The 2009 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI makes a lot more sense than the standard gasoline Touareg V-6 and V-8 models, but it's still a niche vehicle with niche appeal. That's an assessment that TheCarConnection.com couldn't quite steer around after a week and some 650 miles with the TDI.
To see why, it's worth diving into the numbers and sheer practicality first. Diesels are gaining a new reputation as clean, economical engines for the type of driving that Americans do, but in this respect the Touareg TDI just isn't that satisfying. In around 50 miles of around-town driving and short trips we averaged just 16 mpg in the Touareg TDI. Then over a long weekend and nearly 600 miles of driving—mostly relaxed highway cruising—we matched its EPA highway estimate, averaging 25 miles per gallon.
Why are the numbers so lackluster? The Touareg is a portly, 5,400-pound SUV contender in a package that looks much like newer, carlike crossovers. Though we love the TDI engine in the Touareg, its mileage returns are more an indication of the Touareg's failure as sensible family transport. We would have seen comparable mileage—if not better in the city—in gasoline-powered crossovers like the Ford Flex, Chevrolet Traverse, or Toyota Highlander. In towing and toughness, the Touareg compares more closely to the Chevy Tahoe, Ford Expedition, or the Mercedes GL320 BlueTec. Both the Highlander Hybrid and Tahoe Hybrid get much better mileage in the city than the Touareg TDI.
We've also seen better mileage in the 2009 Audi Q7 TDI, which has the same engine but a roomier interior, including third-row seating, suspension tuning that's better-tuned for on-road driving, and a leaner, more modern look overall despite being longer.
As you might have noticed, the Touareg is nearly the same price as the 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec. In the M-Class, we've seen comparable mileage, but the Merc has an interior that feels roomier, along with the cachet of the three-pointed star.
The Touareg is neither as roomy inside as most of the crossover models nor as much of a workhorse as those truck-based utes. Seating in the Touareg is excellent for four and adequate for five. But there's no third-row seat in the Touareg, and the cargo floor is especially high. The power tailgate was one of the more finicky ones we've tested, and the navigation system felt behind-the-times; it was slow to respond to changes in direction and had obsolete map data.
The 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 engine in the 2009 Touareg V6 TDI makes 225 horsepower, a respectable figure, but it's the engine's 407 pound-feet of peak torque—produced at just 1750 rpm—that's its strongest asset,
This steam-rolling low-rev torque accelerates the Touareg as if it's lighter than it is; it's what makes the Touareg a relaxed demeanor in everyday driving. The engine doesn't need to downshift for leisurely passing on two-lane roads; just give the throttle pedal a squeeze and the heavy Touareg wafts strongly up to speed with no drama. The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly no matter if you're puttering along or pushing the pedal to the floor, and 0-60 happens in 8.5 seconds according to VW (or about a half-second less according to others who have track-tested the TDI).
From inside the Touareg's cabin with the windows up, you'll hear very few hints of raucous diesel combustion and feel none of them. At idle the engine is completely isolated and doesn't transmit any noticeable vibrations inside, the old familiar diesel clatter is well masked. From the inside, you only hear a bit just as you start up gently and tip into the throttle. Drive it a little harder and it actually sounds smoother and more refined, and as most other diesels the V-6 seems a bit happier under load. All the while, the clean-diesel engine doesn't emit even a puff of the sooty smoke that you might have associated with diesels in the past; emissions are significantly cut thanks to a DeNOx catalyst and an AdBlue urea solution sprayed into the exhaust gas.
Take the Touareg out on a rutted gravel mountain road to a trailhead, as we did, and it becomes quickly apparent how overbuilt Touareg TDI is. Depending on your intent, it could be the redeeming factor. Thanks to the hefty construction, there was never a shudder from the body or interior, and the 4Motion four-wheel-drive system never missed a beat (there's a low range as well). It's an aspect of the Touareg that some owners will occasionally appreciate, but that and the TDI's underwhelming fuel economy and tight space are tough barriers, underscoring why there are many better choices for family duty.