Volkswagen Touareg — Serious Clean-Diesel Power

After a week with Volkswagen’s all-new 2011 Touareg TDI, we’re more resolute than ever on this matter: if you plan to make a serious investment in a serious utility vehicle, diesel power is the only way to go.

When you’re talking about throwing around the moniker “premium,” most people don’t think diesel is the powerplant they want under the hood of an expensive sedan or crossover. But these powerful and refined new diesels are the real deal — sophisticated and brutally capable, they make an 80-mph cruise across a couple of states pass as serenely as a limo ride downtown to the opera.

What a special team this is, VW’s 2011 Touareg TDI, new from the ground up and noticeably more refined than the already pretty classy first generation of VW’s funny-named midsize crossover, and the formidable 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel that displays the company’s engine-development prowess at its best.

The second-generation Touareg TDI now is 330 pounds lighter than its truckier predecessor. That’s a heap ‘o weight to shed — and the diet manifests in all sorts of satisfying ways, not the least of which is in improved fuel economy.
Efficiency is one of the big reasons you should get a diesel whenever it’s available, but particularly if you want to haul around in a premium crossover; even with the weight reduction, the Touareg TDI still spins up a big number on the scales: 4,974 pounds, almost 300 pounds heavier than Ford’s new Explorer.

The previous Touareg TDI dealt out 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Very good for a large, all-wheel drive utility vehicle. Cutting that 330 pounds, the Touareg’s still exquisitely dense-feeling new chassis, combines with a magnificent new 8-speed automatic transmission to hike fuel economy to 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. That’s starting to get seriously economical for a premium crossover.

While any gasoline engine short of a V-8 or at least a large-capacity V-6 would screech and groan to move this kind of mass, the modestly-sized 3.0-liter TDI (turbo direct injection) diesel accelerates the Touareg TDI with a ridiculous ease that the first few times has you looking each way over your shoulder as if to say, “Did that little press of the accelerator do that?” You’d never know from the engine sound. Effectively, there isn’t any.

Oh, how the 2011 Touareg TDI excels at munching the highway miles. Thanks to the new diesel technology that all but stamps out diesel “clatter” and VIP-class sound abatement for the Touareg’s interior, you snap on the cruise control, watch the data readout tell you something on the order of 30 mpg at 80 mph and steamroll past the hoi-polloi sucking gasoline in their crossovers and SUVs at probably twice your rate. The capacious 26.4-gallon fuel tank means an 800-mile nonstop dash is a possibility.

This second-generation Touareg’s all-new chassis knows how to ride and steer, too. You’ll be astonished at the vigor with which high-speed curves disappear without a murmur from the tires. The 2011 Touareg’s body stubbornly and inspiringly resisting the roll that usually causes you to shut down spirited cornering in the Touareg’s competitors. Some of the credit goes to the sweet tuning of the standard all-wheel-drive system, too, that causes the Touareg to somewhat mimic the fluid moves of a vehicle with rear-wheel drive.

The steering? Simply the most accurate, direct and linear we’ve enjoyed in crossover in a long time. This despite the heavy diesel engine up front.
Inside the 2011 Touareg TDI, you lack for nothing — and you shouldn’t, considering the plump base price of our tester with the mid-level Lux trim ($51,800), the best value of the Touareg TDI three available trims. Navigation, satellite radio, Bluetooth phone/audio player connection, rain-sensing wipers, magnificent “active” bi-xenon headlights. Tight fits on all the interior panels and dash pieces, with wood and plastic displaying equally premium appearance.
And although we’re not heavy sunroof users, the Touareg TDI Lux trim comes standard with a wholly monstrous panoramic sunroof, three times larger than before. Light cascades in, a godsend for claustrophobic rear-seat riders.

Enough gushing, already. We’re already acknowledged diesel-engine junkies, but Volkswagen has delivered up something exceptional with the 2011 Touareg TDI, something unique to the market: a premium crossover that simply changes the fuel-efficiency rules, while endowing all the performance and luxury a buyer spending this kind of money would rightfully expect. You could spend more, but you’ll never get more. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters

SPECIFICATIONS
2011 VOLKSWAGEN TOUAREG TDI LUX
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger AWD midsize CUV
BASE PRICE___________________ $51,800 (as tested: $52,620)
MOTOR TYPE___________________ 24-valve turbo-diesel V-6
DISPLACEMENT_________________ 3.0-liter
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 225 at 3500 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 406 at 1750 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 8-speed automatic
WHEELBASE____________________ 113.9 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 188.8 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 39.0 ft.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 26.4 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011

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