First Drive: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

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.

Seamless driving
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.

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