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2011 Volkswagen Touareg
VW's prescription for its top-line wagon? Diet and plenty of exercise

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Volkswagen TouaregRodney Dangerfield famously complained that he never received a scintilla of respect. In terms of overall popularity, the Volkswagen Touareg has had the same issue with its 2004-model-year launch.

Perhaps it's the nearly unpronounceable name (Touareg, or Twah-regg, refers to a nomadic Sahara-dwelling tribe), its low-key styling or a price tag that outdistances many of its luxury competitors. But it could also be that people shopping for vehicles in this bracket are reluctant to spend in excess of 50 large for a Volkswagen, regardless of how proficient it is at churning up the sod. These folks can cross-shop VW's Audi offshoot for the five-passenger, V6-equipped Q5 sport ute that offers upscale brand name cachet for aboutthe same price as a new Touareg.

Fortunately VW has managed to attract sufficient fans of the marque to invest in an updated second-generation wagon that wraps its rugged underpinnings in a more attractive package. The fenders bulge out farther than before and the hood and door panels have been neatly reshaped. Additionally, the front end displays a dual horizontal-bar grille that is now evident on nearly all Volkswagens. Clean and uncluttered is definitely the way to go, especially for vehicles in the Touareg's price range.

2011 Volkswagen TouaregPhysically, the tale of the tape indicates that the Touareg is now a bit wider, but shorter than before and has been stretched by about 3.8 centimetres between the front and rear wheels. However the greatest singular advancement is in the 160 kilograms that have been excised from the vehicle. Most of the seven per cent weight reduction comes from lightening the platform and powertrain as well as a number of key suspension components that are now constructed of aluminum.

The Touareg's made-over cabin offers a quieter environment along with revised trim and seat coverings and a redesigned dashboard and control stack. There's also more legroom for both front and rear passengers.

A mix of new and old can be found beneath the Touareg's freshly formed hood. A 280-horsepower 3.6-litre V6 (TSI) carries over as the base gasoline engine. Still optional is a 225-horsepower 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel (TDI) that makes 406 pound-feet of torque.

The TDI is rated at 11.9 l/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the highway, compared with 12.3/8.8 l/100 km for the TSI. The numbers for both powerplants are significantly better for the 2011 model year, no doubt aided by less weight to lug around plus more efficient eight-speed automatic transmissions that replace the previous six-speed gear changers.

2011 Volkswagen TouaregYou might have read within the pages of U.S. auotmotive publications about the arrival of a hybrid Touareg, however it won't actually be available in Canada. It consists of a supercharged 333-horsepower 3.0-litre gasoline V6 that combines with a 47-horsepower electric motor to generate an impressive 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque. The hybrid also uses an eight-speed automatic transmission and can function on just electric power for short distances up to 50 km-h before the gas engine kicks in. As hybrids become more popular and more affordable over time, perhaps the hybrid Touareg will eventually be available here.

All Touaregs come standard with VW's dual-range 4MOTION all-wheel-drive setup that in normal driving situations maintains a 40:60 front-to-rear torque bias. The system also features a locking center differential that fixes the torque split to maximize traction over slippery terrain.

For 2011, Comfortline, Highline and Execline trim levels are offered. All feature a wealth of luxury content, including dual-zone climate control and an eight-inch touch-screen navigation and audio display system. Highlineand Execline trims add a standard panoramic sunroof while the Execline alone arrives with heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel and push-button start.

Now that the slimmed-down Touareg has also been made more attractive and less thirsty, Volkswagen can likely expect more look-sees and a less of the Rodney Dangerfield treatment.

What you should know: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg

Type: Four-door, four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle
Engines (hp): 3.6-litre DOHC V6 (280); 3.0-litre DOHC V6, turbo-diesel (225)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Market position: The Touareg slots into the mid-luxury group of sport utility vehicles that includes both genuine off-road-capable vehicles plus so-called soft-roaders that function well in poor weather and/or poor road conditions.
Points: Improved design is cleaner without appearing meaner; New Touareg's 2,140-kilogram weight an improvement, but still far from svelte; Turbo-diesel option adds about $4,750 to base price, will likely continue as a popular engine choice;  Standard 4Motion 4x4 system considered one of the best around.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 12.3/8.8 (3.6)
Base price (incl. destination): $50,000

By comparison:     

Volvo XC60 AWD
Base price: $46,200
Cool and comfy all-weather wagon that focuses on safety, agility.

Audi Q5 V6
Base price: $51,700
Touareg's second cousin with a luxurious cabin and Quattro four-wheel-drive.

Lincoln MKX AWD
Base price: $48,000
New-look 2011 model a techno-marvel inside plus plenty of interior space.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted Feruary 2, 2011. © TM


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