The Car Connection Volkswagen Touareg Overview
Volkswagen's Touareg crossover SUV fills an unusual spot in its segment: it's priced and outfitted almost like a luxury brand, but its Volkswagen badge doesn't have the cachet of, say, Mercedes-Benz.
With a nameplate that debuted more than a decade ago, the Touareg was redesigned for the 2011 model year and then updated again in 2015. It carries on into 2017 with only a few minor changes, most notably a new Wolfsburg Edition trim level and expanded availability of some essential safety tech.
Just where the Touareg goes from here is a question. VW has said that it will continue to develop the model for global markets—like Europe, where it sells relatively well—but that the American market will receive a new three-row utility vehicle built in Tennessee. Whether the Touareg fits in here long-term remains up for debate.
Volkswagen only sells gasoline-powered versions of the Touareg. A hybrid model was briefly available, and the automaker's diesel engine has been pulled after VW admitted that it illegally cheated emissions tests. Volkswagen says it is working toward a fix for affected cars.
The Touareg sits atop VW's crossover lineup, competing with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, and BMW X5.
MORE: Read our 2016 Volkswagen Touareg review
The latest VW Touareg
A completely redesigned Touareg, along with a new Touareg Hybrid model, arrived for the 2011 model year. It offered a choice of three powertrains, with only one remaining today. The base engine is a 280-horsepower V-6 and buyers could opt for a high mpg turbodiesel V-6 or hybrid V-6. The diesel was dropped after the automaker's emissions scandal, while the hybrid was phased out in response to limited consumer demand.
Towing capacity with the Touareg 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.
Features changed very little into 2012 and 2013, with only a few cosmetic differences. The 2013 model year brought new LED taillights for Hybrid models, most notably.
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 celebrated 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 taillights, and oval-shaped dual exhaust tips. Inside, it added aluminum trim, stainless-steel scuff plates, aluminum sport pedals and an R-Line steering wheel.
An updated Touareg arrived for 2015. Exterior changes were subtle, with the most obvious being a more aggressive front fascia and revised lighting elements. Bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights became standard. Cabin materials were upgraded, including the trim and switchgear.
After a 2015 refresh, the 2016 Volkswagen Touareg dropped its Hybrid model and added the automaker's Automatic Post-Collision Braking system that automatically applies the brakes after a crash to help prevent further damage. Regular-grade fuel became acceptable for the gasoline V-6 thanks to a mild retune.
The aim of this most recent update was to move the Touareg upmarket some to make room for the upcoming three-row crossover that's due by the end of 2017.
Volkswagen Touareg history
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. It gave 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 hp 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 V-6 model to prove adequate. The V-8 model wasn't downright fast either, but it accelerated briskly enough and cruised comfortably; that engine was upgraded to 350 hp in 2007.
Overall, first-gen Touareg models had 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 didn't (and still doesn't) have a third row of seating. There was also not much cargo space with the back seats up. Sturdy off-road hardware, with help from modern electronics, was part of the package. With an available air suspension, the Touareg offered three different ride heights and was a more-than-able off-road device. It could handle modest rock-scrambling, along with slick, muddy slopes or loose sand. And for all Touareg models, safety was 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. While 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. The V-8 model was dropped for 2010, shortly before the Touareg was fully redesigned.