Probably right now, pigs are circling O'Hare airport, and a snowball fight has broken out in Hades. Because a manufacturer with no particular heritage in off-road circles, Volkswagen, has defeated three Jeeps, a Land Rover and a Hummer in head-to-head testing. Speechless testers resorted to clichd terms such as "phenomenal," "unbelievable," "amazing," "incredible," "just sick," and finally, "perfect."
Other than that, the V-10 Touareg is just like any other SUV.
Sure, the Touareg is comfortable, well appointed, rides and handles well, engineered for rugged terrain, has all the latest bells and whistles-you name it. But more than anything, this Touareg has an engine.
The engine in question is an intercooled, twin-turbodiesel V-10 displacing just 300 cubic inches. It produces 310 hp at 3,750 rpm, and a ton of torque-with virtually no noise and no smoke.
Even last year, when it was introduced with a small gas V-8, the Touareg was a remarkably versatile four-wheel-drive. Thanks to minimal overhang, a good crawl ratio (36.1:1), adjustable air suspension and locking diffs, the Touareg could motor all around Moab with ease. Another magazine even named it "4x4 of the Year." But power was lacking-and that limited performance, on-road and off. With the new engine, our 5,800-pound weakling is back, looking like Arnold. And all the girls notice.
We can start with 553 things we liked-as in 553 lb-ft of peak torque at 2,000 rpm. Volkswagen's new 10-cylinder diesel transforms the Touareg into an electrifying rally car that seems to be able to do anything a driver can imagine. There is so much power on tap, so readily available through the six-speed transmission, that the Touareg immediately intoxicated our testers. As we traveled on lonely, largely unpatrolled roads, virtually every one of our drivers tried to find the rev limiter in top gear, but nobody could. VW specifies top speed as 130 mph. One tester, operating the TDI at tear-up-your-license, go-straight-to-jail speeds well into triple digits, reported the Touareg remained planted, tracked sure and did not skitter around. At 65 mph the tach indicates 1,600 rpm; at 2,000 rpm you're doing 80.
The engine meshes well with the Touareg's impressive off-road capability. The suspension is a double-wishbone independent air front suspension and four-link rear, with six different ride heights. There are three different adjustable damping settings, a system VW calls Continuous Damping Control. The air springs can vary ground clearance from 6.3 inches to 11.8 inches, the highest ground clearance in the fleet.
The Touareg's crawl ratio was second only to the LR3. Like the LR3, the highly evolved Touareg computers can prevent skidding or loss of traction pretty much anywhere, on-road or off. Of the eight electronic performance-enhancing systems on the Touareg, three appear to be aimed strictly at enhancing off-road grip. These are Hill Climb Assist (HCA); Hill Descent Assist (HAD) and Electronic Differential Lock (EDL). As a result, even without a high degree of chassis flex , the Touareg never seemed to spin a tire.
Lighting is excellent at night, due to high-intensity gas-discharge headlights, supplemented with halogen projector-lens foglights, which are integrated into the bumper.
The Touareg had by far the highest-quality interior in the bunch. Metallic accents are genuine aluminum, wood is actually walnut, and chrome applications on the instrument cluster, interior door handles and glovebox lock are tasteful and attractive. Seats are 12-way adjustable with memory function and, of course, are heated. Heated rear seats are optional. There are five power outlets-two in front, two in back, and one for passengers.
On the sand, the Touareg was incredible. Like an oversized luxury rally car, the Touareg zipped all over the dunes, carving across steep sand faces at will.
Struggling to find objectionable flaws, our testers zeroed in on the 255/55/R18 V-rated, all-season tires. There were no tire failures, but a flat would have caused us to rely on a temporary spare, a fact that caused testers to deduct points. An optional fullsize spare will be available later this year.
Another knock related to recovery equipment: Although we never got stuck in the Touareg, not even for a moment, not even in the sand-there are no exposed tow hooks. Instead, small bumper caps have to be removed and a square attachment loop can be screwed in. It's probably effective, but we considered the arrangement to be second-best to having real tow hooks at hand.
There are numerous warning lights, chimes and buzzers-we lost track of how many-that might not really be necessary. Thankfully, some of these are switched, such as the parking assist sensors, which sound continuously on a tight trail. Some, like the low-tire pressure indicator, came on when we adjusted air pressure for the sand, and never went off.
The Touareg was the fastest of the bunch, no matter how you measured. It also had the most ground clearance, second-best mileage, the most torque, and tied for second on towing capability. Testers unanimously gave the Touareg the highest scores in Highway Performance, worth 20 percent of the scoring, and six of eight judges awarded the Touareg the highest scores in the Mechanical category. Judges split evenly when it came to trail performance, with four naming the Touareg best, and four naming the LR3-leaving the Touareg with the all-around performance advantage that comes with 10 cylinders of turbodiesel.
When all is said and done, even in a test weighted toward off-highway performance, the Touareg's superiority could not be denied. Like a rally car with low-range, the V-10 Touareg is muscular, athletic, sophisticated beyond words. It was just as good as everything else going slow-and going fast, nothing could touch it. The high level of quality-quality materials, elegant design, costly components-is perhaps to be expected from this, the most expensive of our 4x4s. We know it doesn't look like it, but the V-10 Touareg is a tremendous four wheeler, in addition to everything else. And that is why it has earned the right to be called Four Wheeler of the Year.
* "If you didn't know this was a diesel, there would be no indication."
* "On the sand, if you start to bog down, just kick the throttle and it takes off again."
* "Awesome compression braking down hills. Just smooth and controlled."