Review: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TSI Hybrid
By Kevin Miller
In today’s US marketplace, there are two different types of products available from Volkswagen. On one hand is the US-only, de-contented Jetta and NMS/Passat, engineered to exclude rich features and increase sales volumes. On the other hand are vehicles like the new Touareg. Following in the footsteps of the first-generation Touareg and the Phaeton sedan, the new Touareg Hybrid is incredibly high-tech and feature-rich; that fact is reflected on the window sticker.
The Hybrid is at the top of the Touareg trim levels, boasting 380 HP with a starting price north of $60k. All three Touareg versions feature Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and 8-speed automatic transmissions. Not available in the US is the European model’s 4XMotion system which includes a low-range transfer case and height-adjustable air suspension; instead, all US-bound Touareg models have a rotary switch to select “ON ROAD” or “OFF ROAD” terrain settings. The Touareg Hybrid also has a button marked “E-Mode” which selects more efficient driving characteristics; it dulls throttle response and shift points for the sake of efficiency and allows the SUV to operate exclusively on electricity at low speeds.
From the outside, the Touareg is easily identifiable as a member of the Volkswagen family, with its [rather unexciting] horizontal-bar grille framing a large VW symbol, flanked by de-rigeur LED daytime running lights (and steerable Xenon headlamps), nice-looking 19” alloy wheels, and taillamps reminiscent of those found on Volkswagen’s Golf. Subtle chrome Hybrid badges are found on the grille, liftgate, and the driver and front passenger doors. Though no particular feature on the exterior stands out as spectacular, the Touareg Hybrid nevertheless has a premium, muscular look.
Climbing inside, the rich leather-upholstered driver and passenger seats in the Touareg are notably comfortable, with twelve-way power adjustable including power lumbar support and four-way manual headrest adjustment. Each front seat has three-position memory settings and three-level heating. The memory setting for the driver’s seat also memorizes the mirror and electrically-adjustable (and heated) steering wheel positions.
The cabin has plenty of storage up front, with two cupholders, a storage compartment between the front seats, a large glove box (with hidden, retractable CD player), deep door bins, and a small storage compartment on the leading edge of each front seat’s bottom cushion. Storage in the back seat was not quite as generous, with seatback pockets, two cupholders in the center armrest, and small door bins with non-flat bottoms.
Instruments are clear, with white illumination and a very nice, high-resolution color display located between the large tachometer and speedometer. Similar to screens found in BMW 5-and 7-series vehicles, the color screen offers redundant views of telephone, navigation, vehicle, and audio information; the display is controlled by a four-way rocker switch located on the steering wheel’s right spoke.
While the Touareg doesn’t offer a rotary controller like Audi’s MMI or BMW’s iDrive, the big SUV’s high-resolution infotainment touchscreen mounted in the center of the dash has at least as many functions to browse through as the aforementioned systems, in sub-menu after sub-menu. Everything from footwell illumination brightness (adjustable in 5% increments) to climate-control and unlocking preferences can be selected using the Touareg’s touchscreen. The system has a voice command for common functions, and allows voice dialing from the address book of a connected Bluetooth phone as well as command of audio systems. While similar in function to Ford’s SYNC system, the voice command system isn’t quite as versatile with functions such as speaking an address for destination entry. Of course, the SYNC system I tested last autumn in a Lincoln MKX crossover had problems with response delay and navigation freezes; the Touareg didn’t have any such problems.
The Touareg offers plenty of headroom, legroom, and shoulder room in both the front and back seats, and all four outboard seating positions offer three-level heating. The LATCH attachment points were easy to locate and use for securing child seats. The rear seats can fold forward in 40/20/40 split configuration, though folding those seats forward doesn’t result in a completely flat cargo surface. The rear seatbacks can be folded from the cargo area using a power-actuated release, or from the second row.
Out back, the large cargo area is accessed by a power-operated liftgate, which opens tall enough for my 6’4” body to stand under without stooping. The liftgate can be operated from the key fob, a switch inside the driver’s door, or from the liftgate handle. A retractable cargo cover deploys over the generously-sized cargo hold to conceal luggage. Under the cargo floor is where the hybrid’s battery pack resides, with a small air compressor nestled in next to it in place of a spare tire.
In my driving, I consistently found brake feel through the Touareg’s regenerative brakes to be inconsistent, as is unfortunately true with many hybrid vehicles. The brakes were sometimes super grabby, and sometimes unexpectedly non-grabby, leading me to stop beyond my intended point (fortunately never with a solid object in front of me). I actually wrote in my logbook that the “transition between regen and friction brakes is tragic,” with brakes impossible to operate smoothly.
Acceleration from a stop sometimes suffered from significant lag too… rolling to a stop at a stop-sign and then accelerating away, the ICE was shut off and took two beats to restart, leaving me with the pedal to the floor waiting for the Touareg to start moving. At speed, acceleration from the supercharged V6 was brisk, and cruising down the highway even at speeds exceeding 60 MPH , the tachometer would drop to zero, showing the Touareg was being propelled by inertia and and the electric motor. Selecting the transmission’s Sport mode made the eight-speed transmission very responsive to throttle inputs, hastening the always-smooth downshifts. The Touareg Hybrid would often cruise through parking lots in electric mode, but as soon as I stopped in a parking stall and put the gear selector in Park, the ICE restarted, which made no sense to me. Too, the electric power steering felt over-boosted, with a lack of on-center feel that led to my making constant corrections on the freeway, finding myself driving on the lane markers far too often.
So I wasn’t a fan of the Hybrid powertrain, but I really liked the Touareg otherwise. Expensive-feeling soft-touch plastics are used on the dashboard and door tops; the steering wheel, shifter, and seats are covered in leather that actually feels supple, and real wood warms up the console, dash and doors. These materials put to shame the Audi A5 that replaced the Touareg in the Techshake Garage (let alone other luxury crossovers such as the Lincoln MKX); so much for Audi being Volkswagen Group’s premium brand.
The Touareg family starts at $44,450 for the base VR6 model with a 280 HP six cylinder, and steps up to $47,950 for the 225 HP TDI (diesel) version. The Hybrid comes standard with most of the features available in the $9,550 Exectutive Package on less-expensive Touareg models, and I really appreciated the keyless entry/starting, and liked the enormous panoramic glass roof, which has a power-retractable sunshade and glass that goes back beyond the rear seat passengers’ heads, and opens beyond the front seat; that sunroof kept the very black cabin from feeling too somber. Rear doors have built-in window shades to supplement their tinted glass, and there is a child lock actuator on the driver’s door for each rear door that locks out both the window operation and the interior door handle.
My Tungsten Silver Metallic Touareg Hybrid tester had standard equipment including Volkswagen’s RNS 850 touchscreen radio/navigation system with single disc player, Bluetooth phone connectivity, iPod/Media input and rearview camera; Bi-Xenon headlamps; dual-zone climate control, Keyless access with pushbutton start; rain-sensing wipers. Without any available options, the Touareg Hybrid has an MSRP of $60,565. Including the $820 destination fee to get the car all the way from its assembly plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, to you local Volkswagen dealer, the total price was $61,385. That’s $3,065 more than a similarly-equipped Touareg TDI. Note that a similarly-equipped Lexus RX 450h hybrid has an MSRP of $57,575 according to TrueDelta.com, though it has 245 HP compared to the Touareg Hybrid’s 380 HP, and a 30/28 city/highway EPA rating compared to the Touareg Hybrid’s 20/24 rating.
The Hybrid is the most powerful of Touareg models, but not the most efficient. That crown goes to the TDI, which boasts an EPA rating of 19/28 MPG compared to the Hybrid’s 20/24 rating. Even the “base” 3.6 liter has a rating of 16/23 MPG, which isn’t that far from the Hybrid’s rating. In 250 miles behind the wheel in a suburbs-heavy week of driving, I managed to return an average of just 18.7 miles per gallon of (required) premium fuel. That being the case, why opt for the Hybrid?
The failure of Honda’s Accord Hybrid to catch on in the market as a "performance hybrid" might have been a cautionary tale to Volkswagen. Though the word “hybrid” seems to have certain cachet to US buyers, Volkswagen needs to be careful in its marketing message for the Touareg line, and specifically for the V6 TSI Hybrid. It’s not just a Volkswagen, it’s a Touareg. And it’s not just a Touareg, but it’s the fastest one. It’s a performance SUV, with weird brakes and an unconventional powertrain. It’s a Volkswagen, but it’s more of a luxury SUV than some luxury-brands’ products. It’s expensive, but you’re getting a lot of technology and refinement for your $61,385. If you want a Touareg V6 with lots of extra performance and no fuel-economy penalty, look no further than this supercharged hybrid.