The 2011 Touareg is Volkswagen's first production hybrid — and supercharged no less. It's a handsome, well-appointed, smooth-riding SUV that begs the question: Is it worth the price premium over VW's other Touareg models? For a hybrid, the mileage is poor and the sticker is a little too rich.
Appearance: The slightly curvaceous Touareg lacks any overt drama, and that's a good thing. This SUV comes across as a more subtle Porsche Cayenne (its distant cousin), with just enough details — slight hood creases, LED-wrapped headlights, flared fenders and dual chrome exhaust tips — to draw admiring glances. Peter thought it was one of the more handsome SUVs we've driven.
Performance: The most powerful of the three Touareg models packs a combined hybrid-gas 380 horsepower with 425 pound-feet of torque. As such, there's good acceleration and you can easily tick off all eight speeds of the smooth-shifting transmission and find yourself exceeding the speed limit. Lyra felt some turbo lag; Peter, not so much. All-wheel-drive and a wide stance help keep the heavy-for-a-midsize SUV (5,135 pounds) planted. It handles well and has a light steering touch. The regenerative braking was a tad too sensitive for both of us, even compared with other hybrids. There's also the neat technology that shuts the gas engine off at stoplights. The restart is so quiet we didn't even notice it. The big performance issue is mpg: It's 20 city, 24 highway. Sure, the VW hybrid technology is seamless and the supercharged engine powerful, but is it worth an extra $16K over a non-hybrid Touareg that gets 16/23, or the diesel version, which gets 19/28?
Interior: Much like the exterior, the interior is handsome without overdoing things. Peter drove the SUV up from Miami and had a comfortable ride, with plenty of head- and legroom. The seats — front and rear — are heated and supportive. The rear seats even recline. Also nice on a Florida highway drive: The side windows have manual shades for backseat passengers. We liked the sloped center console, which has a user-friendly layout, gauges and buttons/controls — it's kind of Audi lite. The navigation system, unlike some others we've used, allows a front passenger to enter a destination while you are driving, which came in handy when Peter was searching for a Miami restaurant. The screen is large and easy to read. Other things we liked: a power liftgate, a necessity for shorter folks, and the 70.9 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats down (but they don't fold completely flat).
Our 3 favorites
Design: Peter felt at home in Miami's tony Design District.
Center console: It's wide, wood-grained and well-laid-out.
Ride: Planted and comfortable in highway driving.
Panoramic sunroof: Enjoy the view. It brings in lots of light, but use the power sunshade when it's too much.
Control screen: Large LCD screen is crisp, and interfaces are easy to use.
Side shades: Pull up the rear side mesh screens to block the sun.
The bottom line: Even though the Touareg is impressive, we just can't see springing for this hybrid, especially when VW makes at least one diesel V-6 version that gets better highway mpg and is easier on the wallet.