2011 Volkswagen Touareg
Base price: $44,450 – $60,565
As tested: $58,320
MPG: 19 city/28 highway
- Luxurious cabin, spacious interior
- Choice of gas, diesel, hybrid models
- Excellent driving, handling, and ride quality
- Premium German brands for the same price
- Three-row seating unavailable
- History of questionable reliability
By Jim Prueter
Redesigned Touareg rivals the best of luxury brand utility vehicles
With Touareg’s first full redesign since it was introduced for the 2003 model year, the near-luxury SUV is now larger, roomier, more efficient and more refined. It also discontinues the V8 engine, brings back the diesel engine with a powerful turbocharged TDI model, and introduces a first-ever Touareg Hybrid — which starts at an astronomical price of $60,565, although that includes pretty much most options offered on other models.
The new hybrid gas-electric version is getting most of the attention for the 2011 Touareg lineup, which pairs a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 TSI engine with an electric motor to give the Touareg 380 horsepower, with an EPA-estimated 20/24 City/Highway mileage. The hybrid requires premium gasoline.
The least expensive Touareg is the VR6 FSI Sport, which uses a 280-horsepower V6 engine and delivers 16/23 mpg City/Highway, and also requires premium gasoline. The base starting price is $44,450.
Our tester for the week was the Touareg V6 TDI Clean Diesel turbocharged 3.0-liter with 225-horsepower and a massive 406 pounds-feet of torque. Base price is $47,950.
All three models come standard with an 8-speed automatic transmission and VW’s 4MOTION, all-wheel-drive system.
Our $47,950 diesel TDI test Touareg also comes in Sport, Lux and Executive configurations. For instance, ours came with the $9,950 Executive package that adds a heated steering wheel, 20-inch wheels, heated rear seats, an automated parking feature, an upgraded stereo, and keyless entry and ignition.
The expensive starting price of Touareg does include a standard navigation system, which on most other vehicles is a $1,500 to $2,000 option. Touareg uses two different navigation systems, one for the base model and a different system for the hybrid and up level trim models. We didn’t test the base model but the up level system is crisp, clear and easy to read.
We didn’t much care for Touareg’s iPod integration, another standard feature, because it was difficult to pull up artists and albums, and there are numerous screens to sort through. The screen also doesn’t display the artist’s name, which is annoying given the 9,000 song capable list. That annoyance is mitigated a bit by the stunning LCD between the two gauges. This screen works much like the twin setup Ford uses in its MyFord system. This single-screen approach works better, though, switching among music, navigation, car and phone information with a single set of buttons on the steering wheel.
Most impressive, however, is the drive, ride and handling quality. Throw the vehicle into corners and the Touareg handling is confident and well balanced. Transitional, corner-to-corner manners are solid and reassuring, the brakes superb, and the steering linear and communicative, not unlike most German sport sedans.
From the outside there are few visual styling cues to differentiate the 2011 Touareg from the previous model. The overall look is softer, and a bit more rounded on the edges giving a cleaner, more muscle-toned look to the expanses of the entirely new sheet metal. Lower and wider, it actually looks smaller than before — but with nearly two inches of extra wheelbase backseat, occupants will appreciate the increased legroom. Rear seats weren’t quit as comfortable as the chairs up front and sit a little higher.
Inside the design, materials, fit and finish shows remarkable attention to detail and quality, including the leather seating upholstery, real wood trim and metal inserts. Touareg seats five; no third-row seat is available.
We found the panoramic sunroof a mixed bag: It provides occupants with magnificent views but fails miserably in blocking the heat of the afternoon Arizona sun, even with the mesh screening in the closed position.
Standard safety gear includes dual front airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, full-coverage side air curtains, traction and electronic stability control, antilock braking system, and rear view camera.
The 2011 Touareg earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The organization's highest award is given to vehicles that earn the top score, Good, in front, side, and rear crash tests, as well as a roof-strength test. The federal government has not crash-tested the Touareg.
Though the least expensive Touareg is now just $3,250 from the similar-sized Porsche Cayenne, which starts at $47,700, you’re still driving a VW — a brand that has historically been known for inexpensive transportation and frequent trips to the auto repair facility with chronic reliability problems.
While a starting price for a VW product in the mid-$40k range is a long way from its high-level Phaeton luxury sedan failure, would you pay a bit less for a better equipped Volkswagen Touareg than a BMW X5, Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz M-Class or the Porsche Cayenne? VW is betting you will, because if you’re shopping in this class you’re up against stiff competition and are willing to pay for luxury and quality.