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2004 Volkswagen Toureg V8

Posted in Project Vehicles on May 1, 2006
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Photographers: Jeff Nasi

It's ironic how much engineering has to go into a product in order for it to work in the dirt. Off-road performance is a whole other world from street performance. And dirt utility and durability are a lot harder to achieve than top-of-the-line pavement pounding. Designing a vehicle that excels in both worlds is perhaps the toughest automotive job on the planet. But it's also the most fun.

In true German fashion, the VW Touareg has a very advanced suspension system. The unique airbag suspension impressed us with its ability to adjust not only the vehicle's ride height (more than 5 1/2 inches), but to compensate for every terrain we threw at it.

When Volkswagen and Porsche got together to create a joint venture 4x4 SUV we had high hopes for the results. We knew that Porsche engineers would bring impressive technology to the product, and we trusted that the Volkswagen team would find a way to keep it affordable for the masses. After all the dust settled, we'd say the results prove the Porsche guys won out. The Touareg feels more Porsche than the Cayenne feels VW, so prepare for a higher monthly payment. Though it is unlikely any of our testdrivers could justify owning a $50,000 Touareg, we all enjoyed driving it. Our Offroad Gray Touareg will be missed.

After an all-too-short 10,000 miles, we still marvel at the 40-valve V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission. We still rave about how solid and stable the Touareg feels. We've benefited from every adjustment the automatic air suspension made, and we fell in love with the interior feel-even if some of us didn't like the colorings. But now that we've had some extended seat time, we've also discovered that owning a high-tech off-road machine does not come without some tradeoffs.

In hindsight, the 254ci V-8 is not a torque engine. The transmission has great gear ratios, but it is very easy to get the engine out of its powerband and between gears where the Touareg feels like a dog. This truck is fast, but it's not best suited for 20- to 40-mph blasts in town. We've also fallen out of love with the GPS and stereo configuration. It's not intuitive to use, and most drivers will give up trying to figure out how to change the radio station without accidentally plotting a new course with the navigation system. The upside is that your passenger can use all of the functions of the GPS while you drive. Other OEMs lock you out of these systems above 5 mph.

PhotosView Slideshow
Vehicle {{{2004 Volkswagen Touareg}}} V-8
Price as tested $49,915
Average fuel economy (mpg) 14.4
Things we towed: Flatfenders and a fullsize {{{Jeep}}} pickup
Longest road trip 500 miles to Flagstaff, Arizona, in August
Worked best off-road Rockcrawling
Worked worst off-road Loose gravel
(when rear locker wouldn’t turn on)
Had to go to the dealer for Airbag warning and low tire
pressure lights on dash.
Rear locker stopped working.
People who drove it said “Feels solid”
Would we buy a new one? We’d probably lease one
Would we buy a used one? Maybe, but not without an
extended warranty that covered
the electronic components.

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