We are accustomed to thinking of hybrids as not only highly fuel efficient vehicles but also as being relatively compact, as well. So what to make of a hybrid that's classified as a light truck, stands five-foot-eight and weighs 5,135 pounds?
The Volkswagen Touareg is the brand's large crossover SUV, and now in its second generation, is available in several models. The Hybrid version stands alone, at the top of the mountain, which, with standard 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive, it could surely ascend with ease.
As a typical hybrid, the Touareg pairs a gasoline engine with an electric motor. Like most hybrids, the two can work together, but also power the car independently, depending on circumstances. What makes this car such a rocket is that it mates a turbocharged 333-horsepower V6 with a 47-horsepower electric motor, driving through a six-speed automatic transmission. That adds up to a whopping 380 horsepower and 428 lb.-ft. of torque. It's like getting a V8 with a V6 and a helper.
Alternately, if you're careful, you can drive along in pure electric mode at up to 31 miles per hour. I did that in town, and it's a rewarding sensation. I saw the big battery, in the back, squeezed under the cargo floor. They have to put it someplace, I guess. The car can carry 32 cubic feet of cargo behind the second row of seats, and doubles that to 64 when you drop those seats.
You've heard about 50-mile-per-gallon Priuses (Prii), but the Touareg is not a super fuel sipper. It's rated at 20 City, 24 Highway (21 Combined) by the EPA, and I earned 20.5 mpg during my week. That's not bad for a two-and-a-half-ton hauler, but hardly something worth jumping up and down about. The EPA's ratings for Smog and Greenhouse Gas are 5's — right in the center. And — Premium fuel is recommended.
There is plenty of competition in the large, upscale SUV field. What the Touareg does, either in Hybrid form or alternately, with a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower gas V6 or 3.0-liter, 240-horsepower TDI Diesel, is drive like a Volkswagen. That means you feel the road, the controls have heft and accuracy, the design is clean and straightforward, and the materials and finish inside look and feel upscale.
There's no mistaking a VW outside these days. The body styling is a little bit conservative, but the 19-inch alloy wheels add a touch of bling to the sober sides. At least the car won't be radically out of style before you've made it through the payment book.
And, it had better be nice. Touareg prices start at $44,870 for the Sport model and ascend through Sport with Navigation, Lux, R-Line (new for 2014), and Executive. Each level adds more content and cost. But the Hybrid, above them all, goes for $65,045. That's a lot of Volkswagen!
My Tungsten Silver Metallic test unit featured sumptuous Black Anthracite leather seating and the upper-level RNS 850 audio/navigation system. It features a 3-D map view and a 60 GB hard drive, with 18 of those GB available for uploading media. I was impressed by the 180-mph speedometer, but didn't even use half of it. There's real wood trim inside, too.
Cars at this level are bristling with electronics, and this one included a rear-view camera with park distance control, Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, dual-zone climate control, and all the usual power features.
Above everything is a sprawl of humongous sunroof that measures 57 inches long and 39 inches wide. It made the whole roof feel like one big window, so the dark interior was only really dark at night. A translucent shade protects passengers from baking while riding around in the daytime.
The car is a hybrid, so you do get some chance to try to save fuel. The engine shuts off when stopped, such as waiting at a traffic light; it starts up immediately when you take your foot off the brake. Active diagrams on the large middle screen and a small, basic one in the middle of the instrument panel let you monitor what's going on.
Volkswagen is a German company, but its cars are built in many places around the world. My test Touareg was assembled in Bratislava, Slovakia, but featured an international cast of parts, including a Hungarian engine and a Japanese transmission. These origins had no apparent effect on the overall quality and solidity of the car.
With its impressive size and breathtaking price tag, this is not a car for everyone. However, driving it makes you feel like you've hit the jackpot. And, with three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance, you won't need to do anything but put gas in it for quite a while.