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The 2011 Volkswagen Touareg rolls out with a new hybrid powertrain

Thu, 11 Feb 2010

Volkswagen is banking on the fuel-saving properties of a new gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain and what it describes as a wholesale improvement in quality levels to bolster North American sales of its second-generation Touareg.

This new Touareg represents VW's first foray into the premium-hybrid-SUV market, which includes gasoline-electric entries from BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac, among others. Further competition will come from a similarly powered version of the new Porsche Cayenne, alongside which the new Touareg was developed.

Despite the late entry of its hybrid, VW says it is confident the heavily reworked SUV will emulate the sales success of its seven-year-old predecessor--which recently raked up half a million sales worldwide--and register gains in many markets where it is sold.

As an alternative to the gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain, the new Touareg will also be offered with the choice of three new or upgraded gasoline or diesel engines during the initial sales period, although not all are expected to find their way to North America.

Refinement, not reinvention

VW design boss Klaus Bischoff took a "if it's not broken, don't fix it" approach to the styling of the new Touareg, which follows the basic template laid down by its predecessor but updated with a freshened look that provides a clear line of continuity between the first- and second-generation models.

As well as holding firm to the design linage, Volkswagen resisted the urge to alter the size of the Touareg to accommodate a third row of seats like some rivals, preferring instead to retain a conventional two-row/five-seat layout and the same basic exterior dimensions as the outgoing model. Length is up by 1.7 inches at 189 inches but height drops by 0.8 inch to 67.3 inches; width remains the same at 76 inches.

The new SUV also rides on an all-new weight-optimized platform sporting a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase than the first-generation Touareg at 114.2 inches--much of which has been put to use extending overall interior accommodation. Other changes include the adoption of new double rubber seals for the doors and tailgate, which Volkswagen claims led to a significant reduction in the amount of road and wind noise entering the cabin.

Emphasis on interior quality

A first glimpse of the interior reveals Volkswagen placed a big focus on quality--not surprising when the SUV competition includes the BMW X5 and the Mercedes-Benz M-class. The dashboard and various trims are of a noticeably higher standard than before, while the switchgear and optional touch-screen entertainment/satellite navigation system reflects a more detailed approach to design.

Volkswagen developed two different front seats for the new Touareg: one aimed at comfort and the other which offers added support with pneumatic side bolsters and firmer cushioning. A more heavily contoured rear seat now adjusts by 6.3 inches to extend legroom, at the expense of trunk capacity. The rear seatbacks also were modified to offer three different angles of lean for added comfort.

Gasoline-electric hybrid

At launch across Europe in June, the Touareg will be available with the choice of four engines, although not all of them are planned for sale in the North American market. The headline news is the appearance of Volkswagen's first-ever hybrid drivetrain.

Developed in partnership with Porsche, which will use it for the new Cayenne, the hybrid uses a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 direct-injection gasoline engine from Audi in combination with an electric motor integrated into the front of the gearbox housing for a combined output of 380 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque.

The output is sufficient, Volkswagen says, to provide the Touareg hybrid with a comparatively brisk 0-to-62-mph time of 6.5 seconds and a 149-mph top speed. Fuel consumption is put at 28.7 mpg.

Volkswagen's new drivetrain was conceived as full hybrid, meaning it can run on electricity alone, albeit only for limited distances and only at speeds up to 31 mph. Power for the electric motor is supplied by a nickel-metal-hydride battery in the trunk floor consisting of 260 individual cells, weighing about 155 pounds.

The clutch between the gasoline engine and electric motor is disengaged on a tailing throttle at speeds up to 100 mph to reduce mechanical drag, effectively providing it with a freewheeling effect for added efficiency and greater fuel-saving potential. It also increases the ability of the electric motor to act as an alternator and collect kinetic energy.

Other engines in the new Touareg lineup include a reworked version of the existing 3.6-liter V6 direct-injection gasoline unit now producing 280 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, and a largely unchanged 3.0-liter V6 common-rail diesel with 240 hp and 406 lb-ft. Both engines are said to have improved fuel economy with the use of automatic stop/start and brake-energy recuperation. Volkswagen also says it succeeded in reducing the mechanical drag created by the Touareg's permanent four-wheel-drive system.

Joining them is a new 4.2-liter V8 common-rail diesel, serving up 340 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Volkswagen has confirmed that this new engine will not be sold in the United States. Instead, VW is likely to add a revised version of the first-generation Touareg's 4.2-liter V8 direct-injection gasoline unit with 366 hp and 328 lb-ft to the new lineup in a bid to satisfy U.S. buyers' performance needs.

Volkswagen says it has no immediate plans to replace the Touareg R60, whose 6.0-liter W12 engine does not form part of the new lineup. Also gone is the six-speed automatic transmission, replaced by a standard eight-speed gearbox whose broader spread of ratios are claimed to provide a smoother launch and added potential for fuel saving at low to moderate speeds.

Two 4WD systems

Volkswagen gave the second-generation Touareg two different four-wheel-drive systems. In base 4Motion specification, all models receive a Torsen-based arrangement that, at the press of a button, operates with remapped traction and stability management systems for added ability in off-road conditions but is mainly setup for on-road use. The V6 diesel also can be specified with an optional 4XMotion package that replaces the Torsen system with a multiplate clutch similar to that used on the first-generation Touareg with a separate transfer case and low-range gearing together with a locking function for the center and rear differentials in five different modes.

Production of the Touareg will continue at Volkswagen's Bratislava factory in Slovakia, where it rolls off the line alongside the Cayenne and the Audi Q7.

By Greg Kable