New & Used Volkswagen Touareg: In Depth
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The Volkswagen Touareg sits atop VW's crossover lineup, competing with the likes of the Ford Explorer, Honda's Pilot, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota's Highlander and 4Runner. The Touareg is surprisingly capable, even after the mid-size SUV lost some of its off-road gear in the second generation.
The Touareg offers diesel and hybrid versions with impressive fuel economy, but with prices that vault the Volkswagen into BMW X5 territory.
MORE: Read our 2015 Volkswagen Touareg review, for more details, as well as photos, specs, and pricing
The first-generation Touareg was introduced in the U.S. for the 2004 model year. This version looked far more like a tall wagon than a truck; but it actually had more trucklike ability than most modern utility vehicles, with rugged off-roading chops and impressive trailer-towing ability. Early models were powered by either a 220-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 (actually VW's narrow-angle VR6 engine) or a 310-hp, 4.2-liter V-8. Later that year—and also for the 2006 model year, but not for 2005—VW made what is still regarded by some to be the king of the Touareg models: a Touareg TDI model, powered by a turbocharged, direct-injection diesel V-10, making 310 hp and a massive 553 pound-feet of torque, giving the Touareg the ability to tow heavy trailer loads without breaking a sweat.
The V-6 Touareg models were a different story entirely; with just 220 horsepower to move more than 5,000 pounds—and not a lot of low-range torque—the engine felt overwhelmed and performance was sluggish even though the six-speed automatic transmission offered Tiptronic manual control and did its best. A new, 276-hp, 3.6-liter version of the VR6, introduced for 2007, was the first six-cylinder model to prove adequate. The V-8 models weren't downright fast either, but they accelerated briskly enough and cruised comfortably; that engine was upgraded to 350 hp in 2007.
Overall, first-gen Touareg models have impressive interior appointments, room for five adults, and one of the quietest, more refined rides of any utility vehicle. However unlike some other vehicles its size, the Touareg doesn't have a third row of seating. There's also not much cargo space if the back seats are up. Sturdy off-road hardware, with help from modern electronics, is part of the package; the Touareg can handle modest rock-scrambling, along with slick, muddy slopes or loose sand. With an available air suspension, the Touareg offered three different ride heights and was an even more able off-road device. And for all Touareg models, safety is top-notch.
For 2008, Volkswagen renamed the Touareg the Touareg 2, signifying a mild refresh and a revised list of features, including an improved off-road anti-lock braking mode plus new options such as adaptive cruise control and a blind-spot warning system. Truthfully, the Touareg hadn't changed much. In 2009, the Touareg got a more modern, economical V-6 TDI, replacing the big V-10 diesel; although this engine no longer had the semi-like torque output, at 221 hp and 407 pound-feet it was still the best choice for trailer-towing and was rated at 17 mpg city, 25 highway and was 50-state emissions legal this time. The V-8 model was dropped for 2010.
A completely redesigned Touareg, along with a new Touareg Hybrid model, arrived for the 2011 model year. The new model, carried over for the 2012 model year, offers a choice of three powertrains--a base 280-hp V-6, a turbodiesel V-6 with 225 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, and a hybrid edition with 380 net horsepower. In the 2013 VW Touareg, the diesel engine was reengineered to 240 horsepower and 407 lb-ft, and mileage ratings rose to 19 mpg city, 28 highway—better for most kinds of driving compared to the Hybrid's 20/24 mpg. Features changed very little into 2012 and 2013, with only a few cosmetic differences; the 2013 model year brought new LED taillamps for Hybrid models, most notably.
The diesel and hybrid versions offer impressive fuel economy, but expand the Touareg's substantial price tag into luxury-SUV territory—plotting it against the likes of the BMW X5. Towing capacity with the Touareg, though, is quite impressive, and VW thoroughly improved the basic design over the first generation with better proportions and styling details. The Touareg remains a five-seat SUV, though, while the related Audi Q7 is a three-row crossover. Cargo space is good, too, and though the ride quality is a little firm, the Touareg gives many high-end shoppers a reason to look down in price without moving down in performance.
A special Touareg X edition was introduced at the 2012 Paris Auto Show. With 19-inch Moab alloy wheels, plus a panoramic sunroof; silver-anodized roof rails; bi-xenon headlamps, darkened taillights, and special logos, this 2013 special edition celebrates the model's tenth anniversary. Then the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg got a sportier R-Line variant offering 20-inch alloy wheels, a unique front bumper, side skirts, LED tail-lights, and oval-shaped dual exhaust tips. Inside, it adds aluminum trim, stainless-steel scuff plates, aluminum sport pedals and an R-Line steering wheel.
An updated Touareg arrived for 2015. Exterior changes are subtle, with the most obvious being a more aggressive front fascia and revised lighting elements—it now uses bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights. Cabin materials are upgraded, including the trim and switchgear. The top model comes with an Area View 360-degree camera system, and there are new active-safety options available, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Side Assist, Front Assist, and Automatic Post-Collision Braking System. Powertrain options remain unchanged, and the car drives about the same as it did before.
The aim of this most recent update is to help move the Touareg upmarket some to make room for a less costly mainstream three-row crossover that VW will build at its U.S. factory. The unnamed crossover is due within about two years. At that time, the Tiguan will also grow to include a three-row option, leaving the Touareg as the more upscale option within the VW crossover lineup.