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May 31, 2011 > Auto Review: Volkswagen Touareg SUV

Auto Review: Volkswagen Touareg SUV

A Far Cry from the Beetle

By Steve Schaefer

Despite its odd name, the Touareg fits in pretty well here, where family-size SUVs are the norm. The German company's entry in the U.S. market is redone for 2011, but it still seems much the same-and that's good.

The redesign includes a new, slimmer face, more emotive raised hood, and trendy LED running lights that spell "upscale" these days. Taillights are revised as well. The car's a little wider and slightly lower; the wheelbase and overall length are up a little. The real news, though, is that 350 pounds have been taken out although the car still weighs nearly 2-1/2 tons (4,974 pounds)... but that loss is still a positive thing.

Fuel economy is becoming a more heated issue again as gas approaches the $4.50 a gallon mark, and I was glad to be testing the TDI I (Diesel) version of the Touareg this week. Of course, Diesel seems to be even more expensive now, but with the 3.0-liter Diesel V6, I got 23.7 miles per gallon and never felt that the car wasn't strong and happy. EPA gives the car ratings of 19 City, 28 Highway.

Today's Diesels are as clean as gasoline engines thanks to some complex technology. EPA numbers for the TDI were 6 for Air Pollution and 4 for Greenhouse Gas-pretty respectable-while the gas version gets 6/3.

The Diesel runs strongly and quietly. Its 225 horsepower doesn't sound like a lot, but with Diesels, it's torque that matters and this baby has a hulking 406 lb.-ft. of it on tap. There's also a 3.6-liter gas engine available that provides 280 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft., as well as Volkswagen's first production hybrid electric vehicle, which pairs an all-new 3.0-liter supercharged, direct injection V6 gasoline engine with an electric motor. Combined, the hybrid boasts a whopping 380 horsepower and 428 lb.-ft. of torque. This is not a Prius! Posted fuel economy numbers of 21 City, 25 Highway are not all that impressive, but it must be a rocket to drive.

All engines run through an eight-speed automatic. Seventh and eighth are overdrive gears that reduce engine rpm, thereby improving fuel economy and lowering emissions. In eighth gear, the engine is turning 33 percent more slowly than it is in sixth.

Towing capacity is 7,700 pounds for all models, with the available towing package.

You can get non-hybrid models in Sport, Lux or Executive levels. My tester was the top-level Executive. All models come well equipped. The Lux increases the alloy wheels from 18" to 19," adds 12-way power adjustable front seats and leather seating surfaces with driver memory, power lumbar and Burr Walnut interior inlays with a wood center console.

It also features an incredible two piece panoramic powered sunroof covering nearly the entire roof; 350 percent larger than on the previous model!

The Executive ups the ante with 20" alloy wheels, a heated multifunction steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, a keyless entry system with push-button start, a rearview camera with Park Distance Control (PDC) and a Dynaudio(r) premium sound system. It gets the panoramic sunroof too.

Driving my Black Touareg TDI with its Black Anthracite Interior was nothing less than pleasant. I appreciated that they put a USB port for the iPod in the glovebox - why don't all manufacturers do that? It was cool that my outside mirrors folded up against the car when I parked. My neighbor, a young man named Peter, appreciated the way the seats hug you. It's a sportier experience than in many other SUVs.

I've used countless audio/navigation systems, but this one was one of the best. It featured a large 8-inch screen, with a DVD/CD player that has MP3 playback capabilities and Satellite/FM/AM stereo, along with a 60GB hard drive with 18GB of space available to upload media. Generously proportioned buttons made it easy to select destinations. You can choose from a two- or three-dimensional representation of the driving grid. A pleasant female voice directed me; she mispronounced one of my local streets-but it's not the first time that's happened.

An example of items that improve from one generation to the next is an automatically opening and closing tailgate that can be operated from inside the car, at the tailgate itself or through the redesigned key fob.

Prices start at $44,450 for the Sport and top out with the Hybrid, at $60,565. My TDI Executive, with no options and $820 for shipping, came to $58,320.

It's been a long time since you could drive off in a Beetle for $1,500. This new Touareg delivers everything you'd expect in an upscale German SUV-it just says VW on it.

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