If you drove a Touareg from a few model years ago and were surprised to find that it drove like a much larger vehicle, you might want to take another look. For 2011, Volkswagen redesigned and reengineered the Touareg and cut an astonishing 450 pounds from this vehicle. It no longer feels as tanklike, as you might guess; fuel-efficiency and performance are better, too.
Eight-speed automatic transmissions and full-time four-wheel drive are the building blocks in the powertrain department, while under the hood there are three quite different engine choices. Base versions get a conventional gasoline V-6--a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower narrow-angle V-6 (VR6)--while two other versions show the way toward both more power and better gas mileage, albeit at a premium. The gasoline V-6 in the base Touareg is plenty quick, thanks in part to the eight-speed, which keeps revs up when you need it (it's not much of an engine for low-end torque), 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.
Those who plan to tow (capacity is 7,700 pounds for all engines), or those who are motivated by the idea of much better mileage on the highway will want to head straight for the clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI. It's our favorite of the lineup, with its strong torque output (407 lb-ft) and confident feel for towing or highway cruising. And for 2013 a new version of this engine steps up to 240 hp and even better fuel efficiency (19 mpg city, 28 highway).
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. In this model, an electric motor system 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 Touareg is still no crisp handler—few crossovers are, really—but it's now as nimble and responsive as many of its rivals.
For those who want a hardier level of off-road capability, there's a Terrain Tech option package that brings specialized off-road modes and an air suspension.