Remember when the Volkswagen Touareg first came out in 2004? It was initially a bit of a status symbol, with several families in my kids' carpool lane driving them proudly as a show of their means — when they weren't in the shop for one problem or another. Over the past decade, a lot has changed. The Touareg has improved drastically over the years, and VW's even jumped onto the "green" bandwagon by adding a Touareg Hybrid to the mix.
Unfortunately, the 2014 VW Touareg Hybrid is an expensive SUV proposition without a major return on your hybrid investment in terms of fuel economy.
The Touareg doesn't seem to fit the bill as a status symbol these days, either. Really want to show 'em what you've got? How about his-and-hers matching Porsche Cayennes instead? (Cue synthesizer barf sound here.)
New for 2014 in the Touareg Hybrid is a multiview camera system, as well as a hands-free liftgate that opens when you swipe your foot under the bumper. Compare the 2014 Touareg Hybrid with the 2013 version here. If this particular luxury hybrid SUV isn't quite a fit for you, you may also want to look into the Touareg's more expensive sister vehicle, the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, or even the more economically svelte Lexus RX 450h. Compare the three of them side by side here.
Exterior & Styling
The Touareg Hybrid's exterior design is pretty quiet and subdued, blending into the rest of the pack. While it may not necessarily evoke any negative emotions, the Touareg Hybrid is not one to stand out from the crowd or elicit a racing heart.
Much like its Passat and Jetta sedans, Volkswagen continues to take a very safe, risk-free route from a design perspective with the Touareg. However, this approach may not remain risk-free for long. We're starting to see some very exciting and innovative designs coming from other manufacturers: Think the future Tesla Model X, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and more, all of which are pushing the design envelope and bringing some exciting new cars to the U.S. market, some even aimed at family hauling. While these unique designs might not be for everyone, the Touareg's mundane, staid design is easily lost both on the road and in the parking lot.
How It Drives
With 380 horsepower and 428 pounds-feet of torque from the supercharged gas engine and electric motor combined, the Touareg Hybrid is certainly no slouch. It accelerates hard and comfortably maintains cruising speeds on the highway. When you need to overtake another car or head up into the hills, there's more than enough power. The engine's auto stop-start feature worked flawlessly. Despite all this, in real-world driving the Touareg strains to achieve its EPA-estimated 20/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined.
Throughout the course of a week filled with normal family driving (highway driving to and from summer day camp, picking up friends for sleepovers, up small hills and stop-and-go 'burb driving to the grocery store, etc.), we averaged in the high teens in my test car, and that was not with a heavy foot or cold weather, which always diminishes hybrid mileage dramatically. While its extra power would be great for towing (the Touareg has an impressive 7,716-pound maximum trailer weight), the fact that it gets such poor mileage for any midsized SUV, never mind a hybrid, makes no sense to me. For those seeking better fuel economy and the same towing capacity, the Touareg TDI would be a better pick, with a slightly improved EPA-estimated 20/29/23 mpg (that's a 5 mpg improvement on the highway). The regular gas-powered Touareg is rated 17/23/19 mpg. All Touaregs come only with all-wheel drive, which hurts mileage compared with two-wheel-drive competitors.
The ride was comfortable, managing to smooth itself over rough pavement and take corners without so much body roll that it elicited complaints from my three "backseat test drivers" (ages 9, 11 and 14).
However, a significant amount of noise came from the loud buzzing fan that cooled the battery under the floor in the cargo area. This was only compounded by the slight grinding sound of the regenerative braking, which also felt slightly grabby. The abundance of noises from within the car — surprisingly not from my daughters — was irritating if not disconcerting, disturbing an otherwise fairly quiet interior.
As with the Passats and Jettas I have recently driven, the Touareg's interior was very comfortable. The leather on my test car was subdued and subtle, with some simple yet classy stitching. While the interior gauges and instrument cluster were very functional, they were not awe inspiring from an aesthetic standpoint (not, for example, like the Bang & Olufsen-inspired Volvo interiors).
The 57-by-39-inch panoramic moonroof that's standard in the hybrid was spectacular. In the late summer, this is an amazing luxury, allowing a cool, fresh-air-conditioned interior and really inviting the Colorado sky into my vehicle. This is fast becoming one of my favorite features, and the large size of the Touareg's roof brightened my test vehicle's black interior, making it feel airy and light.
The kids in the back liked having rear heated seats for those evening drives when it may have been a little too chilly for them to drive with the roof open. Combined with air vents on the back of the center console, they could adjust the temperature themselves. I didn't hear any dramatic complaining about it being "burning hot" even when the panoramic roof's shade was open in the middle of the day. The kids also had access to a 125-volt AC power outlet on the back of the center console that was very useful for adding a little power to a quickly dying electronic device. Any time a vehicle can assist in raising a tween's or teen's independence level, keeping the driver focused on the road, it gets a positive checkmark from me. The rear side window shades were also very helpful for keeping the hot summer sun out. The rear seats that slide back and forth up to 6.3 inches and recline were instrumental in my girls' comfort level.
Up front were all the standard storage areas, including a bin under the air controls, a small cup-shaped space below the gearshift, an extra covered compartment in the top of the dash, a storage console under the center armrest and in-door storage bins. While all these little storage areas might seem unimportant to the average driver, parents always need extra space for storing kids' stuff and staying organized as we safely try to move the family from point A to point B.
The armrests between the driver and front passenger open individually for access to the center console below. I appreciated that my husband could open his side and access stuff within the console without having to prompt me (i.e., lovingly jab my elbow) to move my arm.
I also really appreciated the dual sun visors, with the ability to have one part cover the side window and another the front. This seems like such a simple, low-cost, low-tech solution to a problem every driver has. That dang sun moves every time I take a turn! I was, however, disappointed that the side visor didn't slide and extend to cover a larger portion of the window.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Ergonomically, everything seemed to be in the right place and quickly accessible. While the Touareg features a large touch-screen, its hard knobs and switches for the things I use most allowed me to quickly and easily adjust temperatures, fan speed, seat heat, etc., without having to wade through layers of technology on the touch-screen.
There were also both 30-pin and Lightning iPhone connectors in the car, which was a big plus for my family and our slew of different iWhatevers. The Bluetooth phone pairing was simple and seamless, and I managed it without even opening the user manual. Bonus!
With a hybrid, it's always interesting to watch the different power screens displaying battery power and engine usage. While the Touareg has some intriguing graphical representations, I found myself a little too fascinated with them and quickly had to switch away from that screen in order to keep my attention on the road.
The Touareg also has a selectable "off-road" screen with a wealth of useful information for when you're on a rugged trail, bouldering with your $65,000 hybrid SUV, including an altitude meter. Apparently, my home is exactly 6,320 feet above sea level, in case that's been keeping you up at night. Since most consumers will keep their Touareg hybrid on the pavement, perhaps those and other efforts like it would have been better spent on including much-desired blind spot monitoring.
Cargo & Storage
The 32.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the Touareg's rear seats expands easily by sliding those seats forward, creating several extra inches to squeeze that electric Barbie ride-on Jeep without having to fold the backseat down. When you need to, though, two buttons in the cargo area fold the 60/40-split backseat, expanding the space to 64 cubic feet. While this was more than enough room for my needs, families needing extra space to squeeze in more stuff may be attracted to the Lexus RX 450h's 40.0 cubic feet with the seats in place, 80.3 cubic feet with the seats folded.
A storage bin on the driver's side of the cargo space, along with elastic bands on the curb side, help secure unwieldy, rogue items so they don't become dangerous projectiles inside the car.
The auto-open, hands-free liftgate that opens via a foot swipe under the bumper is a much-appreciated feature, especially by parents who always seem to have their hands full of groceries and/or little ones. Add keyless entry with push-button start, and you have a few small features that really do add up to make a difference on a day-to-day basis.
The Touareg received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating of good (on a scale of good, acceptable, marginal and poor) in the moderate-overlap front crash test, side crash test, roof strength test and a rear test dedicated to head-restraint and seat protection.
Families installing child-safety seats with the Latch system will probably be disappointed. The Touareg's Latch system lower anchors are tightly buried within the seat bight. Combine that with the stiff leather of the seats and minimal clearance below the Latch anchor, and child-seat installation might become an exercise in patience as well as endurance.
The center rear seat belt is almost unusable. The belt buckle folds flat into the seat on a stiff-hinged base and requires two or more hands to pull and hold it up in order to buckle in. In our scenario, the sister sitting in the outboard position had to hold it with two hands while the girl in the middle seat tried to get buckled.
I was also very surprised that the Touareg didn't have blind spot monitors at this price. As a mom, I see this feature as one that could be life-saving for my family, and I'm shocked on the rare occasion when I don't see this valuable safely feature included on a new vehicle — particularly one in this price range. If vehicles less than half the Touareg's price can add the feature as standard equipment, so should the Touareg.
See all the standard safety features listed here.
Value in Its Class
The VW Touareg Hybrid's base price of more than $65,000 is in stark contrast with what you get for your money. Lacking great fuel economy, safety features such as blind spot monitors and niceties such as ventilated seats, VW might have a hard time justifying the cost to anyone other than die-hard VW groupies.