I'm a little shocked to discover that the last time I reviewed a Volkswagen Touareg was a full decade ago, before I had a teenager and the two corresponding faint parallel lines between my eyebrows to show for it (there are an equal number of smile lines worked in there, as well). While I'm only starting to review 2014 vehicles, the VW Touareg is starting the year off strong and might just qualify as one of the decade's most improved vehicles.
Although the Touareg has improved greatly, it's still missing a few features that, at its high price, really should be standard.
For 2014, VW has added a new R-Line trim with a sport-tuned suspension and a few sporty-looking design features into the Touareg lineup. Check out this year's model compared with the 2013 version here.
The Touareg, a five-seater, comes in Sport, R-Line, Lux and Executive trim levels. Compare them side-by-side here. All four versions are available with a gasoline or a more fuel-efficient clean-diesel engine. Check them out side by side here. I drove the Touareg TDI Lux.
If paying a high price makes you want a brand with a little more status, you may compare the Audi Q5, Acura MDX, or Mercedes-Benz M-Class with the Touareg. You can see their differences side by side here.
Exterior & Styling
The new R-Line addition to the Touareg lineup distinguishes itself with, according to Volkswagen, "an aggressive exterior appearance distinguished by unique front bumper fascia, side skirts, R-Line badges, LED taillights and oval-shaped dual exhaust tips at the rear." Twenty-inch aluminum-alloy wheels add to the mean-machine look.
This is an aggressive-looking SUV without being unnecessarily masculine. The eyelash LEDs around the front headlights, combined with large lower air scoops, create a sense of visual balance that's one part naughty macho, one part soft and sensitive.
How It Drives
I have to admit, I was expecting a pretty rough, SUV-like ride in the 2014 Touareg, complete with enough body roll in turns to make even stomachs of steel toss their cookies. The Touareg's rather refined ride quality, however, pleasantly surprised me.
This is a fun car to drive. The 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter clean-diesel engine gets an EPA-estimated 20/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined and has torque that feels like it will never quit, even on the high-altitude roads I traverse daily. I had to continually rein myself in from wanting to roar away from every stoplight. It was, however, relatively easy to smooth out my acceleration and create a calmer ride for comfortably moving the kids without spilling their juice boxes.
In deceleration, which is always critical, the Touareg felt linear and responsive. I had complete confidence in the braking and no problem bringing this 4,974-pound charging bull to a stop.
As with most SUVs, the driver does feel a little disconnected from the road, but there was not as much tilt in the corners as I would have expected in a car this large and heavy. For the most part, I was comfortable and didn't feel as if I were driving a floating boat.
As a passenger, my husband said the ride was very comfortable and always felt smooth and controlled, even when I was in a hurry or "testing" the acceleration from a stop.
The Touareg is a large SUV that feels much smaller, and its drivability covers a broad spectrum, from comfortably taking kids to school to charging up mountain passes … or racing away from stoplights, if you're that kind of driver.
The interior of my Touareg TDI Lux featured beautiful, rich chocolate-brown leather seats. As I have come to expect from Volkswagen's pricier offerings, the interior felt luxurious (hence the trim name) without being too pretentious or museum-like.
I loved the panoramic roof, standard on all but the Sport trim, which is becoming more common on SUVs in this price range. It truly does transfer that popular concept of inside/outside living from your home to your car, while maintaining a comfortable and hospitable environment inside. It was intuitive and easy to control the span of the opening with a simple twist of the dial. Opening the screen and driving around in a relative solarium allowed my family to bask in the changing Colorado vista and colors of the fall leaves.
The front seats feature 12-way power adjustability, with enough flexibility to create the feel of a custom seat. I was a little disappointed the side bolster support wasn't adjustable, especially at this price. While seat heat is included up front on all trims, the ability to cool the seats is also missing. I recently drove a Hyundai Santa Fe that featured ventilated seats at a much lower price, and I quickly became attached.
There are small in-door pockets in both the front and rear doors, but they lack integrated bottleholders. Up front, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to store garage remotes, gate transponders, cell phones and chargers, and there's even a perfectly sized little round place to stash the Touareg's electronic key fob. On the topic of the key fob, the Touareg's is large, which in fairness seems to be the standard. While it's less of an issue for us women who can keep it stashed in a dark recess of our purse, my husband continually commented on the bulky size of the fob, which made it difficult to carry comfortably in his jeans pocket. He whined that it felt like carrying a small brick with him at all times. He declined my suggestion that he invest in a man purse.
At any given time, two of my three kids (ages 9, 11 and 13) were comfortable in the back, and the brown leather seats were great when it came to cleaning up spills and hiding the dirt and grime that seems to follow them, Pig-Pen-like, everywhere they go. The kid in the center position, however, had to endure some discomfort thanks to the seat belt (more details below in the Safety section). They all had plenty of legroom thanks to a sliding rear seat that can move up to 6.3 inches back and forth. It also reclines a bit. Netted compartments on the back of each of the front seats stretched to provide ample storage for all the kids' stuff.
Surprisingly enough, there weren't too many disagreements as to who would sit in the dreaded, tight middle seat. My teenage daughter actually volunteered to be the sacrificial middle-seat lamb once she discovered the standard home power outlet that's accessible from the middle seat, stashed at the back of the center console. This allowed her to quickly beef up the power on her iPad before a school presentation. The fold-down armrest in the center position has two cupholders but lacks any additional storage capabilities.
Ergonomics & Electronics
With the constantly revolving door of technological advances in cars, every time I get a new test car I feel like I'm studying for the SAT just trying to understand how to program the radio or adjust the temperature in the car. This is one area in which the Touareg has improved exponentially over the years. Today's version seems to have found a comfortable balance between technology and ease of use. Buttons and dials were in naturally anticipated places, close at hand and clearly marked. There was no need to navigate through multiple touch-screen menus just to change the radio station, adjust the airflow or complete any other common task.
While it took a couple of attempts to pair my iPhone using the Touareg's Bluetooth, when it finally did sync up it worked seamlessly. I was able to play all my music, including iTunes radio, through the audio system. Phone calls were seamless, with the speaker sounding clear on both sides of the conversation. Even from the backseat, the kids could comfortably communicate on an international call with their grandparents in South Africa.
Cargo & Storage
The Touareg drives like a small SUV, yet when you open the back and start folding the 60/40-split seats, you realize you have much more cargo space and flexibility than you anticipated (64 cubic feet with the seats folded). If you need even more cargo-hauling capability, you may want to direct your attention toward the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and its 80.3 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, or the Acura MDX, with 68.4 cubic feet. The Audi Q5 brings up the rear with just 57.3 cubic feet.
Once you fold the Touareg's rear seats, however, they still protrude up a little rather than lying completely flat, which could limit the type of bulky items you can load. (Come on, Volkswagen engineers, that's why you get paid the big bucks!)
While it is entertaining to watch the kids jumping up and down, trying to reaching the button on the liftgate to close the powered cargo door, it is in fact a little high to be completely functional. Cue exciting new optional car feature: the foot-swipe opener. When your hands are full or you're trying to control young kids in a dangerous parking lot, simply swipe your foot under the Touareg's bumper to open and close the liftgate.
Though crash tests have not yet been reported on the 2014 VW Touareg as of this writing, it hasn't been redesigned, so results from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing of the 2013 should apply. The 2013 received the top score of good in frontal-crash, side-impact, roof-strength and seat/head restraint tests, the latter of which indicates whiplash protection in a rear impact.
Installing child-safety seats in the Touareg using the Latch system will be an exercise in patience for parents who may already be thin on it. The lower anchors are buried deep in the seat bight, between the very stiff leather of the seat back and the bottom cushions. With little to no clearance underneath, the Latch anchor itself leaves very little wiggle room.
The center rear seat belt buckle is also nearly unusable. It rotates up on a stiff, hinged buckle base that is impossible for kids to use one-handed, even my 13-year-old. It required one of her sisters sitting to the right of her to grab the buckle base and hold it up out of the way while she shimmied into the middle seat before she could then insert the buckle. Once it was buckled, the rotating hinge kept the buckle base pressed up against her hip with constant, uncomfortable pressure.
While some may argue against the necessity of an overabundance of airbags, for me as a mom, more airbags equals a more confident feeling of safety for my precious cargo, whether that's realistic or not. The 2014 Touareg has only six airbags; it lacks the extra ones that are popping up in much less expensive vehicles.
The Touareg Lux that I drove came standard with a backup camera with onscreen guides to help avoid any potentially deadly pedestrian backovers. A 360-degree bird's-eye-view camera is also available.
An advanced rollover sensor system in the Touareg can deploy the side curtain airbags if it senses a rollover is imminent. In addition to this system, in the event of a collision, an available crash-response system will unlock the Touareg's doors, disable the fuel pump and turn on the hazard lights.
See all the standard safety features here.
Value in Its Class
While I can see firsthand the improvements the Touareg has made over the past 10 years, unlike the rest of Volkswagen's lineup, the Touareg doesn't seem to fit the mold of value for your money. The price tag feels exorbitant for what you get. As one of our readers noted, "if you're going to pay for an Audi, why not buy an Audi?"