Volkswagen’s first entry in to the SUV market, the Touareg 4×4, was launched in 2003, and total worldwide sales of this model now exceed half a million.

The Touareg appealed to British buyers with its Porsche Cayenne-related chassis and styling, its impressive ability both on- and off-road, its competitive price, and the choice of a range of engines — from the mighty 340bhp V10 TDI to the entry-level 170bhp five-cylinder TDI.

After a couple of facelifts, a completely revised Touareg range appeared in late 2010.

While outwardly similar to the earlier generation, underneath it is very different — lighter, more rigid, with more rear legroom from a longer wheelbase, and more efficient engines.

The latest model is the Hybrid, which is powered by a supercharged 3.0L V6 TSI petrol engine that delivers 328bhp, with an underfloor electric motor that provides an additional 75bhp.

Below 31mph, for “E-driving” in town, as VW terms it, the E-motor can be the sole power source, and simply pressing the accelerator harder causes the V6 to start instantly, and almost indiscernibly, to provide extra power as required.

It then shuts down when coasting or slowing, and the E-motor becomes a generator, charging the battery.

VW claims a combined cycle fuel consumption of 34.4mpg for the Hybrid, and without the help from the electric motor, I suspect it would be closer to the low-20s.

Luckily, I was able to review the Touareg 3.0 V6 TSI Hybrid immediately following the BMW X5 xDrive 30d M Sport.

Apart from their power units, the two vehicles are close competitors — similar in size, equally luxurious and both comprehensively equipped — and the VW costs just £1,000 more than the BMW, at £58,000 OTR.

The engines from both the Hybrid and the X5 are mated to the latest in eight-speed automatics — the VW reaching 62mph in 6.5 seconds, and the X5 in 7.6.

While the X5’s diesel consumption is claimed to be 38.2mpg, with CO2 emissions of 195g/km, the Hybrid’s petrol-electric system claims a combined cycle of 34.4mpg and emits 193g/km CO2.

I managed only 27.5mpg in the VW, but with total torque of 325lb/ft (the X5 delivers 398lb/ft), mid-range acceleration is electrifying, and enjoying it to the full probably accounted for my being 7mpg adrift.

The Touareg’s interior is more spacious than the BMW’s, and the leather seats in both the front and rear are even more sumptuous.

The “infotainment” facilities are comprehensive, as are the myriad electronic driver’s aids.

The Touareg provides a better ride than the X5, if not quite as sharp a drive, and it is highly competent off-road, while the supercharged V6 petrol engine is exceptionally quiet.

The Touareg can carry five people in comfort, plus a load of kit in its 580-litre boot.

The VW has no spare wheel — its space houses a 1.7kW, 288V nickel-metal hydride battery — however, the manufacturer provides a can of tyre sealant and an air compressor.

Given the propensity for tyres to go flat late at night, in a gale, I recommend a rehearsal in the dry!

Brilliant though the Touareg’s hybrid technology is, its petrol consumption and CO2 emissions should be brought closer to those of the Lexus RX 450h’s 44mpg and 145g/km respectively, and its price ought to be closer to that of VW’s straight diesel versions — otherwise, I can’t see any advantages to owning one, especially if hybrid vehicles’ automatic exemption from congestion charging for regular visitors to London is to be withdrawn, as has been proposed.

I’d happily settle for a 242bhp Touareg 3.0L V6 TDI and save £20,000 in the process.

4×4 reviews: Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 V6 TSI Hybrid