Volkswagen's Touareg Hybrid shows up with jaw-dropping technology under the hood, and an impressive cabin tech suite as well. The full model name, the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Supercharged Hybrid, includes a few terms not usually found together. Yes, this Touareg not only gets gas-electric hybrid propulsion, but also a supercharger on the engine.
Throwing every power-train technology at Volkswagen's disposal into this car results in the most powerful Touareg in the company's lineup, although not necessarily the most fuel-efficient. Current Touareg models include the supercharged hybrid, a 3-liter TDI V-6, and a 3.6-liter gasoline V-6. The hybrid gets an EPA rating of 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, and the TDI brackets those numbers with 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. The mundane gas-only Touareg comes up short with 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
But it does not seem as if Volkswagen's engineers had fuel economy foremost in their thoughts when they designed the Touareg Hybrid, as this vehicle boasts an astounding total system output of 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque. Even the TDI Touareg can't match that torque number.
With the transmission in Sport mode and a lead foot on the gas pedal, every bit of that power is felt as the Touareg rockets forward. The engine in the Touareg Hybrid is essentially the same as used in the Audi S4, a supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6, which by itself generates 333 horsepower. The hybrid system includes a 34-kilowatt electric motor integrated between engine and transmission, and a 1.7-kilowatt-hour nickel metal hydride battery pack situated near the rear wheels.
The heart of the Touareg Hybrid is a supercharged direct-injection 3-liter V-6 like that used in the Audi S4.
The battery pack is about the only power-train tech in the Touareg Hybrid that lags slightly behind the competition, as the latest hybrids are coming out with lithium ion battery packs.
Despite the car's breathtaking Sport acceleration, putting the transmission in normal Drive mode results in a very different driving experience. The gas pedal feels detuned, and acceleration is more difficult to modulate. Merely letting off the brake lets the Touareg creep forward under electric power. Moderate pressure on the gas pedal tends to make the Touareg lunge, and it becomes difficult to control at low speeds or in stop-and-go traffic.
Along with letting the engine shut off at traffic stops and while coasting at speeds of up to 99 mph, the hybrid system can also propel the car using just electric power. But the Touareg Hybrid is heavy, making it very difficult to feather the pedal lightly enough to actually make the car go forward without having the engine come on.
To prove this can be a short-distance electric vehicle, Volkwagen placed an E-mode button on the console. Press it, and the Touareg Hybrid refrains from burning any gas, at least up to about 32 mph, or until the battery becomes so discharged that the engine must take over.
A dial for on- and off-road settings sits next to the E-mode button on the console.
The console also holds a dial with on- and off-road settings. The Touareg Hybrid comes standard with four-wheel drive, a completely automatic system that defaults to a 40 percent front-60 percent rear torque split. But switching it to off-road mode merely adjusts the traction control and drivetrain programs; the Touareg Hybrid's conventional suspension sits at a fixed height.
Going over rough country roads, the car felt very capable, absorbing big bumps easily without too much cabin rocking. Volkswagen says the Touareg Hybrid has a ground clearance of 7.9 inches and can ford water to a depth of 19.7 inches. Driving through some sections of flooded roads created by recent California storms, the Touareg Hybrid plowed through, sending water spraying off to the sides.
An electrohydraulic power steering mechanism keeps the steering wheel movable even when the engine shuts down. Although the four-wheel-drive system helps in cornering, the Touareg Hybrid shows typical SUV handling. It understeers in turns, and its large body, raised up on its suspension, leads to body roll that is partially counteracted by antisway equipment.
With eight gears, this automatic transmission gives the Touareg Hybrid's power train an easy time finding its optimal range.
Sport mode with the eight-speed automatic transmission helps keep the power on, and there is also a manual shift mode. In keeping with the vehicle's character, Sport mode is not all that aggressive, and manual gear changes are typically sluggish for an automatic. Those eight gears really come into play cruising at 65 or 70 mph, when the engine, when it is actually on, can keep its speed around 2,000rpm, helping save gas.
Volkswagen's new look
Although the new Touareg Hybrid weighs in at over 5,000 pounds, Volkswagen took some steps to lighten the load, such as using some aluminum in the suspension. The overall look of the vehicle is less SUV and more modern crossover. The strong lateral lines of the grille, which blend into the headlight apertures, are part of Volkswagen's new design language. Also part of this language are the clean lines of the body. Rather than creases, the Touareg Hybrid features impressions of lines, just a smooth pinch in the sides.
Volkswagen's new design language incorporates simple lines, along with this grille that blends into the headlight apertures.
But the Touareg Hybrid remains practical, offering seating for five and a large cargo area. And in SUV style, it sits up high, affording occupants a good view of the road. A rearview camera, complete with distance and trajectory lines, aids in parking, but Volkswagen should also offer a blind-spot detection system.
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.
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.
|Model||2011 Volkswagen Touareg|
|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|
|Price as tested||$61,385|