Vehicle Overview
Volkswagen arrived late to the sport utility vehicle party when it launched the Touareg (pronounced "TOUR-egg") for 2004. The SUV is related to Porsche's Cayenne.

Electronically controlled 4XMotion permanent four-wheel drive includes offroad gearing. Up to 100 percent of the engine's power can be sent to either the front or rear wheels. Offroad helpers include Hill Climb Assist, Hill Descent Assist and a locking center differential. A navigation system is optional.

A direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 will be the standard engine for 2006 Touaregs once the 3.2-liter V-6 is phased out toward the end of calendar year 2005. The new V-6 develops 280 horsepower, which is 40 hp more than the outgoing V-6 generates. A rearview camera is now included with the navigation system. Touaregs can now be equipped with an optional rear spare-tire carrier.

Constructed of galvanized steel, the unibody structure makes the Touareg more carlike in appearance than many SUVs. The hood wraps down to a horizontal-bar grille that's similar to the one on Volkswagen's luxury Phaeton sedan. Rounded body shoulders and sculpted wheel arches complement short overhangs.

Built on a 112.4-inch wheelbase, the Touareg stands 68 inches tall. Ground clearance can reach 11.8 inches with the available air suspension, and wading depth is 22.8 inches. The Touareg can drive at a 35-degree lateral offset angle and has a 45-degree side-tipping angle. Alloy wheels are available in 17- , 18- and 19-inch diameters.

Trimmed in burl wood, chrome and aluminum, the luxurious five-passenger interior emulates the Phaeton's decorative touches. Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard. Cargo volume measures 71 cubic feet when the rear seat is folded.

Under the Hood
During the 2006 model year, the Touareg's 240-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 will be replaced with a 3.6-liter V-6 that develops 280 hp and 265 pounds-feet of torque. A 310-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 is available, and the turbo-diesel 5.0-liter V-10, which generates 310 hp and 553 pounds-feet of torque, is again offered. All engines team with a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Touaregs can tow up to 7,716 pounds when properly equipped.

Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are installed. Antilock brakes, traction control and an Electronic Stabilization Program are standard.

Driving Impressions
Handling confidence and offroad prowess are the Touareg's hallmarks. In demanding offroad treks, this SUV struts with masterful athleticism. Its high-tech gadgetry can be confusing, but it's all-purposeful.

Touaregs equipped with the V-8 and air suspension exhibit superior control, yet ride comfort is lovely. Some bumps are taken rather stiffly, but this SUV recovers rapidly — though sequential rough spots can unsettle it. Powertrain responses are enthusiastic, and shifts are easygoing.

Enormous torque output in the diesel-powered Touareg makes acceleration bountiful. As the TDI quietly forged its way along an uphill offroad trail, it felt almost as if it were out for a leisurely Sunday drive.