First Drive 2011 VW Touareg Hybrid

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Text and photos by Cor Steenstra

With the recent introductions of the VW Touareg and its sister vehicle, the Porsche Cayenne, an important update has come to a range that proved quite important for both companies in their search for market share with dedicated products. The mid-size sporty SUV is a very important segment on the US market, so this update is quite important.

Today VW allowed the press to drive its latest Touareg around the Hollywood Hills. We chose the Hybrid version, since fuel consumption concerns are quite a current subject, even in this segment of the market. We won’t be boring you with all the technical ins and outs of this construction, a V6 engine coupled with the latest shared Porsche and VW hybrid technology. What we think was more important in this first drive was to esteblish how it all harmonizes in everyday use.

With the size and weight of the Touareg, it is easy to under-power the car, and this V6 is right on the edge of doing that. You really have to floor it for the car to nip in and out of congested Hollywood traffic, as well as for the uphill sections of roads like Mullholland Drive. Meanwhile the display in the center of the IP shows a ferociously switching between gas engine, electric engine and charging modes. Quite nerve wrecking actually. I am glad I don’t have to do that manually.

The car feels safe and sturdy, with excellent material choices in the interior, and excellent fit and finish throughout. The exterior design stringently follows current VW house style. One might wonder if it is wise to determine a house style and simply re-scale it on every vehicle that is in your range, rather than determine a brand image/house style with different interpretations of it depending on the vehicle category?

I can imagine that VW’s choice works very well for the buyers of the lower segment cars, since their cars look clearly related to the most expensive vehicles from VW, but with a car like the Touareg, which is basically a Porsche Cayenne in disquise, would it not have been more prudent to come up with a unique interpretation of the VW house style, rather than plopping up the Golf/Jetta/Passat elements?

All in all the car looks harmonious, albeit not very exciting.

The biggest issue I had was that once back in busy Hollywood town traffic, where the engine actually switches off at certain stages, and the power clearly switches between gas and electric, I was getting rather uptight with it all. Having driven hybrid systems in various other brands, in particular Lexus, where smoothness is the ultimate, I was letting myself get wound up by the crude and harsh transitions between gas and electric, and the crude switch on and off at stand still.

I certainly hope this was due to the car being an early vehicle, rather than that this is the consequence of very clever German engineering where they found they could save a bit more fuel if they triggered a harsher, less smooth change over, or saved even more if the tolerances set between the mode changes were set much higher, meaning it changes much more in comparison.

Lets be clear; I do love the hybrid, and love the perception that I am saving fuel compared to a normally aspirated car, but my main priority should remain creature comfort. Fuel saving at the cost of creature comfort is not a good idea, and certainly coes not become a vehicle of this category.

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