Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid Road Test
by Martha Hindes
Any seasoned black belt shopper can tell what it takes to score big. Find something you can't live without. Decide if it's worth the cost. Commit to a decision and if you go with it, enjoy. If the decision is to spend some $60K on a 2012 Volkswagen Touareg hybrid, you've undoubtedly got some really solid reasons for doing it.
Hybrid vehicles started out a dozen or years ago as rather meek people movers meant to eke every ounce of mobility from a gallon of gas. The pairing of a gas-fueled internal combustion engine with an electric motor was in its infancy then. Road & Travel testers recall early drives that brought high mileage but few other amenities and in some cases dismissal from bemused observers who saw it as an expensive fad. One early trip across state in a mini auto version was done at the minimum express road speed of 45 miles an hour to achieve the projected mileage. We rest our case.
That technology didn't seem promising at the time. But fast forward to 2012 and consider what couldn't have been imagined back then. Here's the all new VW Touareg hybrid with a supercharged powertrain -- the first for any hybrid according to VW -- that gives the performance of a V-8 engine while squeezing out the mileage of a V-6. Ignore the word "hybrid" and this is a sport utility that can still lap the competition. It just does it more efficiently.
The hybrid Touareg's underlying powerplant is a 3.0-liter, supercharged direct-injection V-6 gasoline engine with a 333-horsepower rating and standard eight-speed automatic transmission. That engine is paired with a 47-horsepower electric motor, and the combination generates a whopping 380 horsepower. Add to that a 428 lb-ft. torque rating, and you see why it can attract attention really fast, especially when considering the hard acceleration and takeoff capability such numbers imply. That has to be good for an "oh yeah?" response to the idea that to be environmentally friendly one must forfeit any hope of driving fun in the process.
Advanced technology underlies the Touareg's ability to rack up a 20-city and 24-highway MPG rating, which can beat out some other midsize hybrid SUVs. But getting there took a lot of technological advancements. For example, the Touareg's engine shuts down momentarily and it coasts briefly at highway cruising speeds when the gas pedal is briefly disengaged. Hit the accelerator again and the engine immediately re-engages. When considering the number of times one likely releases the gas pedal on an extended drive, that potentially can add many miles to a trip.
Like most current hybrid vehicles, the Touareg does not require plugging into an electric outlet to recharge. That function comes from the gasoline engine that generates electricity that is stored in the Touareg's battery pack beneath the rear cargo floor and then is fed to the driving motor that propels the vehicle's wheels. Other fuel-saving technologies include regenerative braking that replaces battery energy, and stop/start function that momentarily turns off the engine and prevents power drain while idling.
Superior handling ability is the reward for such technology along with all-independent suspension tuning and VW's permanent "4Motion" all-wheel drive that is standard on all Touaregs. Variable-ratio power steering adds precision to driving maneuvers. The hybrid rides on gutsy 19-inch wheels that add class as well as improved performance function.
The five-seater Touareg was redesigned a year ago with a stiffer body structure, a handsome, bold "face" and more than 300 pounds less energy consuming weight, all features that add to the new hybrid version's appeal, along with a full complement of active and passive safety features. Inside are the high quality amenities that take it to a near-luxury level, including a crisply defined IP not overloaded with detail.
As we hinted at the outset, the $60K price tag could be a sticking point for a lot of folks who love a vehicle that's a blast to drive but can't quite justify what it takes to do it. But a number of cars out there live at the $60K or higher threshold. The fact this is an SUV -- a vehicle category that expands its usefulness, passenger room and cargo carrying capacity -- while contributing as little as possible to environmental problems could make it a no brainer for some. Call that the price of admission for being environmentally sensitive while still having a lot of driving fun.
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