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Road Trip! Green Getaway to South by Southwest

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author photo by Autotrader March 2011

This Friday marks the start of South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. What began as an indie music festival in 1987 is now a triple-threat media conference attended by more than 65,000 music, film and interactive media professionals. These three industries have become indelibly linked together online during the past 15 years.

The resulting news media blitz from the show is aimed directly at a young, hipster audience and has attracted some major corporate sponsors. This year, the exclusive automotive super-sponsor is Chevrolet. To get the most cred for its dollar, Chevy will feature its two most eco-friendly cars at the event: The Chevrolet Volt and Cruze Eco. The much-hyped Volt is a plug-in electric sedan with a range-extending gas motor. The Cruze Eco is a special version of Chevy's stylish new compact sedan that has been tweaked to achieve more than 40 mpg.

Getting into the green car spirit, AutoTrader is sending its own delegation to the party on a fuel-efficient two-day road trip to SXSW. From our headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, we'll have about 1,000 miles to cover, so we opted for the most comfortable green options we could find – the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid and 2011 Lexus RX 450h. While gas prices are quickly climbing towards $5 per gallon, many Americans are still reluctant to give up their big, comfy vehicles. This seems like the perfect opportunity to see if we can find a balance between comfort and fuel economy.

The Touareg Hybrid and RX 450h are both roomy crossover SUVs with powerful V6 engines mated to electric motors to boost fuel economy. Both cost around $60,000 when similarly equipped, and can be had with the typical array of luxury features. The RX 450h is clearly focused on comfort, while the Touareg Hybrid is sportier, with impressive acceleration and respectable off-roading and towing capabilities. The front-wheel drive RX 450h is rated at 32 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, which would be reasonable fuel economy in a midsize sedan, let alone a luxury SUV. The Touareg Hybrid only gets 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway due in part to its larger size and standard all-wheel drive (the all-wheel drive RX 450h gets 30 mpg city/28 mph highway).

In our Lexus RX 450h and Touareg Hybrid, we'll leave Atlanta Wednesday morning and head 500 miles southwest to New Orleans, where we'll stop overnight to recharge (ourselves – the hybrids recharge when you hit the brakes). Day two of the trip is another 500 miles, which should put us in Austin just in time for pre-registration at SXSW. 

Beyond our own green adventures, we'll be able to test drive Volt and Cruze Eco at SXSW and see how those cars are scoring with attendees. We'll also check out the "Volt Recharging Lounge," a Chevy-sponsored hospitality area, and see what's happening there. 

For the ride home, we'll exchange the Touareg Hybrid for a Touareg TDI clean diesel model. Diesel is the most popular fuel option in Europe, and with good reason. The Touareg TDI is rated at 28 mpg on the highway (4 mpg better than the hybrid model), but the truly impressive figure is that it can go more than 700 miles on a single tank of fuel (about the distance from Austin, Texas to Tuscaloosa, Alabama – three-quarters of the way home). Plus diesel engines generate more torque (which provides acceleration power in a vehicle) than gas engines. This allows the Touareg TDI to accelerate from 0-60 mph in a reasonably quick 7.9 seconds, and tow an impressive 7,700 lbs.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter along the way at #SXSWI for regular updates on landmarks, ride quality and fuel economy.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Road Trip! Green Getaway to South by Southwest - Autotrader