Review: VW Touareg

The slightly odd-named Touareg marked VW’s first foray in to the world of SUV’s in 2002. A joint effort between VW, Audi and Porsche to save development costs yielded the Touareg, A7, and Cayenne, respectively. Critics heaped praise on the Touareg, citing its handsome, contemporary looks, an interior dripping with class, a good assortment of engine choices and remarkable off-road capability. On the negative side, the Touareg’s sophisticated four-wheel drive system that gave it go-anywhere capability made for a heavy SUV, a spotty reliability record and many North American buyer’s difficulty in accepting VW as a brand of premium automobiles has kept the Touareg as a bit player in the premium SUV market. For 2011, the Touareg has been completely redesigned. Will the changes help propel VW’s most expensive vehicle sold in North America to challenge the giants? Read on!

The Touareg has thankfully retained its hallmark good looks. The new model is slightly longer and lower than the one it replaces. This is a smart, refined looking SUV that remains instantly recognizable as a VW from the front. The car wears just enough chrome and design details (check the shaped exhaust outlets) to confirm its premium status, but without being pretentious. No new ground is broken here, but the Touareg succeeds in meeting its contemporaries in terms of quality, execution, and attention to detail.

While the VW faithful are howling about the new Jetta’s drop in interior quality, such fears can be set aside with the new Touareg. Design, attention to detail, and high quality materials-the theme that resonated through the VW line last decade-are present and accounted for. Soft touch plastics, creamy leather, burr walnut, stainless and piano black trim all conspire for a very pleasing interior. Seats are supremely comfortable. For all the features the Touareg offers, the interior is simple and easy to use-you will not find rows of confusing buttons. The new Touareg is proof that when the bean counters are not looming over their shoulders, VW is still capable of building the finest interiors in the business.

Recognizing that the overwhelming majority of North American SUV buyers will never throw anything more challenging than a gravel road at the Touareg, VW wisely did not carry over the all-conquering, over the top all-wheel drive system seen on the last generation car. Instead, all 2011 Touaregs get the simpler, yet capable 4Motion all-wheel drive system. This, along with other weight saving measures results in a car weighing 350lbs less than the outgoing car, a definite boon to handling. The Touareg delivered excellent handling, braking, and steering for an SUV of this size.

VW is taking a unique approach for engine choices, with the choice of three V-6 powertrains. The standard engine is a 3.6L gas V-6, rated at 280hp, which is about average in this class. This new V-6 is expected to deliver 19% better fuel economy compared to the last gas V-6. We are also seeing VW’s first application of hybrid technology. The engine used here is a supercharged 3.0L V-6, which along with the electric motor provides a combined 380hp, with 428 lbs.-ft. of torque. The goal of the hybrid Touareg is to offer V-8 performance while delivering V-6 fuel economy. All Touaregs have an all-new 8-speed automatic, and can tow a maximum of 7,700lbs.

Our test car was equipped with a 3.0L V-6 turbocharged TDI Clean Diesel rated at 225hp and 406 ft.-lbs- or torque. While diesel powered cars remain sort of a cult-following here in the US, buyers would be well advised to sample the TDI. The progress VW has made in diesel engines since the 1980′s is nothing short of remarkable. Our TDI exhibited none of the smokey, clattering typical of oil burners of yore. Instead, you are treated to a refined powerplant with extremely impressive torque that is cool and collected under acceleration, and whisper quiet at cruising speed. The fact that an SUV of this size can deliver an EPA Highway rating of 28mpg-comparable to your average mid-size V-6 sedan-is an impressive feat in and of itself.

The Touareg is available in three trim levels-Sport, Lux, and Executive. Standard on Sport is touch screen radio/navigation, satellite radio, rearview camera, bi-xenon and LED lighting, 18″ alloys, and power seats. The Sport adds 19″ wheels, a two-piece panoramic sunroof, leather, and burr walnut trim. Our test car was the top spec Executive, which adds gorgeous 20″ alloys, heated multi-function steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, push button start, and a Dynaudio premium sound system. Our test car with an as delivered MSRP of $58,320USD.

The new Touareg is an outstanding effort from VW, and I would say it is arguably one of the best premium SUVs that have graced The Garage. It has managed to retain the qualities that made the first generation car great-an elegant exterior, complimented by one of the best interiors in its class. VW wisely tossed the overkill all-wheel drive system from the last car, which has shaved weight and overly complicated suspension systems. The choice of conventional gas, diesel, and hybrid engines should satisfy most buyers.

The Touareg is by no means cheap, but it has earned every right to stand shoulder to shoulder with its competition from Lexus, Acura, BMW, Mercedes and Audi. With barely over 4,700 Touaregs sold in the US last year, it’s a shame more Americans have not embraced what is an exceptionally executed SUV. Why North Americans shun the notion of a premium-priced VW is beyond me, while Chevy offers the bargain basement Aveo and the Tahoe, when in LTZ trim is priced about the same as the Touareg. But for those buyers not needing to impress the neighbors with a three-pointed star or a blue and white propeller on the hood, The 2011 VW Touareg is a sure winner.

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