2008 Volkswagen Touareg Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Volkswagen Touareg

G.R. Whale
© 2008 NewCarTestDrive.com

The Volkswagen Touareg (TOO-r-egg) is a luxury sport-utility with a rare blend of highway composure, refinement and off-highway capability.

For 2008, the Touareg gets new front and rear lamps and appendages, and while the wrapper looks familiar, there are a couple of thousand new parts within. This represents a major upgrade for 2008, and it's officially dubbed the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2.

Like the Infiniti FX and Mercedes-Benz ML, Touareg eschews a third row of seats for generous five-passenger space in compact packaging. Touareg 2 offers a choice of V6 or V8 gas engines and a diesel, as with the Mercedes ML and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Volkswagen's diesel is the the fastest, the most fuel efficient, and the most expensive. All Touareg models use a six-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive.

Protected by a rigid structure and full suite of airbags and electronic safety systems, the Touareg cabin is at once inviting, involving, and efficient. There are more thoughtful touches than you'll notice at first glance, yet the learning curve is quick, the controls not daunting, and comfort remains high even after hours on the road, or off it.

Touareg 2 is a genuinely capable four-wheel-drive, and it takes to trails like Letterman to a politco's faux pas. Its combination of clearance angles, gearing, fording depth and suspension travel compares to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Hummer H2, and Lexus GX470, and none of those offer the massive thrust of Touareg's diesel and the Jeep and Hummer don't have its adjustable air suspension.

Back on the highway the Touareg has a Teutonic feel, with smoothness imparted by precision and not softness. It cruises effortlessly regardless of road condition, and belies its heft on winding roads. A sports car it isn't, but you could make a dynamic argument for an inclement weather Grand Touring vehicle.

If you like the Volkswagen Touareg 2 but need a third row of seats at the expanse of some off-road capability, check out the Audi Q7; it uses a stretched version of the same structure.

Model Lineup

Touareg 2 VR6 FSI ($39,320); V8 FSI ($48,320); V10 TDI Twin Turbo ($68,320)

Walk Around

Volkswagen family heritage is clearly evident in the Touareg, from the face of lights and split-frame grille that mirrors Eos and Passat to the large chrome circular logos. For all intents and purposes the body panels remain unchanged, only the trim, lamps and larger rear spoiler atop the hatch have been redone in the interests of fresh appearance and better function for 2008.

The 112-inch wheelbase permits good occupant space and an overall length of less than 16 feet keeps the wheels near the corners. This creates both a muscular stance, with the glass areas rising out of strong shoulders, and maintains the approach and departure angles and clearance necessary for real 4WD use. Unlike virtually every other 4WD SUV and pickup, the Touareg's approach and departure angles are identical, meaning that regardless of which direction you encounter an obstacle, if the leading edge clears it so will the following edge. Large wheelwells do not have fender flares, instead using gracefully curved sheetmetal to house the large wheels and tires.

Touareg is essentially void of superfluous trim. The strip along the lower doors minimizes paint damage, a chrome strip protects the top of the rear bumper, and the signal mirrors transmit intentions to vehicles alongside. Finally, taillights are easy to see and cleanly integrated to avoid being subject to damage on tight trails or crowded market lots.

The entire structure is quite stiff. With a Touareg balanced on just two opposite corner wheels, the hood, hatch, and doors can all be opened and closed with no more than normal effort, an unusual feat. Even the glass section of the hatch, which opens separately and self-latches into the main hatch when it is lifted, is accessible.

While the Touareg 2, Porsche Cayenne, and Audi Q7 share some development background, differences are so significant they can hardly be labeled competitors. Indeed, the Q7, which uses the same gasoline engines and transmission as an FSI Touareg, shares less than 15 percent of its parts with Touareg.

Interior

Opening a Touareg door makes a good first impression, as the door itself conveys that feeling of pinpoint-balanced heft and quality and the cabin only reinforces the notion. Few things here appear little or lightweight, from the big T-handle shifter in a wide console to the fairly large steering wheel suitable for a long-distance cruising yacht.

Materials appear first-rate as does assembly; even after days of trail twisting and pavement pounding we heard no squeaks, rattles or wind whistles. The VR6's V-tex upholstery makes a fair rendition of synthetic leather. Genuine leather comes standard on the V8 and V10 and is available on the VR6; it's called Cricket though it chirps and squeaks only if you're wearing leather as well. Even the lower door panels are done in soft-touch material. Dull hard plastic is very hard to find in this car. Leather wrappers for steering wheel and shifter are standard. With leather upholstery also comes leather door pulls and very comfortable armrests. Silver-tinted trim is standard on VR6 but all the aluminum accents pieces are real aluminum, and again, the VR6 may be fitted with the polished walnut that comes in other models.

For 2008, the seats have been recontoured for better side bolstering although comfort was already very good in the previous version. With a wide range of power adjustment, seat heaters and a big padded headrest, it's easy to sit for hours yet not restrained, so you can put your head out the wheel to see exactly where the near-side rocks and obstacles are or where your toll coin landed.

Rear seats are fixed at a good backrest angle balancing comfort and vision, and outboard riders enjoy big, cushy headrests and adjustable height shoulder belts just as front riders do; pop for the Lux Plus package with left/right climate control and seat heaters for the back, and no one should complain.

Storage units are average in number and include a few useful touches. The bins at dash top center are deeper than average, and will not eject contents at quick starts or on steep climbs. On all but the basic VR6, the center armrest slides fore-and-aft, has two stowage compartments, and the lid is articulated so it doesn't flip back and pinch a center rear rider's knees.

Apart from always-on headlights/daytime running lamps that will bring bugs with you to camp, the Touareg gives the driver full control options. Air suspension, where fitted, and the four-wheel-drive system are switched by rotary dials behind the shifter, with Park Assist defeat, ESP, and seat heaters ahead of it. Climate control can be full automatic, or to any combination of outlet vents you choose. The transmission has two automatic shift modes, plus manual mode if you prefer to time your own. Column stalk controls are typical in layout, including the rear wiper, and fuel door and hatch releases are lift-up buttons near the door map pocket that are impossible to trigger accidentally.

The dominant tachometer and speedometer, and smaller numbered ancillary gauges that include both coolant and oil temperature (a better indicator of how hard the engine is working) all have flat faces with anti-reflective coating. Digital displays show miles/trip to right and time/date to left, with a redundant clock over the mirror where everyone can see it. The navigation screen is surrounded by buttons that correspond to adjacent screen icons to keep keystrokes to a minimum, and clearly more intuitive than another German brand's rotate-clockwise-to-decrease logic. Test drives done at night reveal excellent illumination of all instruments and switchgear.

Big outside mirrors provide generous views both near and far, yet are low enough relative to the seating position the driver can look over them rather than having to peer around them. Wiper and washer coverage is excellent at each end, there's plenty of glass area to avoid claustrophobia or blind spots, xenon headlamps follow the road supplanted

Driving Impressions

Each Volkswagen Touareg model has its own set of distinct driving characteristics defined by engine, suspension and tires, and each feels of-a-piece solidly built and engineered to a point where it feels all the moving parts are light and balanced, with that rigid platform and luxury features responsible for the weight. Regardless of model one must remember this is a three-ton 4WD able to traverse far more than the typical owner's nerves will permit, and it will not change directions nor stop like a sports car half its weight. VW organizes adventures in Moab to show customers exactly what a Touareg will do. We've attended some of those adventures and came away impressed with its capability.

With short gearing in the six-speed automatic transmission, the VR6 engine's 280 horsepower moves the 5,000-pound Touareg better than you'd expect. Torque is rated at 265 pound-feet from 2500 to 5000 rpm, delivering sufficient midrange power for daily tasks and keeping up if not leading the pack. Towing the maximum rated load over 7,000 pounds or driving at high altitudes will use all it can deliver, which it will do without complaint. The narrow-angle V engine (10.6-degree, as opposed to typical V6 of 60 to 90 degrees) looks and feels more like an inline six-cylinder engine, smooth and stress-free to redline.

The six-speed automatic knows this isn't a big engine and where the power lies, and it quickly shifts to the appropriate gear. Sport mode quickens shift response for more enthusiastic driving styles. Under normal circumstances in Auto mode the 4XMotion four-wheel-drive system (which differs from the 4Motion used in all-wheel-drive VW cars) is transparent to the driver; you select alternate modes seeking specific changes in traction in gearing according to terrain, such as engaging low-range for slow-speed rock crawling or very steep hills. Both uphill starts and severe descents can be helped with electronic systems, as only expert four-wheelers could do any better.

Electronic aids include updated antilock brakes that will form a chock in front of the tires on soft surfaces. This means shorter stopping distances on gravel roads, mud, snow, sand. The electronic stability control system is tied into a rollover sensor, side curtain airbags and steering systems, so they can all work as a team.

For 2008, the Touareg VR6 suspension has been slightly softened and carries the comfort label. Since it rolls on 17-inch wheels and tires designed for all surfaces, the comfort spec is logical, and endows the VR6 with the gentlest ride of the three Touareg models. It responds accurately to driver input, though not as quickly as vehicles like the BMW X5 which haven't the off-road prowess, and the quick steering will execute a U-turn in less space than many mid-sized sedans, an important trait in urban areas and tight off-highway trails. This is also the best package if you frequent poor and potholed roads as the tires will absorb most of the impact, or if you do a lot of winter mountain or icy road travel because the 17-inch tires are snow-chain compatible.

A VR6 may be ordered with the 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires, giving crisper response to turn and brake commands and a moderate increase in maximum cornering grip. As with virtually every other wheeled device, you'll pay a price in ride softness with the 19-inch wheels and notice things like lane divider dots; and there will be a bit more noise as the tire noise of the 17-inch aggressive tread is swapped for a stiffer sidewall and a hair more road noise. None of these issues is severe, and a Touareg remains as quiet inside as any other genuine 4WD. Drivers who prefer something softer and have no interest in off-road capability might be better served by a Lexus RX350, a less adventurous vehicle.

The full air suspension is optional on the VR6 and V8 and standard on the V10 diesel. This system replaces the steel coil spring at each corner with an air

The 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 mixes trail-worthy ability, excellent road manners, and a feature-laden five-seat cabin into a compact package to find favor with urban warriors, outdoor adventurers, suburban sybarites and everyone else who'd like to be one. The array of engines and suspensions permit any buyer personality to design a Touareg they like, the better to appreciate everything you won't notice in a short test-drive.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale test drove Touareg models in Germany, Los Angeles, and Moab, Utah.

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