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car review

2011 Volkswagen Touareg

The 2011 Touareg got more than just a facelift. This, claimed Volkswagen, was a complete overhaul, from stem to stern.

Bigger and more powerful than its predecessor but 195 kilograms lighter, VW's largest SUV got a new turbo-diesel V-6 engine as well, which joined a 280-horsepower V-6 gas powerplant. A revised interior and an all-new platform rounded out this, the second generation of Touareg, which took home the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada's award for Best SUV over $50,000 for 2011.

The turbo-diesel TDI V-6 was arguably the most refined engine of its kind on the market. User-friendly, it displaced 3.0 litres and developed 225 horsepower, with a more-than-substantial 406 lb-ft of torque. Both diesel and gas powerplants were mated to an also-new Tiptronic eight-speed automatic transmission. VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive came with both engine choices, and an electronic stability control system was also standard issue. The full-time all-wheel-drive system featured an off-road setting and low range, and this generation of the Touareg had a 3,500-kilogram towing capacity.

Unsurprisingly, any trace of diesel stink and messiness was long gone and, according to VW, a single tank of diesel fuel would take you at least 1,200 kilometres. More if you were careful. On the other hand, the TDI version was more expensive than its gas-fueled stablemate.

As befits an upscale SUV, the 2011 Touareg came loaded. Standard equipment included a navi system, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, Sirius satellite radio, hill-hold control, electronic brake distribution, and hill descent control for off-road enthusiasts. Options included leather interior, a massive power sunroof, power-adjusting steer wheel, rear-view camera and heated rear seats. There were three trim levels: Comfortline, Highline and Execline.

Neither Transport Canada nor the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have any safety recalls out there for this year of Touareg. NHTSA, however, has nine technical service bulletins on file. These include non-starting and rough-running issues if the vehicle has sat for too long, "misfire or reduced engine performance," timing chain "slippage" and "rattling" noises coming from the engine after a cold start.

NHTSA also has seven registered complaints from owners. A sampling: "At highway speeds … the steering wheel shakes dramatically," "the HPFP [injector pump] failed. After three weeks, the vehicle is still being repaired," "metal shavings in the fuel system required a complete replacement of the fuel system" and "in a front-on collision that caused $22,000 of damage to the front of my vehicle, neither of the front airbags deployed." The TDI versions of this generation of Touareg seem to be more problematic than the gas models.

Describing the 2011 edition of the Touareg as "a huge improvement" over the previous iteration, Consumer Reports nonetheless gives it a "much worse than average" used-car prediction. The brakes, body hardware and fuel system are the most problematic areas – especially the latter. Notes C.R.: "We expect reliability of new models to be 57 per cent below average." Some comments from owners: "It was a joy to drive … while running," "Shaky steering at highway speeds … in and out of the shop for nine weeks and no one can diagnose the problem," "rock solid" and "VW will not warranty any use of diesel containing greater than 5 per cent biodiesel."

Market research firm J.D. Power, meanwhile, gives the 2012 version of the Touareg (aside from minor trim changes, there are virtually no differences between these two years) an "about-average" grade for overall quality, and "better than most" for overall performance and design. That said, it collected a "worse-than-average" grade for predicted reliability. Some comments from owners: "dreadful rear vision – dangerous blind spots," "can't load as much as older models" and "feels like the [Porsche] Cayenne … at $30,000 less."

Prices between the gas and turbo-diesel versions of this one vary greatly – by as much as $6,000, depending upon equipment level. As well, the base and top-of-the-range models are at least $5,000 apart in terms of value. Expect to pay anywhere from the low to mid-$30,000s for a V-6 gas-engined Comfortline, to close to $50,000 for a fully loaded Execline TDI.

2011 Volkswagen Touareg

Original Base Price: $48,440; Black Book: $35,750 – $48,325; Red Book: $30,425 - $41,300

Engine: 3.6 litre V6 & 3.0 litre Turbo-diesel

Horsepower/Torque: 280 hp / 265 ft. lb; & 225 hp / 406 ft. lb.

Transmission: Eight-speed Tiptronic automatic

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/8.0 (TDI). Premium gas.

Alternatives: Lexus RX350, Acura MDX, BMW X5, Mercedes ML350, Lexus 400h, Volvo XC90.