2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid: First Drive

VW Touareg Hybrid - Front ViewToyota Motor Sales better get in the game. Quick.

Yet another manufacturer has launched yet another hybrid that is infinitely better than anything the previous hybrid king has put out in recent years.

Exit Lexus RX 450h. Enter the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid.

As far as first drives go, I didn’t have nearly enough drive time in this all-new SUV. Only about 30 minutes behind the wheel and another 30 minutes as a passenger.

VW Touareg Hybrid - dashboardSurely not enough time to get a realistic gauge of fuel economy over a period of time. My partner and I averaged just more than 20 mpg in combined driving, which is just under the VW estimated ratings of 21 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. (At the time of publication, the EPA had not yet completed their official fuel economy values.)

It was, however, plenty of time to get a solid first impression. And to realize that Toyota is facing a serious competitor.

The Touareg Hybrid comes equipped with a 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6 engine that, when combined with the electric motor, delivers a total output of 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque. Compare that to the RX’s total output of 295 horsepower.

I suppose you could say the trade off is fuel economy, though, because the EPA estimates for the front-wheel drive Lexus hybrid are 32/28 mpg. But I don’t think VW minds too much. In many ways they see this powertrain as not only an entry into the hybrid world but also a complete replacement for the V-8 engine.

VW Touareg Hybrid - rear-view-cameraThe nickel metal-hydride battery pack is fitted beneath the luggage compartment in the rear, which means there is no spare tire. But it also means that cargo volume isn’t compromised either—not a single cubic-foot is lost.

And the hybrid system itself is pretty phenomenal. We did a drive route that included city streets as well as long highway straightaways. So, there was ample opportunity to check out the regenerative braking and experience the switch between gas and electric-only driving.

The gasoline engine itself is really quiet, so I found it difficult to tell exactly when the engine was turning on an off. It was easier during hard acceleration. But when you glide up past 30 mph and the vehicle switches from electric-only operation to gasoline engine assisted, there was just a minor blip that seemed more like a gearshift than an engine flipping on.

VW Touareg Hybrid - sunroofTouareg is all new for 2011, and the hybrid is joined by a 3.0-liter V-6 TDI and a 3.6-liter V-6 gasoline models. All models are equipped with VW’s first 8-speed automatic transmission.

The new Touareg follows the design direction of the 2011 Jetta, which is more stodgy and conservative than fresh and exciting. The interior is nicely appointed and even at a base level ($47,950), the Touareg comes equipped with standard features like navigation, iPod connectivity, satellite radio, heated front seats, Bluetooth and V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces.

All models—including the hybrid—can tow up to 7,700 pounds when equipped with the factory installed tow package. The RX can only tow 3,500 pounds.

VW Touareg Hybrid - rear viewThe one saving grace that the Lexus hybrid has (and it’s a biggy) is the pricing. The Touareg Hybrid comes fully loaded without a pared down version. Thus pricing for this psuedo-luxury hybrid is a whopping $60,565. Ouch. The RX has a base price of $43,235, and when you spec it out with comparable equipment, the final price rings in around $52K. Still well short of the Touareg Hybrid’s price tag.

I think that VW has done a great job with this new iteration of the Touareg. It’s attractive if boring, well appointed and well powered. But that hybrid price tag is going to be tough to swallow for a VW. Even if it is a premium SUV with a stellar hybrid powertrain.

– Jill Ciminillo

Drive She Said

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