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Review: 2005 Volkswagen Touareg

June 13, 2005 09:52 AM EST | Luxury Brands , SUV's , Volkswagen | Email to Friend

View large imageVolkswagen Touareg 2005 is an enticing blend of the pavement-dwelling crossover and the rugged off-roader swathed in Volkswagen style.

Upscale interior, polished road manners, true off-road capability, solid construction, lengthy standard equipment list, available V10 diesel.

Lousy fuel economy with gas engines, not a lot of room in the backseat, no in-dash CD changer.

It's pronounced "Tour-regg" -- emphasis goes on the first syllable, then it's quick and sharp on the second syllable. The word translates literally to "free folk," and refers to a nomadic tribe whose travels regularly take them across the Sahara Desert. Such harsh terrain demands a strong physical and emotional constitution, and knowing that, it shouldn't surprise you that a sport-utility vehicle has adopted the name of this people. While obviously unable to replicate the sentient human qualities of the real Touareg, the SUV namesake does indeed possess a strong physiology. Not strong in the old-fashioned, live-axles-at-either-end, give-me-your-worst sense, but strong as in carefully engineered (using today's technology) to take on such conditions as rush-hour traffic in the city, steep off-road trails in the mountains and everything in between in an unflappable manner. Based on Volkswagen's predisposition toward building drivers' cars like the Passat, Jetta and GTI, you might have expected the company's first SUV to be of the car-based variety -- something fun yet comfortable to drive and well dressed on the inside. Instead, VW chose to straddle the divide between crossover SUVs and traditional SUVs. The Touareg has a unibody structure, four-wheel independent suspension and agile handling on pavement like most crossovers. But leave the paved world, and it can be shifted into its low-range gearing (4WD Low) and evade the assaults of rocks with up to 11.8 inches of ground clearance when equipped with an optional air suspension. It can also ford water up to 22.8 inches deep. Qualities like these are matched only by Land Rovers and the VW's platform mate, the Porsche Cayenne. Why do all this when consumers are perfectly content to stay home in the suburbs and drive Lexus RX 330s and BMW X5s? The word is that VW buyers are younger and more outdoor-oriented, so the company doesn't want to lose anymore of them to brands like Jeep when they decide it's time for something more rugged than a Jetta. Additionally, since the Touareg is such a late entry to the SUV movement, VW evidently wanted to make sure that consumers felt it was worth waiting for. Three models, a V6, a V8 and a V10 TDI turbodiesel are available for the 2005 model year, and each comes with a full load of standard equipment and premium interior furnishings on par with those of a Lexus or BMW. Those looking for a powerful and fuel-efficient Touareg should spring for the V10 TDI -- we're talking 553 pound-feet of torque and gas mileage in the 20s. Unfortunately, due to emissions regulations, the TDI model is not sold in California, New York, Maine, Massachusetts or Vermont. With a full menu of safety features (stability control and head curtain airbags included), the five-passenger Touareg is one of safest SUVs on the road. While its average-size backseat and cargo bay may not make it the best choice for families, we expect that plenty of people will be delighted by the style and versatility of VW's first SUV.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Touareg comes in three trim levels -- V6, V8 and V10 TDI. The V6 comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated leatherette seats, telescoping steering wheel, genuine wood and aluminum accents, a 10-speaker sound system with CD player, one-touch front windows and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The V8 adds 18-inch wheels and power leather seats (optional on the V6), while opening up options like 19-inch wheels, four-zone climate control, heated rear seats and premium napa leather. Options on all Touaregs include bi-xenon headlights, parking sensors and a navigation system.

Powertrains and Performance:
Three engines are available. The base motor is a 240-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6. Next up is a 310-hp, 4.2-liter V8, the same one used in the Audi A6 and A8. The top-dog engine choice is the V10 TDI turbodiesel, which boasts 310 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. Note that the TDI is not yet available in California emissions states. All engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with sport and automanual modes. Towing capacity is 7,716 pounds for all Touaregs. The 4XMotion four-wheel-drive system is standard, and it includes low-range gearing for serious off-roading. Another option to consider is the air suspension, which increases the Touareg's standard 8.3 inches of ground clearance to a maximum of 11.8, while offering a variety of lower height settings for less intense terrain, along with continuous damping control to flatten the SUV's cornering attitude.

Every model comes with four-wheel antilock disc brakes with BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, stability control, hill descent and incline rollback control. Passive safety features include side airbags for front occupants, full-length head curtain airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners in all outboard positions. Crash testing by the NHTSA returned a four-star rating (out of five) for frontal impacts (both driver and passenger) and five-stars for side impacts (front and rear).

Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the Touareg builds upon the styling cues established in the Passat. Each one has an upscale two-tone ensemble accented by real wood and aluminum. Most surfaces are soft-touch, and what hard surfaces there are (lower dash, console and doors) feel smooth and substantial to the touch. The backseat isn't overly roomy, and we encourage families to try before they buy. Cargo capacity is average -- 31 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 71 cubes when they're folded.

Driving Impressions:
Even if you never leave the pavement, the Touareg should satisfy. Acceleration ranges from adequate in the base V6 model, to ample in the V8, to explosive in the V10 TDI. Ride quality is smooth and stable, and although heavy, the VW feels agile around corners, particularly when equipped with the air suspension. Taken off-road, the Touareg amazes, as it tackles steep passes and deep ruts normally reserved for rough-and-tumble Jeeps.

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