Not counting the numerous Baja bugs and the short-lived Thing, Volkswagen is about to go boldly where no VW has gone before: off-road. The new Touareg (pronounced Tour-regg) may admittedly be coming to the SUV game a bit late, but it's a wait Volkswagen enthusiasts will tell you has been well worth it. In typical Volkswagen fashion, the Touareg sets a new standard in quality, luxury and technology that is bound to do to the SUV market what the Passat did to the family sedan segment: set the competition on its ear.
The Touareg is unmistakably a Volkswagen; if the large vertical grille and gently rounded flanks are not enough evidence for you, then the enormous chrome VW emblems that adorn the grille and rear hatch should banish any doubts. Just slightly longer than a Passat wagon, the Touareg's tall ride height and obvious ground clearance is a clear indicator that this vehicle is intended for far more than just highway driving. Unlike many SUVs and crossover vehicles, the Touareg has been blessed with an amazingly rugged off-road system that includes a revolutionary all-wheel drive system, locking center and rear differentials and a myriad of electronic wonders that do everything from holding the vehicle in place on steep inclines to controlling its acceleration upon treacherous descents. Volkswagen has even sealed all of the doors, allowing you to forge though deep water without fear of flooding the passenger compartment. If you're buying your SUV because you really do need it to take you into rugged, never-before trespassed terrain, there are only a handful of true contendersand the Touareg sits comfortably near the top of the list.
The entry-level Touareg is powered by a powerful 220-horsepower V6 engine and features a long list of standard equipment including permanent 4MOTION all-wheel drive. One step up from the V6 is the 4.2-liter V8 that bumps horsepower to 310 and ups the torque by a significant margin. Though the V6 is a strong engine, it does not have the refinement nor the pulling power of the V8, a fact that becomes most noticeable when accelerating onto the freeway. Both the V6 and V8 models come equipped with a four-wheel independent steel-spring suspension that produces a firm and controlled ride.
The stiff spring rates and spot-on steering allow you to perform some rather speedy maneuvers, proving that even with a tall ride height, a SUV can still be a stable and competent performer. It should be noted that the Touareg does share its chassis and suspension setup with the new Porsche Cayenne, a fact you'll want to point out to your friends while they're still trying to digest the Touareg's $35K starting price. For those who prefer a less European ride, VW does offer an advanced air-suspension system that does an excellent job of dampening out road imperfections without sacrificing too much of the Touareg's road-racing abilities.
Unlike other all-wheel-drive systems that simply shift power from front to rear, the Touareg's 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system is capable of independently sending power to each wheel in varying degrees. This gives the Touareg remarkable road holding ability, allowing it to propel itself forward even if only one of its four wheels has traction. In addition, the optional height-adjustable air suspension allows you to increase the Touareg's ground clearance to over 11 inches; combine this with the short front and rear overhang that allow for relatively steep approach and departure angles, and you have a luxury SUV that is Rubicon ready.
With seating for five, the Touareg is intended to compete head on with such well-established heavyweights as the Volvo XC90, Jeep Grand Cherokee and BMW X5. To ensure its success, the Touareg has been outfitted with an interior that upstages even the most expensive of these SUVs. Generous amounts of leather, wood trim and stylish chrome trim rings adorn the cockpit, affixed to a thoroughly modern dash and interior that looks more Audi than VW. Indeed, there seems to be a visible mix of the two lines, with VW's signature blue dash lighting assigned to the audio and climate controls and Audi's white gauge faces and red indicators illuminating the instrument cluster. Certainly the Touareg's level of sophistication leapfrogs anything previously seen in a VW product, a clear prelude to the direction the automaker intends to pursue.
Because there is no third-row seat to get in the way, the Touareg offers an immense amount of rear cargo space; the additional space between the rear seat and the hatchback also allows the Touareg to score very well in rear-crash testing. Indeed, you'll find safety is another of the Touareg's strong suits with standard front side-impact airbags, a side-airbag curtain, anti-lock brakes, traction control and three-point safety belts at all seating positions.
To give you a taste of just how serious VW is about moving upscale, a sampling of equipment found in a fully-loaded Touareg would include such luxuries as 12-way heated power seats with power lumbar support, an integrated navigation system, a fully-independent air suspension, auto dimming rear and side-view mirrors, Xenon headlamps, electronic parking assist, OnStar telematics, four-zone automatic climate control for both the front and rear passengers and a 400-watt, 11-speaker audio system. In addition, Volkswagen dealers will carry a host of accessories that will include various roof racks, an interior bike mounting bar and various exterior add-ons.