If you liked the looks of the original Touareg, chances are the Touareg 2 won't turn you off. There are subtle changes to its overall styling, including an updated front end with a large chrome grille that resembles the rest of VW's lineup. There are even fewer changes around back — just a redesigned spoiler and altered third brake light. Even the nameplate is the same: It still says "Touareg," despite the fact that I saw "Touareg 2" when the SUV debuted at the 2007 New York auto show. I have no idea why this is.
That leaves the Touareg 2 a very understated model in a competitive market. Its corporate sibling, the Porsche Cayenne, also got subtle changes in its second generation, while Audi's recent addition of its own luxury SUV, the Q7, on this platform is radically different. It's too bad VW couldn't go for something as over-the-top as Audi, but there's a nuanced feel to the Touareg that I presume VW owners admire.
The Touareg 2 is also relatively unchanged inside, maintaining the high-quality finishes, controls and seats to which VW owners are accustomed.
Ride & Handling
The Touareg distinguishes itself from the Audi and Porsche SUVs with its impressive offroad abilities. Every version has a permanent four-wheel-drive system, and off-roaders will appreciate the impressive 33-degree approach and departure angles. Hill Roll Back and Hill Descent Assist keep the Touareg 2 in place when ascending and descending inclines, and an adjustable air suspension is available as a $2,900 option.
While the Cayenne and Q7 are road-carvers, the Touareg 2 has a typical SUV feel. It has a high ride height, and turning onto highway onramps leads to substantial body lean; the SUV always feels disconnected from the road. There's no noticeable highway or wind noise, which is exactly as it ought to be in a luxury vehicle like this. The version I tested had the air suspension, which made for a comfortable highway ride.
Going & Stopping
The Touareg 2 is available with three radically different engines: The base model comes with a 290-horsepower V-6, the mid-range version I tested has a 350-hp V-8, and topping the range is a powerful V-10 turbo-diesel engine with 310 hp.
I've tested many other SUVs in this segment that have potent V-8s, and I wasn't overly impressed with what the Touareg 2 had under the hood. This much horsepower should move you healthily, but in the Touareg 2 it's just acceptable, whether starting out from a stoplight or passing on the highway; it certainly wasn't remarkable. In this price range, both BMW and Mercedes offer more thrills from their V-8s.
VW touts a new feature on the Touareg's antilock braking system that helps reduce braking distances on loose surfaces, like gravel or dirt roads. Since my week of testing involved just the highway and some construction zones, I didn't get to fully test the company's claims. In daily driving, braking was linear and precise.
Cargo & Towing
With the rear seats up, the cargo area features 31 cubic feet of extremely usable space. Lower the seats, and it expands to 71 cubic feet. There are two 12-volt outlets and one two-pronged household outlet in the cargo area. A power tailgate is standard, which is a must in the luxury SUV segment these days and something I always find useful.
The deal-breaker for me is the second row. Lowering these seats to expand the cargo area is a chore: The seat bottoms have to be lifted up first — and it's not an easy flip — and then the headrests have to be lifted out of the seatbacks. If you try to lift them with the seatbacks still upright, though, they hit the roof before the prongs come all the way out. Yep, that means you have to lower the seatbacks just enough to get the headrests out, then plop the seatbacks down flat. This was the way everyone did cargo areas ... five years ago. Most enlightened SUVs now accomplish the same task in one step, while those that don't have at least found a way to skip the headrest-removal step.
Towing ability is impressive in the Touareg 2. When equipped with the tow package, any of the three engines can tow up to 7,716 pounds.
The Touareg 2 comes with the type of safety equipment you'd expect from a high-end SUV, including electronic stability control, ABS, rollover mitigation and side curtain airbags. The brakes also have a feature that dries the rotors for better performance in wet conditions, as well as a brake assist feature that prepares for a hard stop if your foot leaves the gas pedal abruptly.
VW says it has upgraded its tire pressure monitoring system, but when I got into my test vehicle for the first time, the low-pressure warning light was glaring at me from the gauge cluster. I checked the pressure using the system, and none of the wheels were low. Anecdotally, another reviewer here has a family member with an original Touareg, and I asked how he liked it. He said one complaint was that the tire pressure monitor is extremely sensitive. Guess it hasn't improved that much. Eventually, yet another staffer took the Touareg 2 and adjusted the tires until the warning system was satisfied.
Touareg 2 in the Market
If this were 2003, the Touareg 2 would be one of the top luxury SUVs on the market in terms of style, interior quality and performance — just like the original was. Time has brought stiff competition from major players in the segment, though, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Land Rover. The Touareg 2 wouldn't be my pick of that litter. VW either needs to go back to the drawing board for a Touareg 3 or rethink this whole luxury-SUV thing in a company known for more affordable fare.
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