2013 Volkswagen Touareg Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 13, 2013

The 2013 Volkswagen Touareg delivers good performance and a luxurious interior--although it's a mainstream brand asking for a luxury-vehicle price.

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.

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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.

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 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.

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2013 Volkswagen Touareg

Styling

The 2013 Volkswagen Touareg sticks to the crossover design formula on the outside, with a refined luxury look inside. .

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. Overall, the Touareg's exterior isn't jaw-dropping, but it's sophisticated, and a cabin that dazzles anyone who's driven the most luxurious domestic-badged SUVs.

On the outside, a slightly wider body, and somewhat longer wheelbase and length gave the design more of a conventional crossover-wagon look (and functionally, more space). 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 layout remains comparable to other rugged-luxury crossover designs, and the somewhat high seating position, upright orientation to the instrument panel, and high, wide center console all feel stylistically synergistic. Trims and materials have been upgraded, and matte-metallic bezels help punctuate.

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2013 Volkswagen Touareg

Performance

The 2013 Touareg performs well on the road while still offering up trail toughness.

If you drove a Touareg from a few model years ago and were surprised to find that it drove like a much larger vehicle, you might want to take another look. For 2011, Volkswagen redesigned and reengineered the Touareg and cut an astonishing 450 pounds from this vehicle. It no longer feels as tanklike, as you might guess; fuel-efficiency and performance are better, too.

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 gasoline V-6 in the base Touareg is plenty quick, thanks in part to the eight-speed, which keeps revs up when you need it (it's not much of an engine for low-end torque), 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.

Those who plan to tow (capacity is 7,700 pounds for all engines), or those who are motivated by the idea of much better mileage on the highway will want to head straight for the clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI. It's our favorite of the lineup, with its strong torque output (407 lb-ft) and confident feel for towing or highway cruising. And for 2013 a new version of this engine steps up to 240 hp and even better fuel efficiency (19 mpg city, 28 highway).

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. In this model, an electric motor system 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.

The Touareg is still no crisp handler—few crossovers are, really—but it's now as nimble and responsive as many of its rivals.

For those who want a hardier level of off-road capability, there's a Terrain Tech option package that brings specialized off-road modes and an air suspension.

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2013 Volkswagen Touareg

Comfort & Quality

The Touareg only seats five, but it's comfortable, refined, and well-detailed.

The interior of the 2013 Volkswagen Touareg 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.

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.

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.

Ride quality is quite good whether you go with the standard suspension or the air setup in off-road versions, but the high seating position accentuates smaller motions and choppy pavement.

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2013 Volkswagen Touareg

Safety

The VW Touareg remains one of the safer vehicles in this class--even considering its recent weight loss.

The 2013 Volkswagen Touareg stands as one of the safest vehicles on the market, with a combination of excellent crash-test scores and advanced safety technology that could help avoid an accident.

The Touareg includes nine standard airbags, along with all of the standard features that are typical among crossovers, but it's the safety-tech options that are most noteworthy. 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, could each serve in avoiding some kinds of accidents and keep your family safer.

While the federal government hasn't yet put the Touareg through its revised NCAP program, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the last couple of model years of the Touareg its Top Safety Pick award, including "good" scores in frontal, side, rear, and roof-strength tests.

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2013 Volkswagen Touareg

Features

The Volkswagen Touareg doesn't offer as much advanced tech as is becoming customary in this class, but it has the luxury part covered.

The Touareg doesn't have at all the same high-value proposition as models like the Jetta and Passat, but if you can overlook its mainstream badge you'll find an equipment list that's on par with luxury-brand vehicles. Whether or not that adds up to a luxury-brand price is your call—and in our opinion, if you can get one of the more basic VR6 or TDI models and hold back on the options, you'll be getting a reasonably good value.

VW still offers VR6 and TDI models in Sport, Lux, and Executive models, while the Hybrid is only offered in a trim that's equivalent to the Executive level. 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. Exclusive to the Hybrid model is a power tilt/telescope steering wheel.

For 2013, Hybrid models get new LED taillamps; Sport trim models get a new 18-inch wheel design, and Executive and Hybrid models now come with 'Vavona' wood trim.

If you're already splurging and willing to spend some extra, options at the top of the lineup include a 620-watt Dynaudio premium audio system, as well as a navigation system with upgraded display and built-in music storage.

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2013 Volkswagen Touareg

Fuel Economy

Touareg V-6 models remain surprisingly thirsty, but Hybrid and TDI models are fuel-efficient utility vehicles.

The 2013 VW Touareg offers three different engines, each with a profoundly different character. V-6 (VR6) models aren't all that torquey, but they have acceleration that's plenty strong if you're not towing frequently. On the other hand, if you're towing or at all concerned about fuel economy, we strongly recommend the TDI diesel version. While the Hybrid version improves city mileage somewhat, it's simply not worth the higher price tag in our opinion.

At an EPA 16/23 mpg, the V-6 lands at the bottom of the fuel-economy scale for the Touareg; and that's about par for the class, really. The TDI model rings in at 19/28 mpg, while the Hybrid version gets just 20/24 mpg. And with the Hybrid particularly, there's a stiff price premium.

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 you plan to do much expressway driving or take a lot of highway trips.

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