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2011 VW Toureg Hybrid Preview: A Voltswagen?

VW's Dr. Jochen Boehle is a no nonsense car guy.  You'd expect this buttoned down German to be all facts and figures extolling VW's first hybrid's reduced carbon footprint-you know...techno talk about saving the Black Forest yada yada yada.

Dr. Jochen Boehle

Dr. Jochen Boehle

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Instead, he brags about this vehicle's robust towing capacity (7,700 lbs).  What animates him the most, however, is the Touareg Hybrid's "best take-off performance."  Faster than Demi Moore or Pandora Peaks (.6 seconds), the electric motor kicks in an additional 47 hp plus 221 ft.-lbs of torque for max acceleration.  This propels tongue-twister Touareg SUV from zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds.  Other vital figures:  333-hp supercharged V6, 380 hp combined and 428-ft.-lbs max combined torque.

The doctor's advice: "floor it."  Well when the doctor says, "step on it," you do.  I was only modestly impressed.  Yes, it provides V8-like thrust, but nothing like grown-up Mitsubishi Evolution.  When the doctor heard about this complaint, he prescribed Viagra.  "Put the shifter in ‘S'; try it again," he advised.  I did.  And indeed, this Touareg goes.

Many hybrids have limited high-speed capabilities; not this one.  Its top speed is essentially drag limited.  What's under the hood: a supercharged V6 that motivates (the ICE).  Unlike Toyota's Synergy Drive, which uses a planetary gear set for propulsion, VW's hybrid has a parallel drive setup.  There are two clutches.  One is between the ICE and the compact electric motor.  Another is between the electric motor and the eight-speed transmission.  With these two clutches it's possible for either the engine the electric motor separately or together to become this hybrid's power source.

The hybrid's heart

The hybrid's heart

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Thus one can ambulate via the electric motor up to about 32 mph, then the ICE gently kicks in.  An E-Mode, added after clinics showed customers preferred stealthy morning getaways, extends electric-only mobility to 1.5 miles.  When decelerating, this Hybrid coasts.  It behaves a lot like a freewheeling Saab 96 (remember those?).  The clutches disengage, allowing the engine to shut off.  This saves fuel and reduces tailpipe toxins.  If you're braking, that energy can recharge the aft-mounted Sanyo-supplied 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack.

A stop/start feature automatically shuts down the engine rather than idling it while waiting at, say, a stoplight.  Electrically operated components (air conditioning or hydraulic power steering pump) further improve fuel economy and reduce emissions under city driving conditions.  A ready light confirms that the Touareg is "on."

Unlike many other Hybrids, VW's doesn't focus on fancy factoid screens depicting leaves, trees or other graphical representations of your low-emission driving.  It does have the obligatory power transfer display, though.  And one can select mpg figures from the standard trip computer.

More tidbits:  Unlike Ford's Escape hybrid that sounds like electric traction streetcar due to noises such as the battery-cooling fans in the back, VV's hybrid is doesn't draw attention to its electrified motivation.  Why?  One reason, says Dr. Boehle, is the fact that his hybrid's batteries are cooled by routing air from the passenger compartment.  This means chilled interior air does the trick permitting whisper-quiet operation.  The motor is water cooled too.  After a cold-weather start, the ICE runs heating the interior before the Touareg ambulates in E-mode.

One VW objective: developing a hybrid that has "mechanical-like driving feel."    Indeed, other than the tachometer dropping to zero when you take your foot off the gas, this hybrid doesn't announce its electrified "heart" or electronic controls.  Steering action, aided by hydraulic assist feels properly weighted and has some road sense-something missing in most hybrids.

While the Dr.'s techno-savvy SUV is an intriguing--high-performance that's lighter in terms of its environmental impact, it's expensive medicine.  VW admits it's a ‘halo' product.  Available only in sumptuous Executive trim, this SUV's all-wheel-drive setup tackles roads with all their toppings.  It lists for about $60,500.  EPA numbers:  21 mpg city, 25 hwy and 23 combined.  It's an alternative to a premium V8-powered SUV.
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