Even by Rocky Mountains standards, this was cold: minus 34 at night and minus 28 during the day.
Although it brought out the usual "awww, it gets 'way colder than this in Kapuskasing" and "you should try Fort St. John during the winter!" bravado from assembled auto scribes, it was still chilly enough to freeze tears, and you couldn't remain outside for more than a few minutes at a time.
On the other hand, it was perfect weather to see whether the new 2011 Touareg is everything Volkswagen says it is. Basking in the glow of being named Best SUV/CUV over $50,000 for 2011 by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, VW is shipping the new Touareg to dealerships as you read this.
And it is all-new and not just tweaked, according to Volkswagen product strategist Traci Sinyard. "This is not a facelift. The new Touareg is bigger and lighter and new in every way," she said at the launch. As well as shedding 195 kilograms over last year's model, it has an all-new platform, revised interior, new drivetrain and is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor.
Among the new stuff is a turbo-diesel TDI V-6 that may be the most refined engine of its kind on the market. It displaces 3.0 litres and develops 225 horsepower and a substantial 406 lb-ft of torque. It joins a 280-horsepower, 3.6-litre, gas-fuelled V-6 in the lineup. Both are mated to a new Tiptronic eight-speed automatic transmission only.
VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive comes with both engine choices, and an electronic stability control system is also standard issue. As well, there is a trailering package that will give the new Touareg a 3,500-kilogram towing capacity.
How refined is the new turbo-diesel? During the event, I drove one of the TDIs for at least an hour before realizing it wasn't gas-engined. It may be a titch slower in a drag race, but in terms of linear power delivery, pulling power, smoothness and responsiveness, it's actually the more useable of the two powerplants and returns superior fuel economy - although not by all that much. The gas engine also requires premium gas.
Nor is there any trace of diesel stink and, according to Sinyard, a single tank of fuel will take you at least 1,200 kilometres. On the downside, VW is packaging the new Touareg TDI separately, and it's more expensive. As one of my colleagues noted: "You gotta have money if you want to be green." With the TDI drivetrain and all the bells and whistles, you can spend almost $65,000 - significantly more than its less than $50,000 base price.
On that note, Volkswagen is also putting the final touches on a hybrid Touareg, and expect to have it ready for the market by 2012. Apparently, the company is keeping a close eye on the fate of its new Jetta Hybrid, and is currently finalizing tooling costs, dealer facilities, training for service personnel and so on in anticipation of its new hybrid SUV.
But getting back to the current model: as befits an upscale SUV, the new Touareg comes loaded. Standard equipment includes a navi system, heated front seats (with three settings), Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, Sirius satellite radio, hill-hold control, electronic brake distribution and hill descent control for off-road enthusiasts.
Options include leather interior, a massive power sunroof, power-adjusting steer wheel, rear-view camera and heated rear seats. As usual, there are three basic trim levels: Comfortline, Highline and Execline.
The full-time all-wheel-drive system also has an off-road setting and low range and, during the launch event, we got to experience the traction control system and off-road setting first-hand. Aside from a few kilometres on the freeway, virtually every road we drove on was covered in snow or ice.
With the sub-zero weather outside, this was no place for sissies and it occurred to me as we drove through picture-postcard-perfect scenery in and around Kananaskis and Banff, that if you broke down on these back-roads in this kind of weather, and weren't rescued within an hour or two, you'd be in serious trouble.
But over hill and dale and through fresh snow, the Touareg never missed a beat, and we could have been driving on perfectly dry, finished roads for all the difference the weather made. One minor contretemps, however. After a few hours, the front wheels went out of balance - on most of the cars - and at highway speeds, this became apparent in a pronounced high-speed vibration. Cold weather will do that sort of thing, however, and the imbalance was likely the result of ice building up inside the wheels.
Otherwise, frigid weather notwithstanding, it was a walk - or drive - in the park.
2011 Volkswagen Touareg
Type: Luxury SUV
Price Range: $48,440-$63,190
Engine: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V-6/3.6-litre gas V-6
225 hp/406 lb-ft for diesel
280 hp/265 lb-ft for gas engine
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with Tiptronic
Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 11.1 city/7.0 highway (TDI); Diesel fuel or premium gas
Alternatives: Lexus RX350, Acura MDX, BMW X5, Mercedes ML350, Lexus 400h, Volvo XC90
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