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Preview: 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2

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2008 Volkswagen Tourareg

Preview: 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2
By Carey Russ 2007

Understatement is a European specialty, and the Volkswagen Touareg 2 is nothing if not understated. With minimal fanfare, it's been on sale since June. Nowhere on the vehicle does the badging say "Touareg 2", merely "Touareg". While there are some external styling changes, they are more evolutionary than revolutionary, and don't leap out and grab the eyes. The same could be said of the interior, which improves comfort and safety levels without ostentation. More notable are new engines, but they're hidden away under the hood, and were phased in toward the end of the original Touareg's run.

If it sounds like the changes to the Touareg for 2008 are of the mid-product cycle type typical in the industry, they are. And a bit more. More than 2200 of the component parts are new, and these are not merely nuts, bolts, and washers. As the Volkswagen representative said during the recent press introduction in Coeur D'Alene, ID, it's "the next level, level 2", with updated technology and simplified option packaging as important as any styling changes.

Which is not to say that the exterior facelift is unimportant. The front now boasts the current Volkswagen chrome goatee trim around the grille and restyled headlights, for a much sportier look. The V6 model gets polished chrome for the trim, which has a satin finish on the V8 and V10 TDI. Changes to the taillights and rear bodywork are less noticeable, and a power liftgate is standard in all models.

Inside, there are minor changes to instrumentation and upgrades to the audio system. Sirius satellite radio is standard in all models. As before, the design, fit and finish, and standard equipment levels are top-notch. The front seats are new (and very comfortable), with 12-way power adjustment for the driver standard in all models, and the front passenger as well in the V8 and TDI. In all, the front seats are heated, standard. The V6 has "V-tex" leatherette upholstery and plastic interior trim, while V8s and TDIs get leather seating and walnut trim. The power liftgate makes loading and unloading cargo easier, and an optional keyless access system with a start/stop button is available. As with other VWs that use that system, the key fob may be kept in a pocket or a receptacle in the dash.

In most states, there are three engine choices. The 280-horsepower V6 is the latest iteration of VW's narrow-angle VR6, and the 4.2-liter V8 now makes 350 hp, with 324 lb-ft of torque. Both use Volkswagen's FSI direct fuel injection system to allow higher compression for greater efficiency and power. In non-California emissions states, the 5.0-liter V10 TDI turbodiesel is offered, with 310 horsepower and a mighty 553 lb-ft of torque. Diesel fans in California and the Northeast, and everywhere else, will have an opportunity to buy a TDI Touareg in the 2009 model year when an all-new 50-state 3.0-liter V6 TDI will debut.

As it has been since its debut four years ago, the Touareg is a unibody vehicle with fully-independent suspension. This gives it luxury levels of ride comfort on the road, and decidedly non-trucklike handling. And while "unibody with independent suspension" may sound like the typical recipe for a crossover, the Touareg is no mere crossover. Every example is off-road ready with a dual-range, full-time "4XMotion" system with adaptive torque distribution.

Safety systems improvements raise protection levels on and off pavement. New functions, including hydraulic brake assist, active rollover protection, brake drying, fading brake support, and understeer control logic have been added to the standard Electronic Stabilization Program. The ABSPlus antilock system can reduce stopping distances on loose surfaces like sand or gravel by up to 20 percent. A direct tire-pressure monitoring system is standard in all models.

To make life simpler throughout the supply chain, from the factory, through the dealers, to the customers, the option and package structure has been simplified. Where before there were 1536 possible configurations, there are now 208 - which should still keep everyone happy.

So how does it drive? To find out, I drove both V6 and V8 models on a variety of highways and secondary roads in the Coeur D'Alene / Spokane area. And, since about two percent of customers state that the Touareg's offroad prowess was their reason for purchase, VW arranged a rather lengthy and technical off-road drive in the Idaho mountains. The Touareg was designed to be at home in any situation from black-tie luxury to down-and-dirty back-of-beyond offroading, and, unlike the luxury crossovers that might be considered competitors, it truly is.

On pavement, with either gasoline engine (diesels were not available) it's quiet, smooth, comfortable, and has the handling characteristics expected of a Volkswagen. It's a pleasant vehicle to drive, and handles much better than would be expected by its 5,000-pound plus weight. Think of it as an all-wheel drive Passat's big brother. The offroad section was on loose dirt and broken rocks, in a V8 with the optional variable ride-height air suspension. In 4-low, center diff locked (standard), raised to the higher levels, the Touareg was a remarkably capable beast. There are 9.6 inches between the low point of the vehicle and the ground at normal off-road level, and 11.8 in extra-high. The air suspension gives maximum approach and departure angles of 33 degrees, with a 27-degree breakover angle. The maximum lateral driving angle - tip to the side - is 35 degrees, and we came close. That feels about twice as far over from the inside, especially when looking at unfriendly rocks out the driver's side window. Maximum climb angle is 45 degrees, which, when you're in something and can't see over the hood, seems somewhat steeper. No problem getting up that, though - and that section of trail was mostly broken basalt chunks, with gravel thrown in for comic relief.

Few owners will venture to such extremes - it's not nearly as much fun when it's your money involved and your insurance company will probably not be too appreciative. But the bad pavement that is the standard across the country will not cause any problems, and will be dealt with in comfort. With the air suspension, a Touareg can ford water up to 22 inches deep, so bad drainage will be less of a problem. And long gravel driveways? Fun stuff, no chore.

Crossover comfort, real SUV ability, Volkswagen Touareg 2.