate. Had I taken I-5 straight up and limited my tangents, I have no doubt that I would have exceeded that number.
The story is just beginning. Throughout the weekend, I went back and forth between downtown San Francisco and Burlingame (where I was staying) as well as nearby San Mateo. All in all, from San Diego to San Francisco and weekend treks back and forth, well over 650 miles traveled. Not once did I fill up the tank. It was not until I was departing Burlingame for Healdsburg that I decided it was time to fill up. Even then, there was still range to drive more. All that range does come at a bit of a cost, especially when the tank size is 19.2 gallons. That being said, I’ll take 38-40 mpg freeway for a car that weighs 4,266 lbs. any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Driving up to and around Healdsburg (Sonoma County) was a pleasure. I was going up there to attend a good friend’s wedding. As I drove up to the evening reception for guests at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, other guests in the parking lot could not help but do a double take on the car. The A7 TDI is a very distinct design that people notice. When equipped with the Black Optic Package and its 20” wheels, the car commands a presence. At the end of the evening, I transported a young attorney back to Healdsburg to meet up with some other wedding guests for some more food and wine. He could not get over how cool the car was and was enamored by all the technology in it. When I told him I hit 40 mpg, his mouth just dropped.
On the day of the wedding, the A7 TDI continued to get looks around town as well as at the Healdsburg General Store , which is where many visitors end up for lunch or to pick up some food en route to a vineyard or two. Arriving at Trentadue Winery in the early evening for the wedding, once again some guests were looking at the car. Perhaps it was the Michigan license plates. At the end of the evening, I transported a few guests back to the hotel. During the ride back, the guests loved the Bang & Olufson sound system and the night vision assist. Yes, I said it, night vision. It’s great to have in urban areas like downtown San Diego or downtown San Francisco as it identifies people. It’s even better in rural and suburban areas where deer feel free to roam. I wish I had night vision assist on my most recent rental in New Jersey as I almost ran into a deer during the nighttime hours.
Having toured around Healdsburg a little, it was now off to Napa via a beautiful stretch of road on SR-128. Driving around so much and often times for long stretches of road, it is hard not to admire the interior of the car. It is a comfortable place to be. With heated seats for the cool evenings and cooled seats for the warmer days, I can’t think of a better interior. While there are a lot of buttons to get used to, you don’t feel cluttered and everything serves a purpose. After visiting a couple wineries, it was time to park the car and wander by foot.
Commuting from Napa to Silicon Valley in the morning is not easy. Stop and go traffic is routine. Yet, despite all the traffic, fuel economy remained well into the mid 30’s and having a luxurious interior to relax in helps. The chill station on SIRIUS satellite radio definitely helps too. After a couple days of meetings, it was off to the mountains where there was already snow on the ground in some parts. If you have not been to the Sierra Nevada’s, you’re missing out. Gorgeous scenery, fresh mountain air, and wonderful hot springs are just a few of what’s on offer. After lounging around in the hot springs, I transported a family back to their cabin showing the father some of the cool features of the car. Yes, Audi, he is in the market for a new car.
Driving home to San Diego, my friend was utilizing the fact that the car is a wi-fi hotspot to get some work done on his laptop. Yes, there is way more technology in this car that I would need in general. For an executive who is on the road frequently, these are creature comforts that help make life a little easier. And yes, you can claim that you are driving a very efficient car. Simply put, getting into the 2014 Audi A7 TDI is like putting on custom suit. It always feels good and never gets old.
Places to Eat, Stay, & Go
Thomas Hill Organics, Paso Robles
Kitchen Door, Napa
H2 Hotel, Healdsburg
Napa River Inn, Napa
Quivira Winery, Healdsburg
Preston Vineyards, Healdsburg
Oxbow Public Market, Napa
Walter Wang is Managing Editor of CleanTechies. Follow Walter on Twitter: @energytaxprof