The Volkswagen Touareg is an impressive mid-size luxury SUV. 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, both of which are older designs. The 2005 Volkswagen Touareg lineup includes a new turbocharged diesel V10 model that develops a mighty 553 pound-feet of torque while achieving an EPA-estimated 17/23 mpg. Gasoline engines are also available, of course, including a superb V8 that's also used in the Audi A8 L. The V8 delivers good acceleration performance, enhanced by the Touareg's wonderful six-speed automatic that smoothly selects exactly the right gear for every situation. On the highway, the Touareg provides a fairly smooth ride, though opting for the 19-inch wheels incurs some road vibration and noise. Touareg is no sports sedan, but handling is responsive for this heavy SUV. All that is no surprise from Volkswagen, which has earned a strong reputation for refined road cars at reasonable prices. What did surprise and impress us about the Touareg was its stellar off-road capability. It turns out that a Volkswagen Touareg can go pretty much anywhere. Touareg's 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. 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 articulated independent 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. Adding to Touareg's credibility are the awards it has won: Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year (2004); Petersen 4Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year (2004); Car and Driver's 5Best Trucks, Luxury Sport-Utility Vehicle of the Year (2003); American Woman Road & Travel SUV Most Likely to Survive Anything Award (2004): and the Texas Auto Writers Association SUV of Texas (2004). Another point of credibility is the Touareg's 7,700-pound towing capability. That's more than the big Cadillac Escalade, more, even, than a Hummer H2. 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 on sale in America. 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 Phaeton luxury sedan that give it a sophisticated, upscale appearance. Inside, Touareg is sophisticated and refined, with the taut finish and keen attention to detail we've also come to expect from Volkswagen. Interior appointments are rich and controls are easy to use. Indeed, this is among the most comfortable of Volkswagens with firm, supportive seats. 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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