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2004 Volkswagen Touareg Review

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    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
                                 15-degree V6
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) 
                                 manual-shift mode
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 / 
				 independent multilink
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

not available at press time