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The Volkswagen Touareg is luxurious and comfortable. It's more practical than the BMW X5 and offers better off-road capability than the BMW or the Volvo XC 90 or most other midsize sport utilities.
On the highway, the Touareg offers a firm but reasonably smooth ride, though opting for the 19-inch wheels incurs some road vibration and noise. The Touareg (pronounced "TORE-egg") is no sports sedan, but its handling is responsive given its 5,000-pound mass.
The V8 model offers good acceleration performance, boasting 310 horsepower from the 4.2-liter V8 engine. The 3.2-liter V6 that has been used in the base model lacked the power to motivate this heavy vehicle, but a new 3.6-liter V6 is being introduced midway through the model year that promises much more power. Also available late in the model year is a powerful 5.0-liter V10 diesel engine that was not available for part of the 2005 and 2006 model years.
All models come with wonderful six-speed automatic that smoothly selects exactly the right gear for every situation. Also standard is Volkswagen's superb 4Motion permanent all-wheel-drive system.
The most surprising aspect of the Touareg is its stellar off-road capability. The Touareg can go just about anywhere a Jeep or Range Rover can go. Its 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. Another point of credibility is the Touareg's 7,700-pound towing capability.
Its cabin is sophisticated and refined, with rich interior appointments and keen attention to detail. The controls are easy to use. The seats are firm firm, supportive and comfortable. The Touareg seats five, and there is no third row of seats available.
The Volkswagen Touareg feels like a well-engineered vehicle carved from a single block. It's relatively quiet underway, the V6 and V8 engines are smooth, and the six-speed automatic transmission is really smooth.
The 3.2-liter V6 lacks the gusto to propel the Touareg with authority. It was revised to produce more power for 2005, bringing the total to 240 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 229 pound-feet of torque at 3200 rpm. Though smooth and quiet, the 3.2-liter V6 Touareg took about 9.4 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60, slow by anyone's stopwatch. Often it felt quite adequate but sometimes it felt distinctly underpowered, often at important moments, and it felt sluggish at altitude.
An all-new 3.6-liter V6 is replacing it late in the 2006 model year, so be sure and get that one. We haven't tried it, but it's rated at 280 horsepower at 6200 and, even more important, 265 pound-feet of torque at 2500 to 5000 rpm. That increase of torque, spread across a wide power band, should translate into better acceleration performance and throttle response.
The 4.2-liter V8 boasts 310 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 302 pound-feet of torque, capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 in 7.6 seconds, says Volkswagen. More important in daily use, the V8 delivers strong throttle response, aided by a transmission that 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 does not deliver breathtaking thrust. The reason is weight: The V8 model weighs about 5,300 pounds when empty. That makes the Touareg some 375 pounds heavier than a BMW X5 4.4i, and 650 pounds heavier than a 2006 Mercedes-Benz ML 500.
Neither the V6 nor V8 models are particularly fuel efficient, at least partly due to that 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 4.9-liter turbocharged diesel V10 develops 310 horsepower but at a much lower 3750 rpm and 553 pound-feet of torque at just 2000 rpm. Torque is the force that propels you from intersections, helps you crawl over rocks and tows trailers, so that massive torque should translate into impressive power.
The six-speed automatic that comes on all Touareg models is brilliant, a luxury-grade transmission shared with the 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.
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. Starting with the 2005 models, Volkswagen recalibrated the Touareg suspension for more sport.
The ride quality is good, though road vibration increases with wheel size and this is most noticeable with the 19-inch wheels and tires. The 17-inch wheels that come on the V6 models offer the best ride quality, smoother and quieter, though the aggressive tread pattern of the tires still generated some noise and vibration. The Touareg isn't as smooth and quiet as a Lexus RX 330, but we prefer the tautness and superior control of the Touareg.
On the road, the Touareg feels more substantial than the RX 330. Granted, the Touareg is heavier than the Lexus, but the Volkswagen suspension is beefier and more sophisticated than the RX 330 suspension, and the VW drive system is more sophisticated. We found
The 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 V8 delivers respectable levels of performance, while the new 3.6-liter V6 may make that a viable option. Diesel fans should check out the V10 TDI.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough drove Touareg models in Utah, Virginia and California.