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Why buy hybrid when you could have diesel instead?

2012 Volkswagen Touareg


Overall Rating
Here we have a big, comfortable, powerful and decently thrifty SUV. You will like this vehicle if: you want an SUV built for the long haul.
Looks Rating
The LED surrounds of the headlights add a softening touch to what is otherwise a muscular, take-no-prisoners and do-very-little creative design.
Interior Rating
This is a lovely and comfortable place. Great seats, plenty of room, sensible controls - VW's interior designers have done well here.
Ride Rating
No diesel clatter. The Touareg is planted and quiet in all situations. The diesel engine delivers instant power and loads of it. All good.
Safety Rating
Big and heavy, the Touareg is robust and loaded with all the modern safety features.
Green Rating
The fuel-efficient turbodiesel delivers the highway fuel economy of a Toyota Camry sedan.

A week testing Volkswagen's Touareg TDI diesel SUV reminded me of how utterly misguided and wasteful our politicians can be.

You see, fuel-efficient diesel engines in Canada do not receive a penny in government subsidies. Ridiculous. Diesel fuel should be taxed at a lower rate than gasoline for one simple reason: the fuel carries more energy than a comparable amount of gasoline, thus it is more efficient. Diesels run at higher compressions and create more torque, so they feel stronger – they never seem to strain for power, which means diesels are user friendly.

If politicians truly wanted to jump-start fleet-wide fuel economy, the simple solution is to push drivers into diesels. That is a short- to medium-term answer to the "green" issue, but it's a quick way to get an immediate 25-40 per cent fuel economy bump. Given half a chance, perhaps we'd even see diesel hybrids emerge. They would be far superior in fuel efficiency than gas-electric hybrids, while also lowering vehicle emissions.

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Yet politicians in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are using our money to bribe wealthy people to buy $40,000-ish electric cars with $8,000-$10,000 subsidies. I admire electric cars and the two I just tested (Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt) were superb feats of engineering that drove beautifully. But no one makes a battery pack that, in the real winter world, is capable of delivering, say, a range of 160 km.

On the other hand, the diesel Touareg has a 1,000-km plus range per tank of fuel. No range anxiety there, folks. Just range enough to go a week and a half or more between fill-ups.

Diesels, for all of you who have not tried one of the "clean" ones lately, are NOT stinky, wretched, black-cloud-belching power plants. Let me bring you up to date if your present idea of a diesel passenger car is the 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Diesel – the one, as John Pearley Huffman recently noted, had a 4.3-litre V-6 that made a sad-sack 90 hp before shattering into shrapnel.

The 3.0-litre V-6 diesel in the Touareg creates 406 pound-feet of torque and 225 horsepower, yet in a 2,256 kg SUV delivers highway fuel economy very close to that of a 2012 Camry mid-size sedan (6.8 litres/100 km for the VW, 6.4 for the Toyota).

Moreover, the Touareg has more torque. Lots and lots more from turbocharged, direct fuel injection engine (T-D-I). When you hit the accelerator the power comes on fast. While this big Touareg feel substantial and even heavy, it's quick because the V-6 diesel produces 100 per cent of its torque at 1,750 rpm. It's "torquey."

But not noisy. You won't hear diesel clatter when you're driving; it's well muffled under the hood and the cabin is stuffed with sound deadening. The ride is quiet and smooth even if you drive with some enthusiasm.

VW does offer a gasoline-powered Touareg, but who wants it? True, the base gasoline Touareg is $5,000 cheaper ($48,875 versus $53,875 for the starter Touareg TDI), but you get so much more with the "oil burner" – a confidence-inspiring power train that combines all that diesel torque with a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission for no fuss, no muss motivation.

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The reinvented Touareg is a pretty impressive SUV in other ways, also. With the recent redesign, this VW got bigger all around and now 909 litres of cargo volume with the second row seats up, nearly twice that with them down (1,812 litres). It's big back there, and that's perfect for loading hockey gear or groceries.

VW didn't overlook passenger comfort, either. This Touareg has lots of front and rear leg room, and generous shoulder and knee room. Adults will be comfortable on long hauls or short ones, regardless of where they're sitting. And everyone should like the modern interior design with its soft-touch materials, well-padded seats and tasteful trim.

For the driver, the instruments are a combination of traditional and modern. The big, round speedometer and tachometer bookend a display screen with vehicle information and turn-by-turn navigation. The standard navigation screen at the top of the centre stack displays clear instructions and that screen also serves to provide information about the sound system and so on. One of the few options is a monstrous panoramic sunroof ($1,800).

On the outside, well, this VW looks a bit brutish. The designers have not gone for subtle SUV looks in any way. The hard, muscular styling is softened a bit by LED lighting around the headlights, as well as some lines and creases in the sheetmetal. VW seems happy to have the Touareg look like a truck, not a tall wagon.

True, with Touareg prices ranging from $48,875 to $63,685 plus options, this VW is not cheap. On the other hand, the diesel version is not wasteful, which is more than can be said about politicians who spend your money subsidizing $40,000 electric cars.

Tech Specs

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg 4MOTION 3.0 TDI Executive

Type: Large SUV

Base price: $63,685 ($1,500 freight)

Engine: 3.0-litre V-6, turbocharged diesel

Output (horsepower and torque): 225/406 lb-ft.

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel drive.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.2 city/6.8 highway, using diesel fuel.

Alternatives: Honda Pilot, Buick Enclave, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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