VW Touareg: In tune with the SUV crowd

When the first Volkswagen Touareg appeared 10 years ago it opened a lot of eyes. A true, dual-duty SUV, this new VW was equally at home on a suburban mall crawl as it was a backcountry trail.

To hammer home the point, the Touareg’s introduction was held in Arizona’s red rock country. There, on trails where mere crossovers fear to tread, Touareg immediately impressed with its off-road chops.

The second generation rolled out in 2012, and was clearly recalibrated. The new looks (longer, lower, leaner) telegraphed a change in personality. Touareg 2.0 put away the hiking boots of its early years, replacing them with something more sophisticated.

Touareg returns for 2014 with a seven-model lineup, ranging in price from $44,570 to $64,745. New additions to the lineup include the performance-minded R-Line and a special, limited run of 10th anniversary X models. My most recent test drive was in a TDI Executive model with an as-tested price of $61,770.

Slide inside the Touareg, and you find a handsome cabin with a well-crafted appearance. The dash display is bright and legible; controls are straightforward. As expected, upper trim levels are particularly well appointed. For example, the standard equipment list for Executive models includes a 360-degree exterior camera system. The four-camera array allows the driver to keep tabs on all sides of the vehicle, as well as a bird’s-eye view from above. Other standard features include park distance control, a 10-speaker, 620-watt Dynaudio premium sound system, heated steering wheel, front and rear seats, panoramic moonroof, touchscreen navigation system, and model-specific, 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels.

Touareg easily holds 6-foot passengers in both rows. Back seats offer more than 6 inches of travel, which allows the owner to configure the cabin for more rear passenger leg room or added storage space. Cargo capacity ranges from 32 to 64 cubic feet, with a comfortably low liftover height. Rear seatbacks fold to a (mostly) flat load floor.

Touareg’s cargo hold is smaller than competitive classmates like the Mercedes ML350, Jeep Grand Cherokee, or BMW X5, but is larger than the Porsche Cayenne. Volkswagen’s Touareg shares a shortcoming common to most SUVs — rear quarter blind spots. A blind spot detection system would come in handy, but is regrettably unavailable.

A choice of gas or turbodiesel powerplants are available (a hybrid model is also offered), all linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission. My Touareg was equipped with VW’s 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo diesel. The diesel — which adds $3,500 to the sticker price — is rated at 240 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. This compares to 280 hp at 6,200 rpm for VW’s VR6 3.6L gas engine.

But the TDI’s torque output of 406 lb.-ft. at 2,000 rpm outstrips the VW gas engine by a wide margin. This torque translates into brisk acceleration when you flatten the accelerator and invoke the turbocharger. The trip from 0-60 mph takes about 7 seconds.

With a 26.4-gallon fuel tank, the TDI has a theoretical cruising range of over 700 miles. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 city/29 highway; that compares to 17/23 for the VR6, and 20/24 with the Touareg Hybrid. I logged 27 mpg in my test drive.

Towing capacity is rated the same for all available engines at 7,716 pounds. That’s equal to the Cayenne diesel, and better than the X5, ML350, or Grand Cherokee diesels.

Volkswagen’s all-wheel-drive system is known as 4Motion, and all Touareg models are so equipped. The 4Motion system is a permanent AWD setup, with a rear limited-slip Torsen differential and adaptive torque distribution. Available engine torque is distributed 40 percent to the front wheels, 60 percent rearward.

Touareg Gen 2 isn’t the rock-scrabbler that the previous version was, but with angles of approach/breakover/departure of 26/21/26 degrees, respectively, and 7.9 inches of ground clearance, it’s still far more capable off-road than the vast majority of its drivers will ever need. And on the pavement, VW’s big SUV feels stable, if not sporty. Touareg cruises quietly and has a notably smooth ride.

Ten years and 700,000 (worldwide) sales since its introduction, Touareg remains a solid choice amongst midsize luxury SUVs. While the latest generation is less hardcore off-road than before, it’s still more able than it needs to be. Smooth, functional, and comfortable, Touareg is in tune with the needs of its target market.