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The Volkswagen Touareg SUV plays two roles for the VW brand. On one hand, it's the brand's only mid-size utility vehicle, and on the other hand it's a premium up-sell for owners who want to upgrade from their Jetta or Passat sedans. And as Volkswagen has lowered prices in recent years and upped value for most of its other mainstream models, the Touareg, which costs from $44,000 in base form to about $64k in loaded Hybrid guise, feels out of step with VW's new focus.
With that in mind, VW has worked to give its mid-size utility vehicle some broader appeal. And while the price remains a major hangup, 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.
The Touareg used to be grossly overweight, but with its last redesign a couple of years ago VW made it lighter overall, and better-detailed inside. Astoundingly--through the use of advanced materials and techniques--it engineered about 450 pounds out of the vehicle, gaining up to 20 better fuel efficiency.
Eight-speed automatic transmissions and full-time four-wheel drive are the building blocks in the powertrain department, while under the hood there are three quite different engine choices. 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. The clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI has been our favorite of the lineup, with its strong torque output (407 lb-ft) and confident feel for towing (up to 7,700 pounds) or highway cruising. And for 2013 a new version of this engine steps up to 240 hp and even better fuel efficiency.
Otherwise, 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. It gets a better boost in highway driving compared to other hybrids, due to the system's ability to disengage the engine and motor for long high-speed coasting.
The Touareg still offers way more truck-like ability than most other crossovers do--and more off-road and towing ability than most shoppers are likely to need. Think of that as a plus or a minus, depending on priorities.
Last year, the Touareg received a redesign that toned down the trek-worthy look a bit, adding some softer details, as well as a grille and front end that more closely matched that of VW's cars. A slightly wider body, and somewhat longer wheelbase and length gave the design more of a conventional crossover-wagon look (and functionally, more space), while the interior layout remained much the same, with its more upright orientation compared to other family crossovers.Functionally, the Touareg's high seating position in front affords a good view out ahead. Front seats are excellent, but the rather tall and very wide center console tends to make the front area feel more confining than it needs to be. There's space for five, and the adult-sized rear bench can slide fore and aft more than six inches in all. You won't find a third-row seat, but cargo space is quite good, with a power-folding arrangement that yields a fully flat cargo floor.
In all, the interior has luxury-class accommodations for four adults, and the cabin appointments feel more in line with the luxury set than the frugal set. It's in synch with the other VW models in design, yet it's appointed with nicely finished materials that share more in common with Audi in look and feel. Ride quality is quite good, but the high seating position accentuates smaller motions and choppy pavement.
The 2013 Touareg does in no way disappoint in providing a luxury-vehicle ambiance and long list of standard features. 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. Major options include an impressive 620-watt Dynaudio premium sound system, and a navigation system with upgraded display and built-in music storage.
- Torquey, efficient TDI
- Refined driving feel
- Luxury-level interior
- Quiet cabin
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- Luxury price, mainstream brand
- Few high-tech options
- Hybrid doesn't compute next to TDI