Volkswagen Touareg Review

Volkswagen Touareg ReviewThe Volkswagen Touareg is an impressive mid-size luxury SUV. It offers better off-road capability than the Volvo XC 90, and it seems more comfortable and more practical than the BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz ML 350, both of which are older designs. The 2005 Volkswagen Touareg lineup includes a new turbocharged diesel V10 model that develops a mighty 553 pound-feet of torque while achieving an EPA-estimated 17/23 mpg.

Gasoline engines are also available, of course, including a superb V8 that's also used in the Audi A8 L. The V8 delivers good acceleration performance, enhanced by the Touareg's wonderful six-speed automatic that smoothly selects exactly the right gear for every situation. On the highway, the Touareg provides a fairly smooth ride, though opting for the 19-inch wheels incurs some road vibration and noise. Touareg is no sports sedan, but handling is responsive for this heavy SUV.

All that is no surprise from Volkswagen, which has earned a strong reputation for refined road cars at reasonable prices. What did surprise and impress us about the Touareg was its stellar off-road capability. It turns out that a Volkswagen Touareg can go pretty much anywhere. Touareg's all-wheel-drive and traction-control systems automatically apportion power to the wheels with the best grip, providing better traction and requiring less skill from the driver.

We witnessed this while driving through Hell's Revenge, a trail that weaves through sandy gullies and the not-so-slick rock near Moab, Utah. With its articulated independent suspension, sophisticated drive system, and advanced technology, the Touareg gains the respect, if not the appreciation, of veteran off-road enthusiasts. We wouldn't hesitate to follow a Jeep Wrangler or Range Rover anywhere in one of these, and the folks from Volkswagen would suggest the Touareg should lead the convoy.

Adding to Touareg's credibility are the awards it has won: Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year (2004); Petersen 4Wheel & Off-Road 4x4 of the Year (2004); Car and Driver's 5Best Trucks, Luxury Sport-Utility Vehicle of the Year (2003); American Woman Road & Travel SUV Most Likely to Survive Anything Award (2004): and the Texas Auto Writers Association SUV of Texas (2004).

Another point of credibility is the Touareg's 7,700-pound towing capability. That's more than the big Cadillac Escalade, more, even, than a Hummer H2.

Named after a nomadic tribe from the Sahara, Touareg (pronounced "TOUR-egg" or "TORE-egg") is bound to be the most often mispronounced and misspelled vehicle on sale in America. In spite of this, and in spite of its newness, it is instantly recognized as a Volkswagen. It looks just like you'd expect Volkswagen's first modern SUV to look. Touareg boasts a brawny stance, yet shares styling cues with the Phaeton luxury sedan that give it a sophisticated, upscale appearance.

Inside, Touareg is sophisticated and refined, with the taut finish and keen attention to detail we've also come to expect from Volkswagen. Interior appointments are rich and controls are easy to use. Indeed, this is among the most comfortable of Volkswagens with firm, supportive seats. What the Touareg does not offer, however, is a third row of seats. So look elsewhere if you need seating for more than five.

The 2005 Volkswagen Touareg is available in three models: V6 ($37,140), V8 ($44,260), and V10 TDI diesel ($58,490).

The 3.2-liter V6 is now rated 240 horsepower, up 20 horsepower from last year, and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. The 4.2-liter V8 still boasts an impressive 310 horsepower.

New for 2005 is a 4.9-liter turbocharged diesel V10. It develops the same 310 horsepower as the gasoline-fired V8, but produces a mountainous 553 pound-feet of torque at just 2000 rpm, compared to the V8's 302 at 3000. Since torque is the force that actually accelerates a vehicle, crawls over rocks and obstacles, and tows trailers, the practical difference between the two engines should be clear and obvious.

All three models are well-equipped. The V6 Touareg comes standard with leatherette upholstery, eight-way adjustable seating, wood trim, power glass sunroof, dual-zone climate control with rear seat controls, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic rain-sensor windshield wipers, heated windshield washer nozzles, 17-inch alloy wheels and many more items. Leather is optional ($2,440) and comes with 12-way power adjustable seats and other appointments.

The V8 Touareg adds full leather 12-way power adjustable seating; 18-inch alloy wheels; flush-folding, auto-dimming outside mirrors with memory; and other luxuries. Dual chrome-tipped exhausts and chrome trim on the door sills add to the V8's uptown appearance.

The V10 TDI comes with appropriately larger brakes and Servotronic steering. Four-wheel air suspension, HID headlamps and a multi-color driver information display, optional on other Touaregs, are standard on the V10. The V10 TDI is distinguished by its silver-finished roof rack and additional chrome on the grille.

Safety features on all Touaregs include a sophisticated permanent all-wheel-drive system, an electronic stability program (ESP), adaptive torque distribution. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and emergency Brake Assist are standard. Also standard: a set of low-range gears, a locking center differential, and automatic hill-decent control. A locking rear differential ($550) is available for all models.

Passive safety features include front airbags, side-impact airbags, and curtain airbags, the latter for head protection in a side impact or rollover, all standard. Touareg surrounds occupants with a carefully engineered safety structure with a rigid roof designed to protect them in a crash or rollover. Touareg earned a four-star rating from the federal government (NHTSA) in its frontal crash test and a five-star rating (the highest) in its side-impact tests. Touareg senses when an accident has occurred and automatically unlocks the doors, disconnects the battery, and turns on the warning flashers. Add optional OnStar ($699) and an operator will be alerted to send out the safety crews. Most important to safety are seat belts, which should always be worn, and Touareg comes with three-point belts for all passengers including the rear-center position; the front seat belts are equipped with force-limiters to reduce injuries, while the rear belts have tensioners to enhance their effectiveness.

If that isn't enough to boggle the mind, the four-wheel air-suspension system (optional on V6 and V8, standard on V10 TDI) automatically adjusts suspension damping (stiffness) and ride height according to driving conditions. The system can also be controlled manually, raising the ride height for driving off road, lowering it for high speeds, or kneeling down to let less-agile passengers in and out.

For 2005, most options have been bundled into packages, especially on the V8 and V10. The V6 offers a Premium Package ($2,440) that includes Cricket leather trim, 12-way power seats with memory, heated power folding auto-dimming mirrors with memory, center console wood trim, and a front sliding armrest. High-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps are bundled with an upgraded stereo ($1,250).

Electronic park assist, a useful system that alerts the driver to objects (or children) behind the car when backing up, is part of Equipment Package 4 ($6,440), which also includes HID headlamps, a navigation system, a six-CD changer and the Premium Package described above.

Touareg looks like a Volkswagen, with smooth, arched surfaces, a Volkswagen face and a Volkswagen rear end. Other VW cues can be seen in the jeweled headlamps, the design of the hood and other features. If that isn't enough, prominent VW badges leave no doubt.

Touareg looks brawny, though its off-road capability isn't immediately apparent. The Touareg is designed to look rugged yet refined, practical yet stylish. Its high ground clearance, large wheels, and the robust design of the wheel arches and bumpers are the first clues to its impressive trail worthiness. Big air intakes in the lower bumper contrast with the upper radiator grille, which is shaped like that of a modern passenger car. This contrast hints at its dual role of luxury car and off-road vehicle. In the same theme, smooth, elegant surfaces above the beltline contrast with broad, rugged-looking side sills. Big exterior door handles look functional and are well designed and easy to grab.

Like a car, the Touareg is built on a unibody chassis. It was designed to be a highly rigid structure (40 Hz), so that it won't bend or twist even in the most tortuous off-road driving conditions. We were able to open and close the doors when the Touareg was teetering on two or three wheels, an impressive feat, especially considering Volkswagen's tight fitment of body panels. This rigidity contributes to the Touareg's ride comfort and high-speed stability. The doors are completely sealed when closed, providing a quiet cabin and allowing the Touareg to ford up to 22 inches of standing water.

Like many SUVs, the Touareg features a two-stage rear hatch with a glass window that can be raised separately. It has a neat feature that many owners may never discover: The glass hatch can be hard for shorter people to reach when it's open. If this happens, simply raise the rear door. When they reconnect, the window clicks into the door. Rejoined with the glass, the hatch can then be closed as one unit. Tall people have it easier, of course: They simply reach up and close the glass.

Perimeter lights illuminate the area around the Touareg when getting in or out at night, and can be programmed to the driver's preferences.

InteriorVolkswagen Touareg Review
The Touareg cabin is luxurious and attractive. It elegantly combines robust dimensions with delicate details in rich leather and wood trim. Burled walnut is standard, with vavona or myrtle wood available as an upgrade on the V8 and V10 TDI. We like both grades of leather, Cricket and smooth Nappa. (Leatherette is standard.) The premium light-colored wood with tan leather is particularly attractive and the dark-colored wood is quite nice. The textures found on the dash, door panels and other trim appeal to the sense of touch as well. Chrome and brushed aluminum trim add elegance with a hint of technology. Everything seems perfectly tailored and fitted.

The seats are excellent, supportive and comfortable, much better than most. We've found it sometimes takes time to get comfortable in Volkswagen seats, but I was immediately comfortable in the Touareg.

Visibility from the driver's seat is quite good, aided rearward by huge outside mirrors. All controls are easy to reach. The steering column tilts and telescopes manually; optional power adjustments make it easier to fine-tune its position. The switchgear, climate control, audio controls, and window lifts all feel smooth and sophisticated. Move the turn signal lever momentarily and the signals flash three times, handy for lane changes. Instruments are attractive and easy to read, big and clearly marked, using white-on-black graphics.

Robust climate controls make adjusting temperature quick and easy. The standard two-zone system (with rear A/C) does an excellent job. The optional four-zone system, allowing separate control of each of the four primary seating positions, may be overkill but it does give passengers more control over their personal space and it works well. Farther down on the center console are big round knobs for controlling the differential locks and air suspension (when equipped). The center armrest features a ring designed to hold large water bottles. Overhead, you'll find a small indigo display with compass and clock along with a pair of nicely designed map lights. The glove box is air-conditioned, so you can store a sandwich or beverage in there.

Touareg's optional Navigation System provides traditional route guidance with mapping and voice announcements. But it also includes a neat off-road navigation system with compass, altimeter, and GPS coordinates. A tracking mode leaves an electronic trail that can be used to retrace your route.

Automatic wipers respond well to changing conditions. While driving through a squall in the mountains near Park City, Utah, they quickly changed the wiper speed from ultra-fast to slow to intermittent, then stopped them altogether when the going got dry.

The rear seats are firm, supportive, and comfortable. The back seat of a Touareg is a pleasant place to be and we spent several hours there, sometimes in extreme terrain. Vents in the B-pillars help direct air back there and the four-zone climate control offers individual temperature controls. A second heat exchanger for the rear seats helps get heat back there quickly on cold mornings.

Fold down the rear seats and Touareg offers 71 cubic feet of cargo space with a nice, flat floor. That's more than what's found in the BMW X5, less than that of the Mercedes M-Class or Lexus RX 330. Folding the seats is a little fussy because the seat bottoms must articulate before folding the seat backs down, but the system works well. Put the rear seats back into place and there's 31 cubic feet of space behind them. There's an optional pass-through for skis available, a cargo cover to shield valuables, and a net partition that keeps cargo from flying forward in the event of an accident or hard stop.

Driving Impressions
Our first impression of the Volkswagen Touareg was its relatively quiet cabin. The V6 and V8 engines are smooth and the six-speed automatic transmission is really smooth. Overall, Touareg feels like a well-engineered vehicle carved from a single block.

The V6 has received a much-needed shot of 20 more horsepower for 2005, bringing the total to 240 at 6000 rpm, with 229 pound-feet of torque at 3200. Though smooth and quiet, last year's V6 Touareg took about 9.4 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60, slow by anyone's stopwatch, and it felt sluggish at altitude. The 2005 model should be better, but we don't expect a dramatic improvement.

The V8, on the other hand, delivers strong torque around town and the transmission always selects the right gear. So you don't need much throttle pressure to smoothly accelerate to the desired speed. Slam the throttle down and the V8 responds well, but it still does not deliver breathtaking thrust. Granted, we drove the Touareg at 6000 feet where thinner air reduces the V8's 310 horsepower to something less than 250. But at any altitude, a V8 Touareg weighs about 5,300 pounds when empty. That makes Touareg 375 pounds heavier than a BMW X5 4.4i, and 425 pounds heavier than Mercedes-Benz ML500. Still, the V8 Touareg delivers respectable performance. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds, says Volkswagen, which is comparable to the performance of a V8-powered BMW X5.

We haven't tried the new turbo-diesel V10, but we are impressed by its specifications, especially its 553 pound-feet of torque at just 2000 rpm. VW claims the new engine places the Touareg among the best-performing diesel SUV's ever, capable of clocking a 0-60mph time of just 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph. Twin turbochargers account for its power, while Volkswagen's sophisticated diesel fuel injection accounts for its relatively efficient 17/23 City/Highway mpg. (TDI stands for Turbo Direct Injection.)

The V6 and V8 models are not as fuel efficient, at least partly due to the Touareg's considerable weight. The V6 earns an EPA rating of 15/20 mpg City/Highway, while the V8 returns 14/18 mpg. VW recommends premium gas for maximum performance.

The transmission that comes with all three engines is brilliant, a luxury-grade six-speed automatic used in the new Audi A8 L. Fuzzy logic senses the driver's intentions then smoothly selects the proper gear. Switch from Normal to Sport mode and it selects higher shift points for more aggressive driving. There's also a Tiptronic mode for manual shifting, useful in some situations, but ultimately the transmission will still shift up automatically when redline is reached.

VW says it has recalibrated the 2005 Touareg's suspension for more sport. The ride quality of last year's model was good, though road vibration increased with wheel size, most noticeable with the 19-inch wheels and tires. The V6 model's standard 17-inch wheels offered the best ride quality, smoother and quieter, though the aggressive tread pattern of the tires generated some noise and vibration.

Steering responses are sharper with the 19-inch wheels, and more lethargic and mushier with the 17-inch wheels. The 18-inch wheel and tires seemed like a good compromise between the two. Most of my time with the 18-inch wheels was spent off-road, but the ride seemed quite pleasant during the few, short highway sections that I drove with them. Overall, I preferred the 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires.

Two suspensions are available for Touareg: a standard suspension with regular steel springs and an optional air suspension. The standard suspension works very well and we recommend it highly. It might even be our preference. It offers a nice ride and handles well, as we discovered on some winding mountain roads in Utah. Touareg boasts an impressive 8.3 inches of ground clearance with the standard suspension.

The optional air suspension features adjustable ride height and Continuous Damping Control, which varies shock stiffness according to driving conditions. The driver can select among three damping modes: Comfort, Sport, and Auto. The Sport mode is firmer, and we found it offered better handling on winding roads with less wallowing in corners and less chassis oscillation. The Comfort mode feels softer, and we found it to be more comfortable on bumpy roads. Road vibration can be felt even in the Comfort mode, however, particularly with the 19-inch wheels. And even in the Sport mode, this is a heavy vehicle that reacts more ponderously in corners than a sedan. We found it was often best to select the Auto mode, as the system does a good job of adjusting the damping automatically according to driving conditions.

The air suspension can adjust ride height automatically or manually. In normal operation, the driver need do nothing. The system maintains an 8.7-inch ground clearance in normal driving. At 87 mph, it automatically lowers the ride height to 7.7 inches, dropping the center of gravity and reducing wind resistance. At 118 mph, it lowers the ride height to 7.3 inches. We didn't hit the 118-mph mark, but found the Touareg quite stable at high speeds. By turning a knob, the driver can raise the high ride height to 9.6 inches when heading off the pavement or wading through deep snow. An ultra-high mode is available to ford extreme obstacles, offering an impressive 11.8-inch ground clearance. The extra-high level raises the suspension to the tops of the springs, making the ride uncomfortable, however, so you'll want to switch back to the normal-high setting as soon as you clear the obstacle. Also, it sometimes takes a moment to raise the suspension to the extra-high level. So the technique is to approach the obstacle, raise the suspension to the extra-high level, clamber over, and then lower it to the high level. We tackled Hell's Revenge near Moab without any trouble and easily drove down the Dragon's Tail, only invoking the top level on a few occasions. On the other end of the spectrum, the ultra-low kneeling mode (6.3 inches) is quite useful for getting less-agile passengers in or out or when loading cargo or unloading big dogs. An air hose can be connected to the system (under the passenger's seat) and used to inflate the tires or accessories.

We pushed Touareg to the limits of off-road travel in Moab and came away impressed. With the air suspension, the Touareg boasts an impressive approach angle (33.2 degrees), departure angle (33.6 degrees), and breakover angle (27.2 degrees). Touareg can be driven on a 35-degree offset angle (side inclination), a very uncomfortable situation, we might add.

With the optional rear differential lock, up to 100 percent of the engine's power can be used by any wheel that still has traction. The center differential is controlled automatically when the transfer case is set in the High position. The driver can shift on the fly into low range, and doing so automatically locks the center differential.

Hill Roll-Back Control prevents the Touareg from rolling back on a steep incline by locking the gearbox, which makes accelerating up a steep hill from a standing start easier. Going down a steep hill is easier with Hill Descent Control, which detects it's on a steep hill (greater than 20 percent) and automatically eases you down, applying the brakes to individual wheels as needed. Just take your feet off the pedals and enjoy the ride. The system works extremely well, allowing you to adjust speed with the brake or gas pedal, and will maintain whatever creepy crawly speed you want it to hold. Slower is better in these situations.

On the road, the Touareg feels more substantial than a Lexus RX 330. Granted, the Touareg is heavier than the RX, but the Volkswagen suspension is beefier and more sophisticated than the Lexus suspension, and the VW drive system is more sophisticated. We found the Touareg easier to manage and more pleasant than a BMW X5, which feels taller and jiggles more on bumpy pavement. And the Touareg feels more like a car than the Mercedes M-Class trucks do with their body-on-frame construction.

Summary & SpecificationsVolkswagen Touareg Review
Volkswagen Touareg combines luxury, sophistication and good road manners with impressive off-road capability. It'll deliver you anywhere you desire in smooth, luxurious comfort. The engineering that went into it is impressive. The V6 Touareg gets more power for 2005, but you'll need the V8 for respectable levels of performance, and the new 2005 Touareg V10 TDI brings a lot more power to the party.

2005 Volkswagen Touareg Specifications
Model LineupVolkswagen Touareg V6 ($37,140); V8 ($44,260); V10 TDI ($58,490)
Transmissions (optional)6-speed automatic with Tiptronic
Safety Equipment (standard)ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), ESP stability control, all-wheel drive, adaptive torque distribution, front, side, and curtain airbags, three-point belts for all passengers including the rear-center position; force-limiters on front belts; tensioners on rear belts
Safety Equipment (optional)electronic parking aid, tire pressure monitor
Basic Warranty4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled InGermany

2005 Volkswagen Touareg Specifications as Tested
Model Tested MSRPVolkswagen Touareg V8 ($44,260)
Standard Equipmentfull leather upholstery, 12-way power adjustable seating, 18-inch alloy wheels, wood trim, power glass sunroof, dual-zone climate control with rear seat controls, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic rain-sensor window wipers
Options as Tested (MSRP)Equipment package #5 ($11,000) includes air suspension, four-zone climate control, Nappa leather trim, wood interior upgrade, 6-CD changer, silver roof rack, tire pressure monitor, rear differential lock, electronic parking assistance, navigation system, bi-xenon headlamps, Convenience package (keyless access and memory function, power-adjustable steering column and front seat belts, sound system upgrade), and Winter Package (heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, ski bag)
Destination Charge615
Gas Guzzler Tax
Price as Tested55875
Layoutfour-wheel drive
Horse Power310 @ 6200
Torque302 @ 3000-4000
Fuel Economy14/18
Track Front/Rear
Turning Radius38.1
Seating Capacity5
Front Head/Hip/Leg room38.7/NA/41.3
Middle Head/Hip/Leg room
Rear Head/Hip/Leg room38.3/NA/35.6
Trunk Volume71
Towing Capacity7716
Front Suspensionindependent, double-wishbon, air springs, adjustable dampers
Rear Suspensionindependent, four-link, air springs, adjustable dampers
Ground Clearance6.3-11.8
Curb Weight5300
Stock TiresP255/55VR18
Brakes Front/Reardisc/disc with ABS and Brake Assist
Fuel Capacity26.4
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