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.
Our first impression of the Volkswagen Touareg was its relatively quiet cabin. The V6 and V8 engines are smooth and the six-speed automatic transmission is really smooth. Overall, Touareg feels like a well-engineered vehicle carved from a single block.
The V6 has received a much-needed shot of 20 more horsepower for 2005, bringing the total to 240 at 6000 rpm, with 229 pound-feet of torque at 3200. Though smooth and quiet, last year's V6 Touareg took about 9.4 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60, slow by anyone's stopwatch, and it felt sluggish at altitude. The 2005 model should be better, but we don't expect a dramatic improvement.
The V8, on the other hand, delivers strong torque around town and the transmission always selects the right gear. So you don't need much throttle pressure to smoothly accelerate to the desired speed. Slam the throttle down and the V8 responds well, but it still does not deliver breathtaking thrust. Granted, we drove the Touareg at 6000 feet where thinner air reduces the V8's 310 horsepower to something less than 250. But at any altitude, a V8 Touareg weighs about 5,300 pounds when empty. That makes Touareg 375 pounds heavier than a BMW X5 4.4i, and 425 pounds heavier than Mercedes-Benz ML500. Still, the V8 Touareg delivers respectable performance. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds, says Volkswagen, which is comparable to the performance of a V8-powered BMW X5.
We haven't tried the new turbo-diesel V10, but we are impressed by its specifications, especially its 553 pound-feet of torque at just 2000 rpm. VW claims the new engine places the Touareg among the best-performing diesel SUV's ever, capable of clocking a 0-60mph time of just 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph. Twin turbochargers account for its power, while Volkswagen's sophisticated diesel fuel injection accounts for its relatively efficient 17/23 City/Highway mpg. (TDI stands for Turbo Direct Injection.)
The V6 and V8 models are not as fuel efficient, at least partly due to the Touareg's considerable weight. The V6 earns an EPA rating of 15/20 mpg City/Highway, while the V8 returns 14/18 mpg. VW recommends premium gas for maximum performance.
The transmission that comes with all three engines is brilliant, a luxury-grade six-speed automatic used in the new Audi A8 L. Fuzzy logic senses the driver's intentions then smoothly selects the proper gear. Switch from Normal to Sport mode and it selects higher shift points for more aggressive driving. There's also a Tiptronic mode for manual shifting, useful in some situations, but ultimately the transmission will still shift up automatically when redline is reached.
VW says it has recalibrated the 2005 Touareg's suspension for more sport. The ride quality of last year's model was good, though road vibration increased with wheel size, most noticeable with the 19-inch wheels and tires. The V6 model's standard 17-inch wheels offered the best ride quality, smoother and quieter, though the aggressive tread pattern of the tires generated some noise and vibration.
Steering responses are sharper with the 19-inch wheels, and more lethargic and mushier with the 17-inch wheels. The 18-inch wheel and tires seemed like a good compromise between the two. Most of my time with the 18-inch wheels was spent off-road, but the ride seemed quite pleasant during the few, short highway sections that I drove with them. Overall, I preferred the 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires.
Two suspensions are available for Touareg: a standard suspension with regular steel springs and an optional air suspension. The standard suspension works very well and we recommend it highly. It might even be our preference. It offers a nice ride and handles well, as we discovered on some winding mountain roads in Utah. Touareg boasts an impressive 8.3 inches of ground clearance with the standard suspension.
The optional air suspension fea
Volkswagen Touareg combines luxury, sophistication and good road manners with impressive off-road capability. It'll deliver you anywhere you desire in smooth, luxurious comfort. The engineering that went into it is impressive. The V6 Touareg gets more power for 2005, but you'll need the V8 for respectable levels of performance, and the new 2005 Touareg V10 TDI brings a lot more power to the party.