A NEW STANDARD IN SUVS
Volkswagen’s Amazing Touareg
BY KEITH BURTON
We pulled off the highway onto a red-earthed dirt road after an enjoyable 80 mph ride to Moab, Utah. Moab is world renowned for its offroad trails and Volkswagen thought it was the perfect place for a passel of auto journalists to tryout the company’s new Touareg (pronounced Tur-egg) sport utility vehicle. We heartily agree.
Without any hesitation, we climbed a nearly 45 degree hill with the Touareg’s low-range engaged. It was easy, but more on the vehicle’s abilities later.
Volkswagen is quite proud of the their new SUV and they should be. Here’s a vehicle that once you see and drive it, practically redefines what a sport utility vehicle should be. I’ll go one farther; the Touareg is arguably the most all-around capable vehicle ever produced for the general public.
Some of you will already know that the Touareg is Volkswagen’s version of the wildly fast, and capable Porsche Cayenne. But less you think the Volkswagen version is some cheaper wanna-be of its more expensive cousin, think again.
LUXURY AND OFF ROAD PERFORMANCE
At first glance, the Touareg looks surprisingly attractive for an SUV. VW stylists gave their SUV the company’s new front-end look of the upcoming Phaeton luxury sedan, and a beautifully crafted interior that would be right at home with any fine European luxury car. The vehicle’s exterior design immediately says upscale SUV in a size similar to Lexus’ new RX330. To the editorial eye, the Touareg is more attractive in every angle than the Cayenne.
But what the svelte exterior and interior don’t reveal is that unlike the Lexus RX330, the Touareg is a REAL SUV. That is, the Touareg has the strength and the muscle to tackle the most extreme offroad conditions, more in line with the Hummer H2.
What’s that you say? Yes, we will say it now, the Volkswagen Touareg is very close to being just as capable offroad as the Hummer H2, but in a smaller, more affordable and luxurious package. In some way’s the Touareg may be more capable offroad. But on road, the H2 is no match for the Touareg.
Volkswagen engineers pulled all the stops out in developing the Touareg, outfitting the company’s first SUV with a huge number of advanced systems. Initially two choices of engines will be available, a smooth-running 220 hp V6, and a powerful 310 hp V8 taken from the Audi A8. This V8 has 5 valves per cylinder and unlike many American V8’s, this one likes to rev. It is a one smooth operator.
The engines are bolted to a slick 6-speed automatic transmission linked to a computerized drivetrain that can direct power to any wheel via locking center and rear differentials. The computer will lock up the differentials automatically when traction is needed, or you can manually set them with a turn of a console-mounted switch.
In any case, traction on any surface is always available. But what also impresses is the ground clearance. The Touareg’s standard steel spring suspension has 8.3 inches of ground clearance, just 1-inch less than a Hummer H2. But when equipped with the optional air springs, which can vary the suspension height, the Touareg’s ground clearance grows to 9.6 inches in normal off-road mode, to 11.8 inches in the highest setting. When on the highway, the air suspension will lower the Touareg to just 6.3 inches to improve high speed stability.
Two additional features make offroad driving a snap in the Touareg. First Automatic Brake Assist allows the driver to have extreme confidence when ascending a steep hill. The computer system will keep the vehicle from rolling back, even if you take your feet off the gas and break pedal. We actually tried this feature on a death-defying 45-degree climb. With everything in our minds screaming DON’T RELEASE THE BRAKE, we did just that. And the Tauareg just hung there as if it was tied to a post.
The other offroad feature is Automatic Hill Descent, which the vehicle’s computer will prevent the Touareg from racing down a steep incline. You just keep the vehicle in 1st gear low, and take your feet off the pedals. The Touareg will creep down the hill like you are an expert. Now these features are very much like you find on those expensive European SUVs, but here you get them at a much better cost.
Complimenting the engine and drivetrain’s abilities is a brick-like body and chassis that provides virtually no flexing and bending. The body is so stiff, that even with two wheels in the air, you can open and close the doors. In fact, during our rock-climbing ride on a level-4 offroad course, the Touareg didn’t squeak, rattle, or make any of the normal creaking noises you would expect in a vehicle crawling over large boulders and twisting trails.
STRENGTH FOR DURABILITY
Okay, so you are not the type of person that will ever take your 40-plus thousand dollar SUV offroad. But here is the kicker. The Touareg’s stiff body means that this is a vehicle that will stay tight and rattle-free through years of use on regular roads. Imagine that. A vehicle that doesn’t “loosen up” after it leaves the showroom.
On regular roads, the Touareg drives like a fine, although heavy, luxury sedan. Steering is linear with outstanding feel. Brakes are strong and confidence inspiring. But you are aware of the weight. All that body stiffening steel makes the Touareg nearly as heavy as a much larger Chevrolet Suburban (Suburban: 5,796 lbs./Touareg: 5,300 lbs.)
But that weight, and corresponding strength, also pays off in towing ability. The Touareg, either with the V6 or V8 engines, can tow 7,700 pounds.
Inside the Touareg is pure luxury. Instrumentation is clear and attractively designed. The seats are comfortable in the tradition of firm Germanic seats found in Audis and Mercedes sedans.
A really neat navigation display offers perhaps the most information ever in such a device. Not only will it provide road information, but it will track where you are offroad as well. It will keep a record of where you have been and help you find your way back. You can also set waypoints and other navigation data for offroad trips. The display includes longitude and latitude, the degree of front wheel direction in one-degree points, and your true altitude. The display is easy to see from the driver’s seat and back seat passengers—making it perhaps the world’s most comprehensive back seat driver’s tool too.
Another cool detail the engineers thought of was providing a display to constantly show what gear you are in besides just Drive. The display, which is on a tiny computer-like screen between the tachometer and speedometer, provides information on gear selection, radio settings and more.
For an example of Volkswagen’s out-of-the-box thinking on the Touareg, if you order the non-smoker’s package, you get a tiny rechargeable flashlight that looks like a lighter where the cigarette lighter normally lives. So, instead of a lighter, you get a light.
If there is a downside to the Touareg it is this. The Touareg is a complicated vehicle with many sophisticated and potentially expensive things to fix. When we mentioned this to Volkswagen’s engineers, they said they had done their homework on the systems for 100,000 mile durability. Plus, while the Touareg is new the U.S., it has been produced in Germany for Europeans for over the last six months. As a result, they are confident in the vehicle’s durability. VW includes a four-year/50,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty including wear-and-tear items for 12-months. Also, a fully transferable powertrain warranty is included for five-years or 60,000 miles. Corrosion coverage is for 12-years with no mileage limit.
The Touareg is an impressive SUV that should be on anyone’s short list if you are looking for a vehicle in this price range. Whether you are looking for an SUV, or fine luxury car, you will not be disappointed.
Volkswagen is clearly nervous over Touareg, not because it isn’t a fine vehicle, but because the name Volkswagen is not on most people’s mind when shopping for an SUV. But after our drive, we don’t think VW has anything at all to worry about.