2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid
Short Take Road Test

After a quick, horrified look at the pricing sheet, you might assume that Volkswagen wants to keep buyers away from its Touareg hybrid and steer them into a Touareg TDI. The hybrid’s base price is $12,615 higher than that of  VW’s crusading, hyper-efficient diesel and just $7290 short of a Porsche Cayenne S hybrid’s. But spend any amount of time in this re­sculpted mega-Dub with the dual-source powertrain, and you’re left marveling at how VW  has managed to integrate so much technology—the cause of many a Veyron-like moment of stupefaction—into something that costs just $61,385.

Because what the Touareg hybrid does is make good on the much-hyped but never-before-delivered promise of the perform­ance hybrid, the ol’ “V-8 power with V-6 efficiency!” canard. Unlike the Lexus and BMW leprechauns struggling to simultaneously maximize mpg and acceleration, the VW’s achievements can be summed up concisely: 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds and an EPA combined fuel-economy rating of 21 mpg (only 1 mpg less than the Touareg TDI’s).

How does it do it? The powertrain’s basic layout mimics Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist, with the engine, the electric motor, and the transmission laid out in a neat line. But it differs substantially from there: The VW parts are oriented north-south versus Honda’s east-west layout, and an electronically controlled clutch slots in between the engine and the electric motor to sever the V-6’s ties to the driveline. The clutching operation is barely noticeable; you have to watch the tach fall gently to zero to be sure the engine is out of  the loop.

In electric mode—with two people on board, the HVAC off, and the cruise control holding 30 mph—we measured a max electric-only operating distance of 1.4 miles, starting with a full 10-bar battery-charge display (battery capacity is 1.7 kWh, or roughly one-tenth of  the Chevy Volt’s). On a level road, we were able to sneak up to 35 mph on electric power alone.

While all that helps to account for the Touareg hybrid’s frugality, the silent heroes here are the engine and the transmission. The automatic ’box  has eight forward speeds and a superwide spread between its 4.92:1 first and 0.69:1 top gears. Neither does the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6  leave anything on the table: It’s a small-displacement, variable-valve-timed, stop-starting, direct-injected, high-compression (10.5:1) white paper on the future of internal combustion. All in, total system output is 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque, 22 more pound-feet than the TDI version.

Everything’s wrapped in an envelope that appears tidier (thanks to its reduced height and increased width) but is actually longer than its predecessor, with an additional 1.5 inches between the axles. VW also cured some of the original’s persistent failings by  unspooking the steering, improving the nav system, and barrel-aging  the ride for extra smoothness. In fact, the Touareg floats more dreamily and with better discipline than even the Lexus RX450h, while positively spanking it through corners. Even the brakes’ feedback is natural, as VW has done a stellar job of smoothing the transitions between regen-deceleration and friction braking. Liabilities? The seat bottoms seem contoured for the wider hips of the fairer sex and need some additional lateral bolstering. On bright days, the piano-black trim on the steering wheel can direct concentrated bolts of sunlight into your optic nerves. And it wouldn’t be a VW without some small electronic malfunction—in our case, it was a remote-operated liftgate that would only fully open maybe one-third of  the time.

But the biggest liability is implied in the word “hybrid”: a price you’ll never recoup in gas savings. That said, the hybrid comes with all the available goodies save the ­Dynaudio system, 20-inch wheels, and a tow package; a similarly optioned Touareg V-6 Sport would cost $54,820. Try to find another SUV for $61,385  that does the 0-to-60 sprint in less than six seconds, tows  7700 pounds, and can get 21 mpg, and you’ll begin to see what VW was thinking with that lofty sticker price.