2011 Volkswagen Touareg Review

Impressive new Touareg almost a luxury SUV, and priced like one too

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Review

We’ll get this out of the way first: The second-gen Volkswagen Touareg is very impressive. With the benefit of 400 less pounds to haul around, a standard eight-speed automatic transmission, and more passenger room. But, with a near $4,000 price increase, is the Touareg really that good?

FAST FACTS

1. A 280-hp gas V6 delivers 16/23-mpg and costs $44,450.

2. TDI model offers 224-hp and 406 lb-ft with 19/28-mpg and priced from $51,800.

3. A 380-hp Hybrid model brings 21/25-mpg for $60,565.

4. Cargo room has increased to 32 cu-ft behind the 2nd row, with a 71 cu-ft total.

5. All Touareg models can tow up to 7,700 lbs.

HANDSOME NEW BODYWORK

Like its Cayenne cousin, the latest Touareg is sleeker and more modern in its design. The wide front grille takes its cues from the latest Golf and Jetta, but in a bulkier suit. The standard LED running lights are pretty fresh, moving away from the much-copied Audi streak in the lower air intakes. Like other modern Vee-Dubs, the Touareg is destined to grown on you. Initial impressions are of a conservative shape, but details like the stylized dual exhaust tips are there to discover.

Inside, there are fewer surprises. Tastefully designed, but less showy than its competitors. The new three-spoke steering wheel is comfortably sized, with steering wheel mounted controls for the audio system and onboard computer. The gauges are bright and legible, and like most Volkswagens, the ergonomics with major controls are spot-on. Standard power seats are supportive enough, and the rear row really benefits from a big stretch in wheelbase that translates directly into more legroom. That can be further augmented by the standard sliding and reclining rear bench, leaving a truly luxurious interior. The optional full-length glass moon-roof really brightens the cabin too.

Cargo space is improved, with 32 cu-ft that expands to nearly 71 with the 60/40 split-folding rear seats down. Access is aided by the reasonably low load floor and power hatch.

8-SPEED IMPROVES FUEL ECONOMY

Power comes from the same 3.6-liter narrow-angle VR6 engine as before, boasting 280 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. The 0-60 mph run of 7.4 seconds is assisted by the new eight-speed automatic transmission – shared with the Porsche Cayenne – that works very well at keeping the engine on the boil when needed. And, when not on a charge, delivers half-decent fuel economy for something that weighs over 4,700 lb. Even with the standard 4Motion four-wheel drive, the Touareg is rated at 16-mpg in the city and 23-mpg on the highway, which nearly equals the outgoing turbo-diesel. The large 26-gallon fuel tank gives a theoretical range of 600 miles, but will be expensive to fill since the Volkswagen requires premium fuel.

With the optional trailer hitch, the Touareg can also tow up to 7,700 lbs regardless of engine, although with the diesel’s torque you’re certain to make an easier go of it.

The Touareg’s ride is controlled and ‘European’ – read: well-damped – on the standard 18-inch wheels. Things get more interesting with larger ones that are included in a couple different option packages. Although not the corner-carver that the Cayenne can be, the VW is one of the better-handling luxo SUVs thanks to double-wishbone suspension at all four corners. Not a lot of feel through the steering wheel, but the nose goes pretty much where you point it. Fuss free. And quiet too – very easy to hit extra-legal speeds without noticing. A good long-distance cruiser in that very German way.

All Touaregs get convenience features like dual climate control, an iPod adapter, cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, a rear-view camera, ABS and stability control, which makes it a true foul-weather friend.

ABOVE ITS CLASS AND PRICED TO MATCH

Those looking for a few more toys have only two real choices: expensive, and even more expensive. Like most German automakers, the Touareg doesn’t have standalone options – just two big packages to choose from. The Lux adds 19-inch wheels, a panoramic power sunroof, heated and power-adjustable side mirrors, walnut interior trim, metallic center console trim, and 12-way power leather seats for $3,850. The top-line Executive trim includes the Lux’ features and adds Audi-esque 20-inch wheels, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, keyless access with push-button start, parking sensors and a rocking Dynaudio sound system for the not insignificant price of $9,550. Add those to the $44,450 VR6 FSI Sport, and you won’t get much change back from $55K.

BOTH DIESEL AND HYBRID VERSIONS NOW AVAILABLE

Those with more to tow and looking for better mileage would do well to order the V6 TDI, which uses the same 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6 with 225 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. It’s only a half-second slower to 60 mph but gets significantly improved fuel efficiency at 19/28-mpg. The price difference of $3,500 isn’t that large a jump, in relative terms, and resale value will probably be stronger.

The upcoming 380-horsepower Hybrid model will use the same supercharged 3.0-liter V6 and electric motor found in the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid and Panamera Hybrid, and its starting price of over $60,000 starts to look scary until you realize it’s already fully loaded. But talk about unproven and expensive technology. A 21/25-mpg is solid, but averages out to about the same and the diesel. Best to stay with the TDI unless it somehow offends you.

THE VERDICT

While the difference in ability, comfort and appeal over the original Touareg is impressive, the $10/pound premium is not. Scarily, that means that there is no appreciable difference between the base models of the Touareg, Audi Q7 ($46,250), BMW X5 ($46,300) and the Porsche Cayenne ($46,700). As much as Volkswagen would like to assume it has the panache to hang with these more established luxury brands, it doesn’t.

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