The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Road Trip and Review By Steve Purdy


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Volkswagen Specs, Prices and Comparisons - 1997-2012 Volkswagen Buyers Guide

2011 VOLKSWAGEN TOUAREG TDI LAKE TAHOE ROAD TRIP REVIEW
Exploring the Mountains in a Luxurious SUV
By Steve Purdy
TheAutoChannel.com
Detroit Bureau


If you’re following these stories you’ll know this is our second of three road trips of the fall season. The first was last month, the Wisconsin Dells in a MINI Countryman. This one takes us to Lake Tahoe where we hook up with the Touareg TDI. And next month we make an exploration of the Smoky Mountains. We haven’t chosen a ride for that one yet. We usually do about a half dozen of these road trip stories each year. It’s a great opportunity to explore our automobiles and a new area of the country.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Our friends at VW had first offered us a new Tiguan small crossover for this trip, but its recent redesign left it behind schedule in getting into the San Francisco press fleet. When they suggested the swap I was pleased. We had just done a story about the new-for-2011 Touareg TDI that set the record for traversing the length of the Pan-America Highway from Argentina to Alaska. (Check out that story here at TAH.)


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

We picked up our shiny black Toureg TDI at the Reno airport. Its imposing stance is unmistakable with substantial ground clearance, huge tires (optional 20-inchers in this case) muscular, broad-shouldered profile and an imposing size. The Touareg’s profile and platform is shared with the Porsche Cayenne, by the way. This new redesign changed the profile little but it embodies some of the VW’s new styling queues - all in all, a particularly attractive and masculine SUV in this reporter’s view.

Highway 421 takes us southwest across Rose Mountain Pass to Incline Village, a remarkably upscale settlement on the north shore of lovely Lake Tahoe. Winding our way up the road to an elevation of about 8,500 feet we experience the charm of this 3.0-liter turbo diesel engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The 400-plus pound-feet of torque makes the climb effortless, though a bit of turbo lag and leisurely downshifts dampen our enthusiasm just a bit. I suppose it would be too much to ask for this truck to have a dual-scroll turbo and DSG transmission. That might make the performance near perfect.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

We arrived late afternoon with an hour to spare before checking in so we cruised to the south end of the lake where Emerald Bay basked in the waning sunshine. Boasting the only island in the Lake, Emerald Bay may be the most scenic spot in this most scenic area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Upon the top of the small island is a little stone teahouse with a wonderful story dating back to the late 1800s when an heiress built it to entertain her friends.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

These are not challenging roads, but they wind gently along the circumference of this deep alpine lake where a sudden shift and uplift in the earths crust shut off the outlet to the big valley forming this 1,600-foot-deep lake. Glaciers carved out the surrounding mountains rising to over 9,000-foot elevation in some areas. The surface of the lake is at about 6,300-foot elevation. Think of all that drama.

The Touareg’s suspension is gentle and compliant in normal mode but we have an “off-road” mode as well. Cruising along through a series of little villages along the western shore at the modest to slow posted limits the Touareg feels luxurious with tight, precise steering and nearly dead-silent ride quality.

Our south-facing condo is located just around the shoreline to the west at Tahoe Vista. It’s an old, two-story motel being converted into two-bedroom time-share condos. It still looks mighty tacky from the outside but, in spit of the limited space, they’re doing a great job upgrading the inside with nice tile, local art and decent design. We have our own sandy beach and lots of quaint eateries and shops nearby.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Interior quality and design are impeccable. This is an upscale SUV, of course, and the $64,000 price reflects that. The new Touareg (pronounced twah-reg, and named after a particularly war-like north African tribe) can be had in a basic V-6 iteration starting at about $43,000 and this turbo diesel version starting at about $46,500. With four trim levels ours is the top-of-the-line TDI Executive. This one has the panoramic sunroof, navigation, and all the goodies. I can’t think of anything this one doesn’t have.

We can now have, if we like, a hybrid version as well starting at $64,410 and with Audi’s supercharged, 335-horsepower V6 aided by a 47-horsepower electric motor.

This 3.0-liter turbo diesel V6 adds about $3,500 to the price of the Touareg and adds about 20% in fuel mileage. Rated at 19-mpg in the city and 28 on the highway the TDI also accounts for an over 600 mile cruising range. We averaged about 22-mpg for our week of mostly 2-lane driving with just a bit of off-road and a bit of freeway. On one stretch of wide open 2-lane we managed over 30. Only an experienced ear could tell by the sound that this is a diesel.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Most of our trips focus on exploration by car and on foot. Using the best local maps we can find we’re looking for the back roads and quiet trails to drive and hike. The Lake Tahoe area, as you might surmise, is rich with these possibilities. The famous Rubicon Trail for off-road vehicles runs along the eastern slopes beside the lake. And, the popular and challenging Rim Trail, an 80-mile hiking trail, extends all around the lake on the ridge of the surrounding mountains. Both are at least one step beyond our capabilities - vehicular and physical. One of the changes made in the Touareg redesign was to eliminate the dual-range transfer case so we have less creeping, crawling capability. One of the changes we’ve made personally is allowing ourselves to age out of such intense hiking exploits.

[Woods] We experienced some of the off-road character of the Touareg on the second day when we found a couple of roads on the map that appeared to jut out into the wilderness with dead ends. We love those end-of-the road discoveries. The first and longest of these zigzagged to the southwest off Highway 267, the lesser road to Truckee. With few panoramic views and pavement that gave way to dirt then rocks and sand, it finally spread out into a quiet and secluded sandy, rocky delta of camping, horseback riding and hunting land.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

On the other side of the road and the other side of Brockway Summit, another trail, mostly paved but steep and twisty, disappeared into the forest northeast climbing steeply about six miles to Martis Peak, elevation 8,556, where a fire tower is open to the public and offers beautiful panoramic views 360-degrees from Truckee to South Lake Tahoe. We ended up there about an hour before sunset with the afternoon light glistening off the surface of quiet Lake Tahoe perhaps 2,200 feet below and about three miles southeast of us.

Finally, later in the week, we found a narrow road leading up the side of the mountain toward the Rubicon. We went a couple of miles in where ground clearance became important as we danced through the ever more rocky trail, but my pretty wife is a bit timid about banging through the back country all alone, particularly without cell phone coverage, so we satisfied ourselves with just a taste of off-roading. The Touareg inspired confidence in this challenging environment jostling over large rocks without ever scraping our skid plates.

[Woods] Of course, we engaged the off-road switch on these rough roads and discovered on some steep descents the automatic hill descent control that triggers when the descent angle is 10% and speed below 18 mph. With foot entirely off the pedals the truck will just creep slowly down the hill remaining straight even if we were on ice, snow or mud. We were on solid dry footing but . . . you get the picture, I’m sure.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Mid week we took a day trip back into Reno, about an hour away, to visit one of the most important automotive museums in the country, the former Harrah Collection, now known as the National Automobile Museum. Bill Harrah was a casino pioneer and serious collector of fine automobiles amassing about 1,400 before he died much too early at age 66. The collection was culled to a more manageable number of a bit more than 200. A new museum was built to maintain and display the best of his cars, from an 1897 Leon Bollett three-wheeler with wick ignition to muscle cars of the 70s. The 1930s classics are my favorites by far along with a great collection of celebrity cars. Most dramatic, perhaps, is the one-of-a-kind 1938 Phantom Corsair, a sleek, futuristic (for its day) concept car that may have been produced if its creator hadn’t died shortly after its completion. Most important historically is the 1908 Thomas Flyer that won the New York to Paris race of that year covering 22,000 miles when there were no decent roads.


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The National Automobile Museum is well worth a visit if you’re in the Reno area, or worth a special trip if you’re not. The museum is located on the bank of the Truckee River and has many different galleries for different eras of cars, a theater with an entertaining film and event facilities as well. Look them up at www.automuseum.org.

This Toureg TDI would be a wonderful vehicle to live with. It does just about everything very well. The price of entry is a bit steep, though, but in this case you’ll get what you pay for. [VW Emblem]

It’s just too bad I’m not one who can afford it.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)