Why a hybrid?
The Volkswagen Touareg has always been a bit of an odd man out in the world of SUVs. It arrived to the party a bit late, and since it plays in a segment of the market that’s not exactly luxury, but certainly not entry-level, it doesn’t exactly have any direct competitors. That said, we’ve always enjoyed the Touareg. Now we’ve driven our first example of the new, second-generation Touareg, this time with VW’s first hybrid powertrain.
Doesn’t VW already have a high-mileage powertrain option for the Touareg? Yes, it does: in late 2008, VW introduced the current 3.0-liter V-6 TDI engine, which provides the outgoing Touareg with much more impressive fuel economy, lower emissions, and a more reasonable price than the outrageous V-10 TDI. As much as we like that engine in the Touareg, and as much as VW favors its diesel engines, we think a lot of consumers will be even more interested in the new Touareg Hybrid.
Supercharged V-6, 8-speed automatic, and a battery pack
With a combined 375 hp and 427 lb-ft of torque, the hybrid is supposed to offer the power of a gasoline V-8 with the fuel economy of a V-6 engine. Until VW releases EPA fuel economy numbers for the hybrid powertraink, we can only guess about the second half of that claim, but we’re in agreement about VW’s V-8 power claim after some time behind the wheel of the 2011 Touareg Hybrid in Italy. VW chose to pair the formidable 3.0-liter direct-injection supercharged V-6 engine we’ve recently come to love in Audi’s S4 and A6 models with an eight-speed automatic transmission and an electric motor for the Touareg Hybrid. We really appreciated the traditional automatic transmission during some spirited driving in the hills of Tuscany where a CVT would have left the engine droning along at a constant speed.
Transitions from gas to electric power and back are incredibly smooth with only a slight shudder as the clutch between the hybrid motor and transmission disengages and the V-6 fires back up. The transition is so seamless the average consumer probably won’t ever notice it unless they are driving in complete silence on a perfectly smooth surface. Since the electric motor is mounted between the engine and transmission in a parallel system, there’s never an electric whine when the Touareg is moved by the motor alone. Another benefit to the clutch arrangement is the ability to completely remove the drag on the driveline during coasting. This allows the Touareg to coast at speeds up to 99 mph while going down hills or coming to a stop without the engine running.
400 pounds lighter
Aside from the slightly perceptible shift from electric to gas power, we only noticed one other flaw with the Touareg. Like so many other vehicles with electric power steering, the Touareg (with any powertrain) gives up a bit of road feel through the wheel and there’s far too much boost dialed into the system. This was especially noticeable during highway driving. As part of the improved fuel economy and 400 or so pounds of weight savings, we can forgive the electric steering’s eccentricity, though: it’s the penalty for the privilege of driving a big SUV in today’s environmentally conscious world.
The TDI diesel returns
We know you’re wondering about the TDI engine option, and diesel fans have nothing to fear. Volkswagen is still going to sell the V-6 TDI here since it currently accounts for half of all Touareg sales. The theory is a hybrid Touareg will draw in new shoppers and hopefully add incremental sales instead of cannibalizing TDI or regular V-6 sales. With that said, there aren’t any clear sales expectations for the hybrid right now. VW doesn’t even know how much the hybrid will cost, even in relative terms, compared with its V-6 and TDI counterparts.
New styling inside and out
Despite the fact the 2011 Touareg looks very similar to its predecessor, the vehicle is almost entirely new. And like so many other recently introduced vehicles, it looks much better in person than in photographs. The front end looks more masculine and aggressive since the vehicle is lower and wider than before. Anyone riding in the back seat will appreciate the nearly two inches of extra wheelbase since that growth directly translated to increased legroom in the back seat.
Inside, the Touareg’s cabin materials are upgraded and a new navigation unit is standard across all trim levels. VW considerably reduced the number of configurations for the SUV with this redesign and there are now only three trim levels; the sole stand-alone option is a trailer hitch. Dealers complained that the 110-170 possible Touareg configurations were far too complex to keep in stock, so now there are only twelve variations plus the hybrid model. All hybrids are fully loaded except for the 20-inch wheels that are available on non-hybrid models because the hybrid-spec tires are only available for 19-inch rims.
Lots of tech, but it’s not all coming to the USA
We tested quite a few technologies in the European-spec Touaregs we sampled in Italy. Everything from active cruise control with stop and start ability to dynamic bi-xenon lighting and an around view camera system similar to what Land Rover offers is on the options sheet for Europeans. It seems like Volkswagen is still sorting out which electronic gadgets are worth offering in the litigious U.S. market, so we’ll give you a full overview of the technological advances the Touareg makes once the U.S. spec sheet is finalized.
On sale this fall, with all three powertrains
Volkswagen expects to have the 2011 Touareg models on sale this fall, perhaps in November. Sales begin in Europe this summer and all three powertrains will be available from day one for U.S. consumers.
Though the Touareg still stands more or less alone in the market, especially in hybrid trim, we’re happy to see it refreshed. Everything gets a little more refined, the interior is upgraded, it’s very quiet in the cabin, and 2/3 of the powertrain choices are green. If you’re going to be the odd man out, it’s best to bring your A-game, and that’s exactly what Volkswagen has done with the 2011 Touareg.
- 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid
- Engine: 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve supercharged V-6
- Horsepower: 333 @ 5500 rpm
- Torque: 324 lb-ft @ 3000-5250 rpm
- Electric Motor: 47 hp, 99 lb-ft of torque
- Maximum combined output: 375 hp, 425 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Drive: All-wheel
- L x W x H: 188.8in x 76.4in x 67.3in
- Cargo capacity (seats up/down): 15.3, 54.9 cu ft
- Curb Weight: 4500-5000 lb (est.)
- EPA Rating (city/highway): N/A