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2011 VW Touareg: Upward Mobility Weighs Less

Refinement:  2011 Touareg

Refinement: 2011 Touareg

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VW's 2011 Touareg:  A lower, leaner lap-of-luxury SUV

Ask Dr. Jochen Boehle a Touareg-related question; you'll get an answer.  Want to know VW's SUV diet secret that dropped nearly 350 lbs?   He'll direct your attention to a svelte fuel infill valve.  It's just one tiny example of VW's impressive grosser wagen makeover.

Herr Doktor developed the first Touareg; VW produced 500,000 of those off-road oriented buggies.  This time around, his boss, Dr. Martin Winterkorn, set higher mpg as one goal.  According to Boehle, the original idea was to simply "reskin" the previous SUV.  What unfolded, however, was a  "friendly battle."   He argued that only a completely new platform would meet VW's objectives.

Dr. Boehle shows Chicago journalists his Touareg masterpiece

Dr. Boehle shows Chicago journalists his Touareg masterpiece

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Boehle won.  The result: a sleeker Touareg that VW's David Sweet says is "an alternative to a luxury sedan."   Translation:  no third-row, an on-road oriented machine.  It has improved comfort, more interior room and added customer-oriented features like a sliding rear seat that now folds with a single release lever.  The latter might not sound revolutionary.  Nonetheless, it represents a major shift for the people-car company.  For years folding a VW's rear seat presented Americans with an inflexible Rube Goldberg maze.  Now, it's a snap-another customer-oriented feature.

Touaregs come in three trims:  Sport, Luxury and Executive with 18-inch, 19-inch and 20-inch wheels respectively.  The exception:  the Hybrid rides on low rolling resistance 19-inch tires carrying the Executive treatment.

Keeping with the triple-play theme, VW offers three power plants:  a 280-hp FSI V6 (a 3.6-liter version of V-Dub's narrow angle VR6 with direct injection), a 225-hp 3.0 liter TDI (direct-injection turbo diesel) and something new a parallel hybrid. This "Voltswagen's" motivation: a supercharged 333-hp 3.0-liter V6 and a 47-hp electric motor.  Total horsepower: 380.   According to the Dr., this latter setup provides V8-like performance but consumes less fuel than the V6.

Chicago press inspect VW's 2011 Touareg

Chicago press inspect VW's 2011 Touareg

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Each mill churns four wheels via an eight-speed automatic.  And each can tow 7,700 lbs.  That's ohne (without) the former Touareg's "creepy-crawler" two-speed transfer case.  Now you get two high gears for ultra-low engine rpm.  Torque is plentiful too.  The diesel pulls:  406 ft-lbs.  There's a meaningful bump up in fuel economy (four mpg on the base FSI and three on the TDI) and a concomitant drop in measured emissions.  EPA numbers:  16 mpg city/19 combined/23 highway (FSI), 19/22/28 (TDI) and 21/23/25 (Hybrid).

Standard features include LED running lights, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, auto-hold brakes, navigation/entertainment system with hard drive (mine played funky German-themed music).  Interior trimmings are sumptuous with supportive seating front and rear.  A panoramic sunroof is optional.   Six airbags, active head restraints and an assortment of mobility aids (ABS, ASR and ESC) enhance this SUV's safety.

Price:  $44,500 for starters; the Hybrid tops $60,000.

The Sport FSI tester's three-spoke steering wheel provides a livelier interface between man and this machine than the old one's truck-like four-spoke hoop.  At low speeds, wheel winding is effortless; it firms up providing adequate decent feedback on my suburban parkway loop.  VW claims the speed-dependent variable-ratio direction finder is "more directly configured across the entire steering stroke."  With its reduced overall weight, lower ride height and quieter power delivery, the new Touareg is an altogether better go-getter.

Underneath the 2011 Touareg, you'll find suspension components borrowed from the old one.  Inside, the dashboard's instruments evoke the old as well (its tranny indicator is tiny).  Take one for a spin; the Dokter delivered an improved luxury SUV.

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