No lightweight despite losing a few hundreds pounds for the 2011 model year, the VW Touareg is certainly better off for its big drop. It's more nimble, with better road manners on pavement, and still offers a package to please hardcore off-roaders who care to muss up its expensive body panels.
A trio of powertrains give the Touareg a few distinct personalities. The base V-6 is powered by regular old gasoline: it's a 3.6-liter V-6, with 280 horsepower. For more money, more exotic choices are offered in the form of the turbodiesel-equipped Touareg TDI, with its 225 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, and the Touareg Hybrid, with its gas-and-electric combination netting out at 380 hp. Both of the latter options are considerably more expensive than the base six, and one of them makes eminently more sense than the other.
Simply put, thanks to the weight loss, that gasoline V-6 now offers a different driving experience: It seems lighter, louder, and quicker, and unless you're a green-minded shopper willing to pay thousands extra for a slightly lower carbon footprint, it's fine for most tasks. The Hybrid doesn't make much fiscal sense to us, for the performance you get or for its $15k higher sticker price. Meanwhile, the Hybrid's 380 horses and 428 lb-ft of torque is enough to scoot out from a stop nicely, but it feels more sluggish and deliberate in its motions. With the gasoline engine, the Touareg feels more responsive to the foot, with plenty of passing punch. The TDI offers the best fuel economy and intrigues us the most: it definitely has impressive torque output and remains the choice for anyone who's planning to tow.
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.
Ride quality is good for most road use no matter if you go with the standard suspension or the available air suspension in off-road versions, and the cabin stays quite well isolated from road noise. The 2011 Touareg is still no crisp handler, but it's now as nimble and responsive as many of its rivals.
As for the former Touareg's serious off-road-worthy 4XMotion system? It's still available as a Terrain Tech option package, which also brings specialized modes and an air suspension. The new Touareg can be specified to levels of rock-scrambling and mud-churning close to those of the previous model, but it's no longer built into all of them.
Those who tow will note that the maximum towing capacity is 7,700 lbs for all three engines.