2011 Volkswagen Touareg Highline V6

Review and photos by
Haney Louka, Autos.ca

Volkswagen Canada tells us that the 2011 Touareg is lighter and consumes less fuel than its 2010 predecessor. Such information is typically met by scepticism; auto scribes and potential buyers alike will scratch their heads immediately and question what it is that’s been sacrificed to make this a greener Touareg.

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Highline V6

2011 Volkswagen Touareg Highline V6

The short answer is, well, nothing. Our 3.6-litre Highline tester sports the same 280-horse V6 engine as last year. Towing capacity is unchanged at an impressive 3,500 kg. Actually, major exterior dimensions have increased and interior volume has followed suit.

But we can only conclude that the old Touareg’s seats must have been stuffed with lead because even with the increase in size, the new car is actually 195 kg (nearly 430 lb.) lighter than before. This isn’t some fad diet we’re talking about here, but rather a Jared-the-Subway-guy-style transformation.

And that obviously pays dividends at the gas pumps: the new Touareg has earned fuel consumption ratings of 12.3 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 on the highway, improvements of about 15 per cent over last year’s model with the same engine. The Touareg’s consumption was significantly higher during my week with it, averaging 18 L/100 km over 650 km, 250 of which was on the highway. The mercury spent a fair bit of time below the minus 30 degree mark during that time, so it’s hardly representative, but regardless, when premium fuel costs a buck-seventeen, it just stings.

Starting at $48,440, the new Touareg Comfortline gets a base price hike of $3,140 over the 2010 version. To counter that, the new model gets a boost in standard kit as well: automatic climate control, 18-inch alloys rather than last year’s 17s, navigation, rain-sensing wipers, auxiliary audio interface, power front seats, and adjustable rear seats are all included.

Our tester was the next-up Highline ($53,190), adding a higher level of front seat adjustment with memory for the driver, real walnut interior accents, Homelink, leather upholstery (instead of the standard pleather), panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, and some other goodies. VW also fitted our test unit with the Sport Package, bringing the as-tested price tag to $55,715 and adding massive 20-inch wheels, a stiffer suspension, and bi-xenon adaptive LED headlights.

The glaring omission from our tester was the lack of any type of park assist or rear-view camera. Park Distance Control is not available on any model other than the top-drawer Execline, which also adds 19-inch alloys, 620-watt audio system, heat for the rear passengers and steering wheel, keyless access, a rear-view camera, and more. Price for the Execline is $58,185. There are some inconsistencies on VW’s web site regarding which models include PDC (if you check model features PDC is noted as standard across the board), but I can tell you this: our tester didn’t have it.

Regardless of trim level, all Touareg models come with a choice of engines: the 3.6-litre V6 like that in our tester, or the 3.0-litre TDI “clean diesel”; a nearly $5,000 option. And regardless of engine chosen, every Touareg gets the power full-time to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shift mode. Why eight you might ask? Because it’s one more than seven.

Surprisingly, the transmission does a fine job of sliding through all of those forward gears with barely a hint of what’s going on down below. I had to focus on the tachometer while accelerating to detect all seven gear changes up to highway speeds; it’s that smooth. The Tiptronic feature is largely useless because it’s more effort than fun to keep track of which gear is engaged. Besides, there was minimal gear hunting when the slushbox was left to its own devices, so why bother?

With the firmer suspension and 20-inch rubber of the Sport Package the big VW had an expectedly firm ride. A little too firm for this type of vehicle (at least over the frozen Winnipeg roads on which it was driven), but that’s why it’s an option: don’t like it? Don’t get it. But otherwise, the Touareg makes friends instantly because it has so many things going for it. From the seat warmers that remember which setting they were on before the ignition was turned off to the “rest” feature that pumps warm air into the cabin for up to 30 minutes while parked, the Touareg is a great cold-weather companion.

The new Touareg is a much more attractive beast to these eyes. Less rounded bodywork gives it a tidier appearance despite its expanded girth. And as with so many new models this year, lights front and rear have become a major part of the Touareg’s styling. VW has followed Audi’s lead in the world of LED running lights: arranged in a U-shape within each light cluster, there’s no mistaking when a new Touareg is approaching in your rear-view mirror.

From the driver’s seat, VW’s luxury ambitions are achieved with an interior that would be considered an improvement in many prestige brands’ offerings. A sportier three-spoke steering wheel and the use of a more subtle wood grain give it a younger, more modern feel.

There were, however, some annoyances that mar this otherwise exceptional vehicle. The climate control surprised me because once it achieved the desired cabin temperature, it proceeded to blow cooler air through the vents at a high speed rather than simply reducing the fan speed. I used to criticize Subaru for its stubborn climate control systems and now this new VW is doing the same thing. Here’s a hint to VW: when the thermometer reads 30 degrees on the wrong side of zero, nobody wants to feel cold air coming from the vents.

The seat memory controls on the driver’s window sill were prone to being pushed accidentally while I opened the door to get out, and the driver’s auto up-down didn’t work while the front passenger window sometimes took several tries to close it all the way.

I also found the hands-free phone function less than intuitive. I would assume that most people use the voice command function primarily for telephone, but I might be mistaken. Regardless, every time I pushed the voice button on the wheel I had to say “phone” because it wouldn’t recognize the command “dial” or “call” until it was in phone mode. Funny thing is, there’s a button with a phone on it on the steering wheel and pushing it doesn’t do anything. The only time that one worked for me was for ending a call I was already in. What would make more sense is if pushing the phone button to make a call automatically put the voice command system in phone mode, thus saving a step and causing less distraction while driving.

Other niggles showed up too: the day/night colours for the navigation map display don’t toggle in conjunction with the automatic headlights; they must be changed manually. Pushing the volume button to turn the audio off also makes the nav display disappear.

Changes for 2011 make the Touareg intrinsically a better vehicle, but there were far too many little things that would make me pause before signing the dotted line. Nonetheless, this is a genuine luxury SUV with style and features to compete with the best in this class.

Pricing: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Highline V6

Base price: $53,190

Base price (Comfortline): $48,440

Options: $2,525 (Sport Package)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,580

Price as tested: $57,395

Crash test results

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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