2004 Volkswagen Touareg Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
Volkswagen wasn't exactly the first European manufacturer in
the SUV market. ``Last'' would be a better description. And it didn't
get the name that it planned for its SUV - an American competitor
grabbed it first. But there is more to a vehicle than being first to
market or having a certain name. What is truly important is, to
paraphrase the old real estate saying, product, product, product.
Not marketing hype, not cute names. Here, the Touareg shines. I
expect good products from Volkswagen, but after spending a hectic
week with a new Touareg, I was impressed beyond my expectations.
First, you're probably wondering about the name. ``Touareg'' is
the name of a group of nomadic Berbers who live in the North
African desert. If your spell checker is having conniptions, the more
common spelling is ``Tuareg.''
Like many of its competitors in the luxury SUV class, the
Touareg comes in V6 and V8 models. The V6 is a development of
VW's compact narrow vee-angle VR6, of 3.2 liters displacement
and producing 220 horsepower. If that's not enough, the 4.2-liter
V8 makes 310 horses. Built on a car-like unit-construction chassis,
both feature four wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc
brakes, a six-speed automatic transmission, and a sophisticated
multi-mode full-time four-wheel drive system.
A V6 Touareg showed up in my driveway at a very appropriate
time: moving time. There are plenty of SUVs that, because of their
interior design, offer good passenger carrying ability but are nearly
worthless when it comes to hauling cargo. The Touareg is not one
of those. During my week, it carried people very well, thank you,
with the comfort expected of a luxury vehicle. And it boasted
handling that is closer to a sport wagon than a traditional sport
utility. When it came time to load it up, no problem. It swallowed
all I could fit into it easily, with no adverse effect on handling. Jack of all trades, and master of all, too.
APPEARANCE: With its characteristic bulging hood, horizontally-
barred rounded-trapezoid grille, and multi-element headlights in
rectangular housings, the Touareg's Volkswagen identity is never in
doubt. At a (very) quick glance, it looks remarkably like a larger,
higher Passat wagon, particularly in the shape of the passenger
cabin and the chrome side window trim. But the Touareg has more
presence than the Passat. This is from its greater width and height,
bolder front fascia, and strong, muscular shoulder line formed by
the front fender line and its rearward continuation. Short front and
rear overhangs help clearance off or on the road. Larger wheels and
tires are the main styling difference between V6 and V8 models.
COMFORT: Inside, the Touareg has all of the trappings of a
European mid-luxury wagon in style and appointment. It fits above
even the premium-level Passat, with genuine walnut and aluminum
trim standard even in the V6. Leatherette is the standard seat
covering for the V6, with leather available. The design combines
luxury elegance with Volkswagen practicality and functionality,
with the usual power amenities. Power outlets and storage spaces
abound, with an air-conditioned glove box a useful feature. The
front buckets are to European luxury standards, with excellent
comfort and support. Typically of VW, the steering wheel is
manually-adjustable for both tilt and reach, allowing the perfect
driving position. VW's excellent adjustable seat heaters are
standard, even in the V6. The rear bench seat is contoured for two,
but will hold three people. It's split 60/40 for cargo duty, and,
unlike many luxury SUVs, the Touareg is an excellent dual-service
vehicle. With the rear seat down, the cargo area is long and flat,
with excellent space utilization and a reasonable liftover height. The
liftgate is not too heavy, opening the rear doors allows finagling of
cargo for extra capacity, and a metal scuff plate at the rear adds
protection to the cargo floor. Smaller than full loads can be secured
by a bungee net.
SAFETY: The 2004 Volkswagen Touareg has the full complement
of modern car safety features, from its chassis construction to front
and ``Side Curtain Protection''(tm) airbags, three-point belts for all
passengers, automatic unlocking of the doors and disabling of fuel
and electrical systems in the event of a crash, and electronic stability
and braking aids.
ROADABILITY: In the Touareg's gene pool are sport wagons, not
trucks. Although it has 8.3 inches of ground clearance in standard
trim, its width is considerably greater than its height. Add a rigid
unit-construction chassis, fully-independent suspension -- double
wishbone at the front, multilink at the rear -- and precise rack and
pinion steering and the result for ride and handling is European
luxury sport wagon, not pickup truck. The springs and shocks are
tuned for well-damped comfort and remarkable roadholding and
response. The new electronically-controlled ``4XMOTION'' (tm)
full-time multi-mode four-wheel drive system gives all-wheel drive
traction on pavement and features a low range and automatically-
locking front and center differentials for off-pavement driving. This
can be enhanced by an optional locking rear differential, which
allows 100 percent of drive torque to go to one wheel if that wheel
is the only one with traction. Standard Hill Descent Control and
Hill Rollback Control also help the off-road experience. For those
planning serious cross-country adventure, the optional multi-level
air suspension varies clearance from 6.3 to 11.8 inches.
PERFORMANCE: Like the newest version of the 2.8-liter VR6
found in the Golf and Jetta, the V6 Touareg's 3.2-liter engine has
dual overhead camshafts with continuously-variable valve timing
actuating four valves per cylinder. Greater displacement means
greater power, with 220 horses between 5400 and 6400 rpm and
maximum torque of 225 lb-ft at 3200 rpm. It's plenty adequate off
the line, where too much torque could cause a busy traction control
system, especially in loose conditions, and has very good midrange
and upper-end power. Even with my test vehicle loaded during my
move, it never felt underpowered. The slick new automatic helps
significantly, and with its six closely-spaced ratios is about the
closest thing to a continuously-variable transmission available. Its
electronic control circuitry makes excellent gear choices, and
manual override is easy with standard ``Tiptronic''(tm) mode, which
enhances the Touareg's sport wagon character.
CONCLUSIONS: The Volkswagen Touareg combines luxury
comfort, sporty performance, and excellent versatility.
2004 Volkswagen Touareg
Base Price $ 34,900
Price As Tested $ n/a
Engine Type single overhead cam 24-valve
Engine Size 3.2 liters / 195 cu. in.
Horsepower 220 @ 5400-6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 225 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic (r)
Wheelbase / Length 112.4 in. / 187.2 in.
Curb Weight 5086 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 23.1
Fuel Capacity 26.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
recommended for maximum performance
Tires P255/60 HR17 Dunlop ST 8000
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone /
Ground Clearance 8.3 in.
Drivetrain front engine, permanent multi-mode
four-wheel drive system
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 15 / 20 / 17
0 to 60 mph 9.4 sec
Towing Capacity 7716 lbs.
Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.41
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
not available at press time