We weren't surprised to find refinement inside the comfortable cabin of the 2004 Volkswagen Touareg. After all, we expect refinement in a Volkswagen, known for tautly finished interiors and keen attention to detail. What surprised and impressed us about the Touareg was its stellar off-road capability. It turns out a Volkswagen Touareg can go pretty much anywhere. We witnessed this while driving through Hell's Revenge, a trail that weaves through sandy gullies and the not so slick rock near Moab, Utah. With its articulate suspension, sophisticated drive system, and advanced technology, the Touareg gains the respect, if not the appreciation, of veteran off-road enthusiasts. We wouldn't hesitate to follow a Jeep Wrangler or Range Rover anywhere in one of these and the folks from Volkswagen would suggest the Touareg should lead the convoy. Named after a nomadic tribe from the Sahara, Touareg (pronounced "TOUR-egg" or "TORE-egg") is bound to be the most often mispronounced and misspelled vehicle introduced for the 2004 model year. In spite of this and in spite of its newness, it is instantly recognized as a Volkswagen. It looks just like you'd expect Volkswagen's first modern SUV to look. Touareg boasts a brawny stance, yet shares styling cues with the upcoming Phaeton luxury car and other future Volkswagen models that give it a sophisticated, upscale appearance. The optional V8 engine, lifted from the superb new Audi A8 L, delivers good acceleration performance, enhanced by a wonderful six-speed automatic transmission that smoothly selects exactly the right gearing for every situation. On the highway, the Touareg provides a fairly smooth ride, though opting for the 19-inch wheels brings in some road vibration and noise. Touareg is no sports sedan, but handling is responsive for a heavy SUV. Off road, the all-wheel-drive and traction-control systems automatically apportion power to the wheels with the best grip, providing better traction and requiring less skill from the driver. Inside, the Touareg offers comfortable seating for five with rich interior appointments and controls that are easy to use. Indeed, this is among the most comfortable of Volkswagens with firm, supportive seats. Measured more broadly, the Touareg is among the best of the mid-size luxury SUVs. It offers better off-road capability than the Volvo XC 90, and it seems more comfortable and more practical than the BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz ML 350. What the Touareg does not offer, however, is a third row of seats. So look elsewhere if you need seating for more than five.
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