2012 Volkswagen Touareg Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 19, 2012

The 2012 Volkswagen Touareg offers refined powertrains, excellent interior comfort, as well as a luxurious feel--although it carries a luxury-class price tag for a mainstream brand.

The Volkswagen Touareg is the German automaker's mid-size utility vehicle, and while it was known up until last year for its extraordinarily stout construction, it last year traded in some of its rugged, off-road image for more of a focus on suburban families. 

While the Touareg name is inspired by that of a nomadic people inhabiting North Africa, it last year received a redesign that shrugged off some of the brawny, trek-worthy look, adding more carlike details and a softer appearance overall. The grille and front end are now more like those in VW's passenger-car lineup, and a slightly wider body enforces that impression. Functionally, a slight increase in wheelbase and length helped boost interior space a bit, although the interior layout remains much the same--with a high seating position, a more upright orientation than most crossovers, and a high, wide center console.

The most important part about last year's redesign is that VW made it lighter overall, and better-detailed inside. It engineered about 450 pounds of weight loss, making it 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the former version.

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There are three different powertrains offered in the 2012 Volkswagen Touareg--all with eight-speed automatic transmissions and full-time all-wheel drive. Base versions get a conventional gasoline V-6--a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower narrow-angle V-6 (VR6)--while two other versions show the way toward both more power and better gas mileage, albeit at a premium. Our favorite of the lineup is a clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI that makes 225 horsepower but churns out enough torque (406 pound-feet) for confident towing or highway cruising, while a Hybrid model combines a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with an electric motor system, sandwiched between the engine and transmission, for a combined 380 horsepower--and an EPA rating of 20 mpg in city driving. The Hybrid system also gives a better boost than most on the highway, with its system able to smartly disengage the engine and motor for long high-speed coasting. Ride quality is quite good, but overall, the Touareg still feels a little more deliberate than some other crossovers this size; that said, towing capacity is excellent, up to 7,700 pounds. 

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

The 2012 Touareg has an interior arrangement that will feel familiar to anyone who's cross-shopped crossover vehicles--although it's a little higher and more upright than most, and it accommodates five passengers, with no third row available. Front seats are excellent, though--more luxury-class than value-class--and the adult-sized rear bench can travel more than six inches fore and aft. In all, you can very comfortably fit four for a long trip. Cargo space is quite good, and a power-folding arrangement can easily reposition to a fully flat cargo floor.

The Touareg's interior keeps with its price range, which is in base form almost priced with other luxury-brand vehicles. While it's in synch with other VW models with respect to design, it's appointed with nicely finished materials that share more in common with Audi and look and feel premium compared to what's used in entry Jettas and Passats.

Feature-wise, the Touareg has it all covered for families who want a luxury-vehicle ambiance. Leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, and memory seats are all included in the base Sport model. Executive and Hybrid models add premium audio, rear-obstacle detection, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, and heated rear seats. Options include an impressive 620-watt Dynaudio premium sound system, and a navigation system with upgraded display and built-in music storage. What the Touareg is missing are the sophisticated high-tech conveniences of the luxury-brand models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus that it's priced against at its upper end. You won't find adaptive cruise control, active-safety features, and more sophisticated infotainment interfaces. Some models do gain park distance control for 2012.

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Styling

Whittled down into a more pleasing shape, the VW Touareg splits the difference between refined luxury and formulaic crossover design.

With some of the more overt SUV lines toned down and its carlike styling language refined, the latest Volkswagen Touareg no longer looks lumpy and ungainly. It's quite sophisticated, in fact, and has a cabin that dazzles anyone who's driven the most luxurious domestic-badged SUVs.

It's still a rugged SUV if you pay for that version, but the Touareg doesn't look as mud-ready as it did in its last iteration. It's now more subtly sculptural, with some delicate details drawn into a conservative overall shape. What works best are the proportions: the headlights, the side glass, and the sheetmetal are balanced now, thanks to a longer wheelbase and slightly wider dimensions that also net it more usable interior space.

Inside, the Touareg keeps more of the same with respect to layout—a high seating position, with an upright orientation to the instrument panel and a high, wide center console—but trims and materials have been upgraded, and matte-metallic bezels punctuate the theme. 

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Performance

Losing weight has done wonders for the VW Touareg's road manners; off-roads should still inquire within.

No lightweight despite losing a few hundreds pounds for the 2011 model year, the VW Touareg is certainly better off for its big drop. It's more nimble, with better road manners on pavement, and still offers a package to please hardcore off-roaders who care to muss up its expensive body panels.

A trio of powertrains give the Touareg a few distinct personalities. The base V-6 is powered by regular old gasoline: it's a 3.6-liter V-6, with 280 horsepower. For more money, more exotic choices are offered in the form of the turbodiesel-equipped Touareg TDI, with its 225 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, and the Touareg Hybrid, with its gas-and-electric combination netting out at 380 hp. Both of the latter options are considerably more expensive than the base six, and one of them makes eminently more sense than the other.

Simply put, thanks to the weight loss, that gasoline V-6 now offers a different driving experience: It seems lighter, louder, and quicker, and unless you're a green-minded shopper willing to pay thousands extra for a slightly lower carbon footprint, it's fine for most tasks. The Hybrid doesn't make much fiscal sense to us, for the performance you get or for its $15k higher sticker price. Meanwhile, the Hybrid's 380 horses and 428 lb-ft of torque is enough to scoot out from a stop nicely, but it feels more sluggish and deliberate in its motions. With the gasoline engine, the Touareg feels more responsive to the foot, with plenty of passing punch. The TDI offers the best fuel economy and intrigues us the most: it definitely has impressive torque output and remains the choice for anyone who's planning to tow.

All three Touareg models use a new eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard. In the hybrid model, the electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and the transmission, with clutches on either end so that the electric motor can power the vehicle by itself under light load, at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. The Touareg Hybrid model incorporates a start-stop system and regenerative braking; and the hybrid system allows the transmission to smartly—and completely—disengage from the engine, to allow coasting long distances at higher speed.

Ride quality is good for most road use no matter if you go with the standard suspension or the available air suspension in off-road versions, and the cabin stays quite well isolated from road noise. The 2011 Touareg is still no crisp handler, but it's now as nimble and responsive as many of its rivals.

As for the former Touareg's serious off-road-worthy 4XMotion system? It's still available as a Terrain Tech option package, which also brings specialized modes and an air suspension. The new Touareg can be specified to levels of rock-scrambling and mud-churning close to those of the previous model, but it's no longer built into all of them.

Those who tow will note that the maximum towing capacity is 7,700 lbs for all three engines. 

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Comfort & Quality

Attention to detail shines throughout the Touareg's five-seat cabin.

With dimensions largely the same as the first-generation crossover, the second-generation Touareg does much more with its available space, giving up to five passengers premium comfort and ample space, though there's no third-row seat on the menu.

While the old Touareg could feel cramped for adults, the new one excels at toting adults in need of mature levels of comfort. The seats are firm but very well shaped, something we find in most VW cars. There's more leg room in front than before, and the back seats benefit from a bench that slides six inches along a track, so passengers and cargo can get the attention they deserve. Four adults will be fine for long trips in the Touareg, and a fifth adult can slot into the middle spot on the bench seat, provided it's not for hours on end.

The Touareg's cargo area is fairly large, too, and benefits from the rear seat's sliding action. A power-folding feature flips down the rear bench into a flat load floor at the touch of a button.

Still, it's a little surprising that the Touareg doesn't have three rows of seating. In shopping this model, you have to consider that its competition isn't the likes of the Toyota Highlander or Chevrolet Traverse but the likes of the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

Those upscale prices demand an upscale cabin, and the Touareg has that. Materials have been fully revamped, and while the Touareg might be in synch with other VW models with respect to design, it's appointed with nicely finished materials that share more in common with Audi.

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Safety

Available crash-test scores are good, despite the VW Touareg's crash diet.

Substantially reengineered for the 2011 model year, the 2012 VW Touareg has earned some good crash-test scores and offers some sophisticated crash-prevention technology to boot.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Touareg its Top Safety Pick award, which means it's received "good" scores in all relevant tests. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet re-tested the Touareg since its redesign.

There are nine airbags onboard the new Touareg, as well as standard anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control. Along with the availability of all-wheel drive, the Touareg can be fitted with options including an Area View monitor with four cameras; Lane Assist and Side Assist blind-spot monitors; adaptive cruise control; and bi-xenon headlamps with Dynamic Light Assist. 

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Features

It's not as advanced as some of the SUVs and crossovers from Ford or its luxury competition, but the Volkswagen Touareg can be outfitted in a very plush way.

The Volkswagen brand is rapidly dividing itself into two parts: American-built or American-aimed vehicles with lots of value for the dollar, and European-built vehicles that command a premium. The Touareg's in the latter group: it doesn't quite challenge the most tech-savvy SUVs from some of the domestic automakers, but it's filled with luxury-like features that push its base price into the $40,000 range. That sticker price escalates rapidly as options and higher trim levels are selected.

The Touareg can feel more like an Audi, even in the base Sport models. They offer standard power features, cruise control, and power seats, as well as standard navigation, heated front seats, and a rearview camera.

Moving into the higher trim levels adds on leather upholstery, memory seats, and a panoramic sunroof. Executive and Hybrid models add premium audio, rear-obstacle detection, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, and heated rear seats. Exclusive to the Hybrid model is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

What the Touareg is missing, feature-wise, are the sophisticated high-tech conveniences of the luxury-brand models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus that it's priced against—items like adaptive cruise control and more sophisticated infotainment features. Considering that, a fully loaded Touareg feels pricey, as well as a little pointless given the competitive set. 

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2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Fuel Economy

Diesel and hybrid models set the fuel-economy pace for the VW Touareg; V-6 versions aren't as good.

The VW Touareg spans a broad range of fuel economy ratings with its three powertrains. If you're looking for the ultimate driving range, the diesel version is best, but a hybrid model also improves on the basic V-6's numbers.

The roomy Touareg's standard V-6 engine earns the lowest numbers of the lineup. The EPA rates it at 16/23 mpg, understandable for its size but off the mark when less expensive five-seaters like the Cadillac SRX are compared. Both the hybrid and TDI turbodiesel models top that easily; they're rated at 19/28 mpg (TDI) and 20/24 mpg, though with either, there's a stiff price premium.

In truth, Volkswagen's effort with the Hybrid doesn't make a very good argument for itself, as the Hybrid is not only much more expensive than the TDI but worse in combined fuel economy. While we value the Hybrid as a stepping stone toward greater electrification, we'd advise shoppers to make the practical choice toward the TDI—especially if they plan to do more suburban or highway driving.

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June 27, 2016
2012 Volkswagen Touareg 4-Door TDI Lux *Ltd Avail*

I'd buy another one

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For the first time in my motoring history I'm considering buying a replacement vehcile the same as the current. I usually swap brands when buying a new vehicle but not this time
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March 9, 2016
2012 Volkswagen Touareg 4-Door TDI Lux

a great driving rig, pulls our travel trailer effortlessly, handles the wintery conditions here well

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great vehicle, wish I had ordered the top of the line model, love the diesel
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April 17, 2015
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Touareg TDI review

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Great suv, comfort, good handling, 30mpg - and reliable too.
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