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.
Volkswagen Touareg V6 ($37,320); V8 ($44,660); V10
The Touareg looks brawny, more so the more you look at it, though its off-road capability isn't immediately apparent. It's designed to look rugged yet refined, practical yet stylish and succeeds. Its high ground clearance, large wheels, and the robust design of the wheel arches and bumpers are the first clues to its impressive trail worthiness. Big air intakes in the lower bumper contrast with the upper radiator grille, which is shaped like that of a modern passenger car. This contrast hints at its dual role of luxury car and off-road vehicle. In the same theme, smooth, elegant surfaces above the beltline contrast with broad, rugged-looking side sills. Big exterior door handles look functional and are well designed and easy to grab.
Like a car, the Touareg is built on a unit body chassis. It was designed to be a highly rigid structure, so that it won't bend or twist even in the most tortuous off-road driving conditions. We were able to open and close the doors when the Touareg was teetering on two or three wheels, an impressive feat, especially considering Volkswagen's tight fitment of body panels. This rigidity contributes to the Touareg's ride comfort and high-speed stability. The doors are completely sealed when closed, providing a quiet cabin and allowing the Touareg to ford up to 22 inches of standing water.
Like many SUVs, the Touareg features a two-stage rear hatch with a glass window that can be raised separately. It has a neat feature that many owners may never discover: The glass hatch can be hard for shorter people to reach when it's open. If this happens, simply raise the rear door. When they reconnect, the window clicks into the door. Rejoined with the glass, the hatch can then be closed as one unit. Tall people have it easier, of course: They simply reach up and close the glass.
Perimeter lights illuminate the area around the Touareg when getting in or out at night, and can be programmed to the driver's preferences.
The seats are excellent, supportive and comfortable, much better than most. We've found it sometimes takes time to get comfortable in Volkswagen seats, but we were immediately comfortable in the Touareg.
Visibility from the driver's seat is quite good, aided rearward by huge outside mirrors. All controls are easy to reach. The steering column tilts and telescopes manually; optional power adjustments make it easier to fine-tune its position. The switchgear, climate control, audio controls, and window lifts all feel smooth and sophisticated. Move the turn signal lever momentarily and the signals flash three times, handy for lane changes. Instruments are attractive and easy to read, big and clearly marked, using white-on-black graphics.
Robust climate controls make adjusting the temperature quick and easy. The standard two-zone system (with rear A/C) does an excellent job. The optional four-zone system, allowing separate control of each of the four primary seating positions, may be overkill but it does give passengers more control over their personal space and it works well. Farther down on the center console are big round knobs for controlling the differential locks and air suspension (when equipped). The center armrest features a ring designed to hold large water bottles. Overhead, you'll find a small indigo display with compass and clock along with a pair of nicely designed map lights. The glove box is air-conditioned, so you can store a sandwich or beverage in there.
Touareg's optional Navigation System provides traditional route guidance with mapping and voice announcements. The Navigation System is being upgraded halfway through the 2006 model year. The system includes a neat off-road navigation mode with compass, altimeter, and GPS coordinates. A tracking mode leaves an electronic trail that can be used to retrace your route.
The automatic wipers respond well to changing conditions. While driving through a squall in the mountains near Park City, Utah, they quickly changed the wiper speed from ultra-fast to slow to intermittent, then stopped them altogether when the going got dry.
The rear seats are firm, supportive, and comfortable. The back seat of a Touareg is a pleasant place to be and we spent several hours there, sometimes in extreme terrain. Vents in the B-pillars help direct air back there and the four-zone climate control offers individual temperature controls. A second heat exchanger for the rear seats helps get heat back there quickly on cold mornings.
Fold down the rear seats and Touareg offers 71 cubic feet of cargo space with a nice, flat floor. That's more than what's found in the BMW X5, but less than that of the Mercedes M-Class or Lexus RX 330. Folding the seats is a little fussy because the seat bottoms must articulate before folding the seat backs down, but the system works well. Put the rear seats back into place and there's 31 cubic feet of space behind them. There's an optional pass-through for skis available, a cargo cover to shield valuables, and a net partition that keeps cargo from flying forward in the event of an accident or hard stop.
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.