- Strong, high-mpg TDI
- More nimble, responsive feel
- Nicely upgraded interior
- Luxury price for a mainstream brand
- Relatively few high-tech options
- Hard to make an argument for the Hybrid
The 2011 Volkswagen Touareg has dropped some of its ruggedness in favor of the comfort suburban families want—but it's still not quite a rival to luxury-brand utes.
The Volkswagen Touareg might be named after a nomadic people inhabiting North Africa, but for 2011 it trades in some of its rugged, off-road image this year for a focus on suburban families; VW has redesigned the Touareg, making it lighter and better-detailed inside, while a new Touareg Hybrid model joins the clean-diesel Touareg TDI as higher-mileage alternatives to a base gasoline V-6.
The 2011 Touareg is 450 pounds lighter and 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the model it replaces, according to Volkswagen, and a new Touareg Hybrid model allows it to hit an EPA-rated 20 mpg in the city.
The Touareg has been fully redesigned, with the new look adding more carlike details and toning down the ruggedness a bit. On the outside, a new grille and front end design are much more like that used in Volkswagen's car lineup. Overall, the Touareg is slightly wider, though not as tall, as the previous model, but a longer wheelbase and more overall length result in more interior space; given those changes, overall the Touareg keeps a silhouette that's much like that of the outgoing model. Inside, the Touareg keeps more of the same with respect to layout—a high seating position, with an upright orientation to the instrument panel and a high, wide center console—but trims and materials have been upgraded.
With three powertrains on offer in the 2011 Touareg, you have a choice between standard gasoline or two different shades of green, both at a slight premium. A conventional gasoline V-6—actually a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower version of VW's VR6—is the base engine, then there's also a clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI that makes 225 horsepower, or a new Hybrid, which combines a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with an electric traction motor for total power of 380 horsepower.
All three Touareg models use a new eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard. In the hybrid model, the electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and the transmission, with clutches on either end so that the electric motor can power the vehicle by itself under light load, at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. The Touareg Hybrid model incorporates a start-stop system and regenerative braking; and the hybrid system allows the transmission to smartly—and completely—disengage from the engine, to allow coasting long distances at higher speed.
The 2011 Touareg is about the same size as the outgoing version, yet Volkswagen has worked some magic with seating and made the interior a much better place. That's good, as the former version's interior was surprisingly tight for such a large vehicle. The new rear bench that can travel more than six inches fore and aft. In all, you can very comfortably fit four for a long trip, or five adults for a night out if backseat occupants don't mind contact. Cargo space is quite good, too; what's more, a power-folding arrangement can easily reposition to a fully flat cargo floor.
Those upscale prices demand an upscale cabin, and the Touareg has that. Materials have been fully revamped, and while the Touareg might be in synch with other VW models with respect to design, it's appointed with nicely finished materials that share more in common with Audi.
All models but the base Sport also get leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, and memory seats. Executive and Hybrid models add premium audio, rear-obstacle detection, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, and heated rear seats. Exclusive to the Hybrid model is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel.
What the Touareg is missing, feature-wise, are the sophisticated high-tech conveniences of the luxury-brand models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus that it's priced against—items like adaptive cruise control and more sophisticated infotainment features. Considering that, a fully loaded Touareg feels pricey, as well as a little pointless given the competitive set.