It’s a beautiful March Wednesday morning in Colorado, the sun is out -- there’s not a cloud in the sky -- and it’s nice and warm, you know, shorts weather! It should be cold, cloudy and snowing like a son of a ...... , but that’s not this year and certainly not this day! It’s a day bright with promise - one that I had been anticipating for weeks. Oh sure, the weather is great, but I have bigger things in mind -- there’s a 2011 Touareg from Volkswagen arriving at my house.


(My actual house not shown in the above photo -- although it would be nice!!!)

Black Beauty arrived, shining as brightly as a metallic black paint job can in the Colorado sun. Every corner of the new skin on this jewel is catching the light and shooting it right back at me --- this thing is spotless. After a doing a little paperwork, this baby was mine for the next two weeks.



I’ve seen the new Touareg, but it’s a very different experience going over every detail of this new and improved “ute” in your driveway without a sales guy breathing down your neck, hoping for a big ticket sale. Yes, the new Touareg carries a bigger price tag, starting around 44-large for a “base” model. But the word “base” is extremely misleading. The new Touareg comes standard with xenon headlights and a navigation system that has a screen big enough to work in a small movie theater, along with other assorted goodies.




Outside, the new body style is much sharper looking. The subtle little crease on the rear fenders makes a huge difference in the vehicle's overall look. The entire side profile is much more athletic --- very sharp!!! The rear roof line swoops down more, giving the Touareg a much cleaner appearance. It’s a vehicle that appears to want to spend time in the triple digits (wink, wink).




Inside, while it’s a familiar place to hang out for existing VW and Audi owners, it’s a much improved and an even more upscale place to enjoy. The new Multi Function Display is HUGE, easy to read and navigate. But, my favorite part of the overall dash is the new navigation/head unit. The RNS850 is an awesome piece of technology. I didn’t have an owners manual in my test vehicle and frankly... didn’t need one. This NAV is so intuitive and simple to operate that even my four-year-old boy was able make his way around it. He’s also pretty handy with an iPod.




I really liked being able to change settings for the vehicle with either the steering wheel buttons or through the NAV unit. It keeps your brain exercised and entertained at the same time. There is some real brilliance in how this part of the new Touareg was put together. NAV input is simple, controls for the radio and climate system are large and easy to read --- even if you’re movin’ on down the road. The system updates quickly.



Some NAV systems are so sloooooow (ummmm Jaguar XJ) that you want to punch a hole in the screen. The Touareg is nothing like that. One word of warning though... fiddle with it while driving and you will be scoled by the “Nanny.”

The 850 integrates easily with your Smartphone (specifically iPhone) and even lets you fast forward through music on your phone or iPod with steering wheel buttons while using Bluetooth Audio --- outstanding!



On the subject of music, the Dynaudio system is spectacular. At first I couldn’t get the ‘Surround’ button on the 850 screen to light up, but it finally did and WOW! The Surround option on the radio is P H E N O M E N A L!!!! It felt like I was sitting the middle of the band while recording the music. You’re bathed in every aspect of the music. If that button hadn’t activated, I would probably say save your money and skip the Dynaudio, but after experiencing this --- I say... find the money --- buy it --- you won’t be disappointed, unless you’re deaf.



Black Beauty was packing the pano-sunroof, which really makes the inside of the Touareg feel huge. It’s also a great way to keep a four year old entertained while ticking off the miles. I lost count of the number of planes, helicopters, clouds and stars spotted over that two weeks.



I really like the new little wing windows (that don’t open) at the base of the A-pillar on the front doors. The new windows not only give you a bit more visibility, but it also makes that corner of the vehicle look more open and airy. It also gives the A-pillar the appearance of being thinner, which it really isn’t. If you’ve been behind the wheel of the first generation Touareg, you know the small speakers on the A-pillar make that part of the door look chunky.




The entire vehicle feels like it’s been screwed together much more tightly than the previous generation and the weight reduction is very noticeable. A lot of thought and effort went into the interior. It’s an upscale update that won’t leave anyone looking for a luxury SUV feeling like they’re slummin’ it.



I checked out a new BMW X5 (the competition) and honestly believe the Touareg’s interior puts the X5 to shame. The leather on the X5’s door armrests was so loose, you could pinch it, leaving a crease in it. I’m not sure how that sits with you, but for a vehicle with a price tag several thousand dollars higher than the Touareg, it was just sloppy and cheap -- not at all what you would expect outta the Boys from Bavaria.



As for “The Power” -- Black Beauty was packing VW’s oil-burning V6. I love this engine and continue to believe the V6TDI is VW/Audi’s overachieving star performer. The 406-lb feet of torque and the new 8-speed transmission are a match made in automotive heaven. Gears a perfectly spaced --- keeping all the power you want sitting there waiting for you to dip into it. You always have the right amount of “go-go” when you stab the throttle. My only wish is that the shift point was higher than 4700 rpm’s. At the top end this engine still feels like it still has business it wants to do, but whether you’re in Drive, Sport or manually cranking off gear changes, 4700 is your limit.



If VW only offered this engine in the Touareg, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be everything you’d want and need. It’s got power, it moves this buggy quickly down the road and is nice to you at the pump. In my two weeks of “mixed” driving, my fuel economy was 26.6 mpg. I challenge you to find another vehicle, with the Touareg’s capabilities, at this price point that does this? It was not uncommon for me to see MPG’s in the low 30’s. Yes, the 30’s number was indicated in the dash-cluster, but unlike the previous generation, the MFD fuel readings are much more honest. Hand calculations vs. MFD calculations were always less than a half-mile-per-gallon difference.



I have not driven the Touareg-Hybrid (yet), but I have read quite a bit and the Hybrid is the performance model. The numbers are impressive -- until you get to the value factor. If you are looking for the best balance of power, fuel economy and price, the Touareg TDI is the clear winner. Black Beauty had a sticker of $58,320, nearly $4,000 less than the Hybrid and the TDI gets better mileage.




Since announcing that I was going to be testing the 2011 Touareg, I’ve been flooded with questions from people wanting to know how it does off-road. In my limited opportunities (most trails with any real challenge in the mountains are still buried in feet of snow), I found it to still be a very capable vehicle. We lost air suspension and a LOW range transfer case in the U.S., and that is too bad. For the more hardcore Touareg owners (understanding this is a $50k dollar vehicle - not a $6k Jeep), that loss is hard to take, but this one seems ready to go.





The new Touareg has an “off-road” setting in the center console. Here’s what it does for you.

1: Changes all the slip, slide, skid and brake control settings
2: Allows gears to be held while in TipTronic mode on the transmission
3: Turns on a little green vehicle in the instrument panel, looking like it is driving downhill. (it blinks when you ask the vehicle to get down to business).



In areas I consider to be fairly tame, I was able to see how Black Beauty handled mud, soft sand, hill climbing and hill descent. In all cases, Black Beauty didn’t even feel like it was being challenge. I found a hill with a greater than 45-degree hill, covered in loose gravel,sand and mud. Climbing it was effortless -- even with 20-inch all seasons. Going down that same hill was ridiculously simple. Mud and sand were also not a problem. I did learn a lesson in ground clearance at one point. Let’s just say I’m glad it was small gravel and sand at that moment. I was still able to hang a wheel into the air -- which always makes me giggle.





The annual Touareg Off-Road Rally is scheduled once again for this July in Ouray, Colorado. I’m currently working with VW to get another Touareg to see just how much “real” off-roading it will take. Based on what I’ve experienced so far... we might be pleasantly surprised, we’ll just have to wait and see.



So... what DON’T I like about the Touareg? I do have some issues --- if that’s what you can call them.

I found the steering to be numb with no real road feel. This is vastly different from the first generation Touareg (which I own). I like being able to have a sense of the road surface and the new Touareg removes that. Second, the new interior (even with the pano-sunroof) is so incredibly quiet that it’s like being inside a church, all by yourself, on a Wednesday afternoon. I have never driven a vehicle that is this quiet inside.. it’s extraordinary. Here me out, because you’re probably thinking I’m nuts. When you couple the steering with the amazing levels of silence inside the car, I felt a little disconnected from the driving experience. I know this is a huge level of refinement. Look at it this way. Even if you’re a drinker of fine micro-brews, there is always a time when a simple Bud-Light is what you’re looking for. The Touareg is a great micro-brew --- all the time!




This new Touareg has been pushed up to the level of an Audi Q7. It’s clear VW is gunning for BMW, Lexus and Infinity. It would be nice if air suspension and LOW Range were an available option, but for now, it’s not here in the U.S. If that happened, this Touareg would be as close to the perfect vehicle for anyone or anything on the road and off today. Please VW... do it!!!

If you’re looking for my Bottom Line --- Would I buy this vehicle? Absolutely... it continues to be exceptional!



LIKES:
*V6TDI engine of awesomeness
*Exterior design
*LED DRL/Adaptive HID Headlights
*RNS850 Navigation/Dynaudio Sound System
*Sporty Steering wheel and controls
*MFD Instrument Cluster
*Sliding and reclining rear seat/more cargo and seating flexibility
*Heated steering wheel (sweet option)
*Panoramic sunroof
*Exhaust/rear bumper integration
*Taillight design
*Slow-churned buttery smooth transmission
*Cargo straps in the boot area
*Powertrain Warranty: 10yr/100k miles

DISLIKES:
*Disconnected driving feel
*Rear hatch glass no longer opens separately from the hatch
*No LED taillights -- nearly unforgivable for a vehicle at this price
*Lower front bumper/approach angle (small scratch in paint-oops)
*No available LOW range and air suspension (have I mentioned that?)