Driven: 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

May 7, 2009
2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

Last weekend we drove VW's brand-spanking new 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 powered Touareg TDI. It's VW's second vehicle in its diesel onslaught for 2009, made possible by the German obsession with the oil burner, and it's the first time they've put their new clean diesel in the big SUV.

So is "Clean Diesel" just predictable marketing-speak or is there some truth to it? Well, consider that the Federal Government sees fit to give an $1,150 income tax credit to all buyers of the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel because the vehicle is so darn clean. Buyers of the very clean direct-injected V-6 and V-8 models of the Touareg get no such allowances, because they simply emit more pollution. Imagine that - now we have diesels that are cleaner than many gas engines. Who'd have thunk it back when diesels were spewing soot and particulates back in 1983?

We drove a fleet of 2009 Touareg TDIs across hill and dale in rural Virginia and frankly, the little 3.0-liter V-6 turbo's 407 lb-ft of torque pulls like a V-8. Once the little turbo spools up (they use a smaller one for the U.S. market, because they know we love low-end torque and don't want to wait for the boost) just off idle, all four tires claw for traction and the driver is pushed back into the seat. The wave of thrust is over at around 4,000 rpm, but the adroit six-speed automatic transmission quickly pops down a ratio and another effortless helping of torque shoves you forward. It's a little counterintuitive, having so much more power on the low end of the tach, but it just makes sense for American driving habits. We cruise around town, rarely exceeding 3,000 rpm, going from stoplight to stoplight, and navigating urban gridlock. And so our small- and mid-size gasoline engines typically loaf along at low rpm, where they really don't make very much torque. But loafing is where diesels make their mojo, and so there's simply no waiting for more forward motion, nor is there a need to downshift. Tap the accelerator, shoot forward. Great for towing, great for passing, great for squirting away from the stoplight.

Low rpm is also great for fuel economy, as are diesel engines' higher compression ratios and diesel fuel's higher energy density. New injector technology means no clatter or roughness, and a high-tech series of catalysts and particulate traps means that the vast majority of what comes out of the twin tailpipes at the rear is inert nitrogen gas and water vapor. So clean, as we said, that Uncle Sam gives you over $1,000 back on your income taxes if you by one of these. From a diesel.

All of the typical Touareg attributes remain: a luxuriously refined yet adept chassis despite roughly 5,300 pounds of mass, trail-conquering off-road ability and permanent four wheel drive standard, fantastic visibility and good room for five individuals and their stuff. Towing capacity is 7,716 lbs. from the factory, and we've no doubt this engine simply wouldn't strain with that load in tow. Alas, numb-if-accurate steering remains, and some of the interior trim (shiny faux wood bits) doesn't seem quite up to VW's legendary interior quality.

But if you're one of the few Americans who wants a stout all-wheel drive SUV that gets great mileage (17/25 mpg EPA rating) and doesn't punish you with sluggish acceleration, check this Touareg out. It starts at $42,800 ($41,650 with the tax credit), nicely in between the base gasoline VR6 ($39,300) and the top-line V-8 FSI ($48,900). But it blows them away in fuel consumption (17/25 mpg TDI, 14/19 mpg for the V-6 gasoline, 12/17 mpg for the V-8 FSI gasoline), and it performs much like the V-8 minus a little top end urge because the redline is a bit below 5,000 rpm.

Despite its 41-mpg highway EPA rating, we eked 52.4 mpg out of a VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen turbo diesel earlier this year. So we've no doubt that a conservative driver could come close to or ring right in at 30 mpg highway with the torquey, stout, capable, and comfortable Touareg TDI. Impressive, especially considering fuel prices that could skyrocket again this summer. Meanwhile, steer yourself to the source of all our info on the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg, including pricing, specs and photos galore. --Colin Mathews

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