The streets of the old city are crowded, tourists gaping at the sights as they wander down the middle of the narrow streets of Florence at first not even noticing our big SUV rolling by. That’s easy to do when it’s running in near-silent battery mode, the only sounds the crunching of tires on the pavement and the subtle hum of the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg’s electric motor.
It’s been a decade since the first hybrid-electric vehicles began rolling into showrooms. Until recently, the field was dominated by Asian makers, Toyota in particular, with the popular Prius. After a slow start, U.S. makers have steadily ramped up their own menu of gas-electric offerings, but until recently, Europen marques seemed determined to prove to the world they had a better solution in the form of the diesel drivetrain.
Suddenly, that’s shifting. The new decade is bringing with it a wave of hybrid entries from German marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and, for the upcoming model-year, VW, which enters the alternative power fray with the completely-redesigned Touareg, which will be offered, starting in 2011, with a broad mix of powertrain options, including conventional gasoline, diesel and hybrid.