SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Here’s a recipe for disaster in the auto industry: Introduce a new product in a new segment with a name no one can pronounce.
But don’t tell the folks atof America, who are giddy about their first-ever cross/utility vehicle, the Touareg (Tour-regg).
First, let’s clear up the name. It loosely means “free folk” and is derived from a nomadic tribe in the Sahara desert. That makes the name selection as clear as mud.
Once you get past that, VW’s new CUV is a noteworthy vehicle, beginning with the basic engineering done in conjunction with Porsche AG, which developed its Cayenne CUV off the same platform.
|VW’s Touareg has surprising capability.|
The Touareg is priced significantly below its Porsche sibling, with the base V-6 version starting at $34,900 and the V-8 at $40,700. Porsche’s V-8 Cayenne S starts at $56,665, a $15,965 premium over the Touareg.
Makes you wonder if the Porsche moniker is really worth the price. During our drive through the highways and back roads of the Salt Lake City region, the Touareg performed remarkably well on-road.
The ride and handling was better than most truck-based SUVs, although it would be a stretch to say the Touareg handles like a Passat or Jetta.
That said, Porsche wanted its Cayenne to be an on-road leader, which no doubt helped the Touareg. In fact, having driven both CUVs, it’s clear the Touareg can hold its own against the Cayenne, with a lower monthly payment to boot.
The Touareg’s standard 3.2L V-6 engine produces 220 hp at 5,400 to 6,400 rpm, with a maximum torque rating of 225 lbs.-ft. (305 Nm) at 3,200 rpm.
But the engine feels stressed when moving the 5,086-lb. (2,307-kg) Touareg uphill, or from a dead stop. The V-6 does deliver a commendable 15 mpg (15.7 L/100km) in city driving and 20 mpg (10.8 L/100 km) during highway driving.
But if performance is what you’re looking for, opt for the V-8. The 4.2L engine produces 310 hp at 6,200 rpm, with maximum torque rated at 302 lb.-ft. (410 Nm) at 3,000 to 4,000 rpm.
This powertrain moves the Touareg at a brisk pace and provides more than enough power to pass slow-moving traffic, while also allowing for some fun when taking the SUV from a dead stop. The V-8 delivers 14 mpg (17.3 L/100km) in city driving and 18 mpg (11.8 L/100km) on the highway.
Both engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, which improves fuel economy over a traditional 5-speed, while also helping to reduce overall emission levels.
The Touareg’s transmission features a special sport setting, which selects gears through a sport-shifting program. The shift points occur at higher engine speeds, which helps improve acceleration. There’s also a Tiptronic feature, which enables gear selection through toggling of the gear shifter forward and back.
On the design side, the Touareg takes some of its front-end styling cues from the Passat and Phaeton luxury sedan and transforms them into a more aggressive style.
The bodylines follow VW tradition, while the rear fascia features jeweled taillamps that blend into the rear shoulders of the vehicle. And the Touareg is much more pleasant on the eye than the Cayenne.
When it comes to the interior, VW takes luxury to the extreme. Sitting inside the lush cockpit, it’s more luxury sedan than SUV. In fact, VW borrowed many of the interior cues from the Phaeton.
Controls feature large knobs, which play well into Touareg’s CUV nature. The instrument cluster has round gauges with chrome surrounds, and the optional navigation system is tucked neatly into the center of the instrument panel.
One noticeable attribute of the Touareg’s interior: quiet. Even while traversing some of the largest boulders in nearby Moab, interior noise is absent.
Where Touareg really surprises and delights is off-road, going head to head with the most capable off-road SUVs – with a few exceptions.
The Touareg offers an optional air-suspension system that enables the CUV to increase its ground clearance from the standard 6.4 ins. (16 cm) to 11.8 ins. (30 cm) at the turn of a center console knob. VW claims that at the highest setting, the Touareg is 1.8 ins. (5 cm) higher than the Hummer H2.
When set in low range and on the highest ground-clearance setting, the Touareg seems unstoppable. Climbing at a 45° angle is no problem and there was little resistance when we reached side angles of about 35°.
The Touareg also uses cutting-edge technology to help during off-road maneuvers, including a hill-decline and hill-hold assist system, which provides an added level of control on rough terrain.
The hill-hold assist permits the front brakes to lock momentarily when the Touareg is on a steep incline with the gearbox in low range. Take your foot off the throttle and the vehicle holds itself in place. Add pressure to the throttle and the brakes release.
The hill-descent assist provides assistance on declines of 20% or more.
The engine control module automatically cuts engine torque to slow the vehicle and enhance control. If necessary, brake pressure can be applied to provide additional control.
The air-suspension system features three damping settings – sport, auto and comfort. Theoretically, these settings change the driving character of the Touareg, but it’s hard to tell the difference. While you can detect the comfort setting from the sport setting, it’s difficult to distinguish the auto from the comfort setting.
There is a noticeable difference in the ride and handling of the standard steel suspension as opposed to the optional air-suspension system. The air system provides a myriad of height and ride settings, which for avid off-roaders will be a must.
While some “non-domestic” auto makers have been criticized for their perceived inability to develop CUVs with true off-road capabilities, VW deserves accolades for its new entry.
There’s little doubt the Touareg will become the CUV others will copy. It continues on VW’s grand tradition of great interiors, while its on- and off-road handling is on par with some of the best in the business. And it doesn’t hurt to have been developed alongside a Porsche.
VW has long claimed to be a driver’s brand, and with the Touareg it should change its advertising tagline to “CUV Drivers Wanted.”