2011 VW Touareg Hybrid

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Volkswagen is known as the diesel engine carmaker. Hybrids up to now had been left to the rest of the industry. Now VW has also taken the hybrid route with its all-new-for-2011 Touareg crossover vehicle.

And VW, a master of the modern diesel engine, seems to be just as comfortable building a hybrid. Yes, you will still be able to purchase a Touareg diesel — and a gas engine as well — but we were impressed after spending seat time in a VW hybrid.

The Touareg is an in-your-face gas/electric combining a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 making 330 horsepower with a 47-horsepower electric motor for a combined output of 380 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque. This prodigious power is matched to VW’s new eight-speed automatic that is featured on the balance of their crossover lineup.

The VW hybrid is unique. It allows you to “sail” with a shut down feature on the V-6.  As we cruised down a four-lane highway at 80 mph we let off the gas and carefully listened to the V-6 engine as it shut down. That's one of VW's ways of increasing gas mileage. While coasting, the gas engine can shut down at speeds up to 99 mph. And it can stay off for long periods such as coasting down mountain grades. “Sailing” may save gas but it requires heightened driving skills and concentration.

Gas mileage estimates for the hybrid are 25 mpg city and 21mpg highway. But don't expect that kind of mileage if you take advantage of the available horsepower. The hybrid is a performance junky. Power was very impressive in a couple of 5-to-60 mph rolling starts. Estimates have the Touareg capable of a low-6-second full throttle time from 0-to-60.

Like the first generation introduced in 2002 and upgraded a few years later, the 2011 Touareg carries unique styling, with a tauter and edgier look. One standout feature is LED taillights.

The base 2011 Touareg will probably start at around $41,000. Figure at least a 10 grand premium for the hybrid version, which should stack up well against such luxury competitors as the Lexus RX 450h and Mercedes ML450 Hybrid.

It is now on sale.

— Jim Meachen