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Road Test - 2004 VW Touareg

Driver Front Side View
Douglas McColloch | Writer
Posted August 4, 2004

VW's new SUV aims to redefine the luxury segment

The Volkswagen Touareg (the name of a tribe of nomads that has lived in the desert plains of Northwest Africa for centuries), which hit dealer showrooms in mid-summer, is based on the same chassis as the Porsche Cayenne, which debuted in the U.S. last autumn. Built in Bratislava, Czech Republic--the Cayenne is built in Dresden, Germany--the Touareg is VW's first foray into the American SUV market, with North American sales projections of 40,000 units by model year's end.

The Touareg shares much with the Cayenne, but it's a unique 4x4 in its own right, boasting its own exterior styling, interior amenities and engine choices. The optional 310hp 4.2L V-8 (a 221hp 3.2L V-6 is standard) uses five valves per cylinder and sports an oil delivery system specially tuned for off-camber applications. The independent front and rear suspensions come with an airspring-assist option that allows for three-way driver-adjustable shock valving with continuous damping control and six adjustable ride heights. The Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic transmission offers two overdrive gears, a Sport mode that automatically readjusts the shift points upward in the powerband, and a Tiptronic override that allows for manually rowing through the gears.

For 'wheeling, the Touareg's 4xMotion four-wheel-drive system employs a full-time transfer case with 2.66:1 low-range, an electronic rear locker, and a center locking diff that biases torque 50/50 to the front wheels under normal conditions. The Electronic Brake Differential (EBD) automatically applies braking to a front wheel when it becomes airborne, rerouting all available torque to the wheel with traction. An off-highway Hill Ascent feature allows the driver to stop the vehicle on steep uphills in low-range by simply stepping off the gas, and Hill Descent provides automatic brake compression on steep downhills. There's also a Tire Pressure Control system that monitors all four tires for correct pressure, and an onboard compressor for airing up if the need arises.

The Touareg's optional air suspension employs three air springs per wheel. The system provides continuous damping control and allows for three driver-adjustable shock settings. In addition, the system can be dialed in to five different ride heights and a load-leveling feature that actually lowers the vehicle 2 inches from stock.

And inside are all the amenities one expects from a luxury SUV: plush leather buckets and walnut trim everywhere, not to mention onboard GPS with off-road navigation capabilities, 12-speaker 400-watt stereo, four-zone Climatronic A/C system and more.Tipping the scale at nearly 5,100 pounds, the Touareg is heavy for a midsize SUV--and if you opt for the V-8, add another 200 pounds of curb weight. Combine that heft with 4.56 axle gears and engines of smallish displacement that need time to rev to achieve peak horsepower, and you get a vehicle that's slow and cumbersome off the line.

Volkswagen plans to offer the 5.0L turbodiesel V-10 currently available in Europe as an option in mid-model year. It makes roughly the same horsepower as the V-8 (at 2,000 lower rpm), puts out 553 lb-ft of torque and gets better mileage than either gas engine.On-road ride and handling are superb. Steering feel is solid, and response so acute, with no discernible rolling in high-speed corners, you're liable to think you're sitting in the cockpit of the Audi A8, the luxury-performance sedan from which the Touareg's V-8 was sourced. Brake feel is similarly outstanding; the Brembo-sourced binders--featuring 14-inch discs with six-piston calipers up front--bring the beast to quick and stable stops with minimal pedal input.

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