2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

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The hybrid Touareg’s electric motor adds much more thrust than efficiency.

The original Volkswagen Touareg, first luxury SUV, wowed us at its 2004 debut with an ability to climb rocks like a mountain goat and devour pavement like a German touring sedan.

It was available in V6 and V-8 versions plus a $76,000 model with a diesel V10 that made enough torque to interrupt the earth’s rotation. This Gen-2 Touareg, also AWD, builds on its predecessor’s many strengths while making some improvements (refined steering and throttle response) and quietly abandoning the optional height-adjustable air suspension.

VW also rounded off some of the corners, which leaves the T’reg looking more svelte and slightly smaller than before. In fact it’s both longer and wider but lower, so it just seems smaller.

The most interesting thing about this example, though, is that it’s a gas-electric hybrid. The already potent supercharged V6 has an electric motor married to it that feeds 221 extra foot-pounds of torque into the new Touareg’s 8-speed automatic transmission.

The vehicle will purr (for a while) through city traffic under amperage alone, but when extra urge is needed, a total of 380 horsepower and 425 ft-lbs of torque can be summoned.

Possibly to give the electrics more time to do their thing, thereby stretching a gallon of gas a bit further, prodding the hybrid Touareg into action from a stop requires more dip into the pedal than we’re used to. This makes it seem hesitant and even feeble, which it emphatically is not.

Put your right foot down hard and this T’reg will catapult to 60 mph in six seconds—astonishing for a 5,135-pound “truck”—and on the interstate, where the throttle is open continually, it feels very much of sound mind and body. No doubt it will tow its rated load of 7,700 pounds with equal ease. The regenerative braking feels almost normal underfoot.

I don’t fully understand hybrid SUVs. In this case, is a couple more miles per gallon in town worth the extra weight (425 lbs), the mechanical and electronic complexity, the downrange problems (batteries that will wear out and have to be discarded and replaced) and the cost (a whopping $16,000 premium) over the gas-only Touareg?

For that matter, if efficiency is the goal, the TDI Clean Diesel Touareg goes about as far in town and much farther on the highway on a gallon of fuel, has almost the same torque, tows the same load and costs $12,000 less than the Hybrid. It’s also just as plushly comfortable, well-equipped, high-tech and high-touch, but getting from 0 to 60 takes a lot longer.

Perhaps some drivers who can spend $60,000-plus on a mid-size SUV simply wish to feel green, and perhaps their purchases help support VW’s research into ever-cleaner and more efficient propulsion.

Fair enough. It’s interesting that among VW’s unique resources, which stretch from Skoda and SEAT through Volkswagen to Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and (all bow down) Bugatti is Porsche.

And the first hybrid-drive automobile was created by Ferdinand Porsche, who placed a small motor in the hub of each drive wheel that was fed by electricity from a generator spun by a gasoline engine under the hood. In the year 1900.



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