2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid review:

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

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In any trim, the Touareg is one of Volkswagen's most luxurious cars, which also explains its pricing. And the hybrid version comes standard with just about everything. The cabin is neatly trimmed with soft-touch materials and leather. The various switches have a solid feel, something more than thin plastic. The Touareg Hybrid seems to borrow a little luxury from sister brand Audi.

The Touareg Hybrid also comes standard with a new Volkswagen cabin tech suite. Last year, Volkswagen launched its new Jetta with a decent new navigation system, but the Touareg Hybrid gets the deluxe version, with hard-drive-stored maps showing 3D rendered buildings and integrated traffic information.

The navigation system's maps use 3D details for buildings in major cities and topographical features to show elevation.

A set of buttons below the touch screen gives quick access to navigation, the Bluetooth phone system, and the stereo. A knob in the center lets you zoom the map or make selections from a list, but the touch-screen menus are the main interface. The touch screen proved satisfyingly responsive to input.

Drivers can use the voice command system to enter destinations, although unlike with some of the newest of these systems, you have to enter each part of the address individually, rather than speaking the entire address string and letting the car parse the elements. An onscreen keyboard also works well for entering parts of an address, especially if you have a street name the system cannot recognize.

The car's phone system offers a solid set of features, most importantly making the phone's contact list available through voice command. The interface for the system looks good, and is in keeping with the overall design.

The stereo really stands out in this system, offering more audio sources than most. There is about 18GB of music storage on the car's hard drive, and Volkswagen's proprietary media interface port in the glove box. The Touareg Hybrid comes with a bag full of cables that plug into this port, offering iPhone, Mini-USB, standard USB, and 1/8-inch audio connectivity.

There is also Bluetooth audio streaming, satellite radio, and a CD player with two SD card slots in its face. About the only audio source the Touareg Hybrid is missing is HD radio.

The stereo offers just about every modern audio source imaginable.

Inconveniently, the media interface port sits in the back of the glove box, making it nearly impossible to access from the driver seat. Likewise, the CD player is hidden in the top of the glove box, a pull tab making it slowly drop down like a James Bond accessory. It seems that Volkswagen wants you to load any discs or MP3 players while the car is stopped.

The onscreen interface is equally good for all these sources, but the really cool thing is that Volkswagen's voice command system plays music when you request a specific artist or album name. And better than other systems, which require you to specify whether it is an artist or album name you are requesting, you need merely say the name of an album or artist, without any preface, to have the system figure it out. However, it does not let you request individual song tracks, playlists, or genres.

Volkswagen offers an optional premium Dynaudio speaker system in other Touareg trims, but the Touareg Hybrid gets left behind in this regard. However, its eight-speaker system sounds very good, with finely detailed reproduction. The system is a little short on bass and lacks a certain richness, but it does wonders with acoustic and vocal tracks. Intense treble can get shrill, but it was overall a very pleasing-sounding system.

In sum
With its supercharged direct-injection engine and hybrid system, the power train of the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg is seriously advanced, giving the vehicle breathtaking power and good fuel economy for its size. The only drawback of this system is its uneven acceleration at low speeds. The eight-speed transmission is another impressive component of the performance tech, as is the electrohydraulic power steering. The suspension is good, if lacking any high-tech elements, and the Touareg Hybrid gets extra credit for its four-wheel drive system.

The Touareg Hybrid also stands out for its cabin tech suite, a long-awaited improvement from Volkswagen. The navigation system shows lush 3D maps, and the audio system offers all the sources you could ask for. The Bluetooth audio system is full-featured, and the voice command system shows up with some unexpected, pleasant surprises. The Touareg Hybrid could benefit from a blind-spot detection system and the option of rear-seat entertainment.

As for the cabin tech interface, Volkswagen hits it out of the park for both usability and style. Going further, a screen on the instrument cluster offers access to most of the major cabin tech features through steering wheel controls. Of course, the Touareg Hybrid has that SUV practicality, with plenty of room inside. Its exterior look is nice without being groundbreaking.

Tech specs
Model 2011 Volkswagen Touareg
Trim Supercharged Hybrid
Power train Supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, 1.7kWh nickel metal hydride full hybrid system
EPA fuel economy 20 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 20.5 mpg
Navigation Hard-drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single CD/DVD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth audio streaming, SD card, USB drive, Mini-USB connector, satellite radio
Audio system 8-speaker audio system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $60,565
Price as tested $61,385

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