Volkswagen arrived late to the SUV party, but the company has developed quite a distinguished participant. According to Volkswagen, the new Touareg (pronounced “TOUR-egg“) blends offroading skills “with the virtue of a German automobile.” Chief Engineer Matthias Kroell adds that it has the “temperament of a sports car.”
Named after a tribe of nomadic merchants in the Sahara Desert, who are known as the “free folks” and “knights of the desert,” the Touareg went on sale in the United States in June 2003 as an early 2004 model. Volkswagen’s first sport utility vehicle, which is considered a crossover model, reached the European market earlier. The Touareg’s name symbolizes the vehicle’s ability to function in varying travel conditions - much like the desert nomads are able to adapt themselves to difficult situations.
The Touareg is built at a new plant in Germany by Porsche, along with that company’s Cayenne SUV. For the U.S. market, the Touareg initially was fitted with either a 3.2-liter V-6 engine or a 4.2-liter V-8. Additional engines are available for the European model.
Electronically controlled 4XMotion permanent four-wheel drive is standard and comes with offroad gearing and a locking differential. Up to 100 percent of the engine’s power can be sent to either the front or rear wheels, based on road conditions. Available high-tech helpers for offroad treks include Hill Climbing Assist, Hill Descent Assist and a locking rear differential. When used in the wilderness, Volkswagen’s optional navigation system even displays actual coordinates, direction and altitude.
Fitted with electronically controlled shock absorbers and operated by a switch inside the vehicle, a full pneumatic suspension is available. Volkswagen expects to sell about 40,000 Touaregs annually in the United States. Late in the 2004 model year, Volkswagen introduced a Touareg with a V-10 turbo-diesel engine that produces 310 horsepower and 553 pounds-feet of torque.
Constructed of fully galvanized steel, the unibody structure of the Touareg makes it more carlike in appearance than many SUVs. The hood wraps down to the horizontal-bar grille, which is similar to the one installed on Volkswagen’s all-new luxury Phaeton sedan. Rounded body shoulders and sculpted wheel arches complement short overhangs. An especially distinctive feature is the groove located on the lower part of the doors. The V-8X model includes a full-size spare tire on the tailgate.
Built on a 112.4-inch wheelbase, the Touareg measures 187.2 inches long overall and stands 68 inches tall. Ground clearance reaches as much as 11.8 inches with the available air suspension, and the vehicle has a wading depth of 22.8 inches. Models equipped with the air suspension lower automatically by an inch when vehicle speed reaches approximately 77 mph. The Touareg can drive at a 35-degree side offset angle and has a 45-degree side tipping angle. Approach and departure angles are greater with the air suspension.
The automaker says the styling of the luxurious, wood-trimmed five-passenger interior emulates that of its costly Phaeton sedan. Two- or four-zone climate control is standard. Cargo volume is 31 cubic feet, or 71 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded down. An OnStar communication system is optional.
Two gasoline engines are available: a 220-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 and a 310-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 that is similar to the one in the Audi A8 L. The new 5.0-liter V-10 turbo-diesel engine generates 310 hp and 553 pounds-feet of torque. A six-speed-automatic transmission functions with Tiptronic control. The Touareg can tow up to 7,700 pounds.
Side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags are installed. Antilock brakes, traction control, a tire-pressure monitor and an Electronic Stability Program are standard.
Handling confidence and offroad capabilities top the list of Touareg benefits. Body lean is minimal, and the Touareg is capable of more than expected. In demanding offroad treks, this SUV is eager to strut its stuff with masterful athleticism. VW’s version ranks with the best when the pavement stops.
Especially in four-wheel-drive form, the Touareg’s high-tech gadgetry can be confusing at first. But unlike some, it’s all purposeful.
Touareg models equipped with the V-8 engine and the seriously taut air suspension exhibit superior control, yet ride comfort is satisfying. It has a lovely ride on smooth surfaces. Some bumps are taken rather stiffly, but this SUV recovers rapidly; a series of rough spots can produce an uncertain sensation. Powertrain responses are enthusiastic, and shifts are prompt and easygoing. Engine noise is noticeable on acceleration but satisfying in tone. Views from the driver’s seat are good all around.
Compared to the V-8 model, a V-6 Touareg shows marked acceleration decline and engine blare on upgrades. Performance is satisfactory on more moderate surfaces, but hitting the gas at 30 to 40 mph might produce momentary hesitation. Ride quality is nearly as pleasing with the standard steel-spring suspension. The seats are on the hard side, but they’re comfortable.
As expected, the enormous torque output in the Touareg TDI model makes acceleration bountiful. It doesn’t quite feel like a high-performance machine, but the V-10 diesel version delivers smooth and steady response at every speed. Forging its way along an uphill offroad trail, the TDI felt almost as if it were out for a leisurely Sunday drive.
Better yet, the Touareg TDI is quiet, presenting little evidence that a diesel engine is under its hood. Only if you stand outside or lean out the window does any diesel sound become noticeable. A small, brief puff of black smoke might appear occasionally, but not enough to trigger concern.