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.
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.
At Moab, the Touareg gracefully traversed deep sand bowls and ragged slabs of slickrock that would stymie many modified trail rigs. With a flick of a switch, the VW's air suspension gave us an extra 3.5 inches of ground clearance (to 11.8 total) whenever we needed it--a nice way to keep our undercarriage rock-free. The Touareg's electronic traction system and rear locker provided us with near-constant traction when one wheel or another lost contact with terra firma, and its 50.3:1 crawl ratio--along with Hill Descent and the extra compression braking offered by the V-8--let us ease down Dragon's Tail with nary a hint of sturm und drang; all we had to do was steer. Tricky sidehills were also handled with aplomb--according to VW, the Touareg can handle lateral angles of up to 35 degrees before rolling over.
All told, the Touareg's great gearing and on-demand traction made driving this trail a comparative breeze. Matteus Kroell, the Touareg's Tech Project Leader, told us what product planners in Wolfsburg had in mind when they were designing the Touareg: "A true four-wheeler with a sports car temperament," is how he put it. And judging by the time we spent behind the wheel, VW has largely managed to pull it off.
Which means that it comes at a Porsche-like price, nicht wahr? Actually, with a base price of $34,900 for the V-6 and $40,700 for the V-8, the Touareg is pretty well positioned in the midsize SUV segment while offering a slew of performance and luxury features normally found on more expensive vehicles. A Touareg likely will join our test stable for our 2004 Four Wheeler of the Year comparison. How will it fare against the competition? Stay tuned.
VW engineers and marketing people have made aggressive claims for the Touareg. One was that the new four-wheel-drive system--4xMotion, in marketing-speak--"makes it possible for the vehicle to master any off-road situation with ease."True? Of course not. We can think of places no SUV will master, such as the Darien Gap, the lava fields of any new volcano, or even parts of off-road parks around California.However, we have to say the Touareg is uncommonly capable, certainly on a par with the more expensive Land Rover and Land Cruiser SUVs. Here's why:
- There are two lockers--rear and center--and the air suspension delivers up to 11.8 inches of ground clearance, 2.5 inches more than the H2.
- There is very little front or rear overhang, leading to angles of approach and departure of 33 and 33.6 degrees, respectively, with the air suspension.
- The Touareg can sidehill to 35 degrees...the static tip angle is actually 45 degrees.
- The vehicle appears well sealed against water--both doors and components. With the air suspension, fording depth is given at 22.8 inches.
- Two filters are on the air conditioning intakes; a membrane for dust, and charcoal for pollution.
- The electronic hill descent and traction control algorithms control wheelspin better than any we have driven to date. While tires are decidedly biased toward on-road performance, a day of slickrock driving left them unscuffed, because wheelspin is negligible.
- First gear, low range holds back the Touareg extremely well on steep hills. Low gear is 4.15:1, low range is 2.66:1, the axle houses 4.56 gears.
- There is a tire-pressure monitoring system.
- Dash-mounted GPS system includes a compass, altimeter, and route marking.
- A small emergency flashlight sits in the cigarette lighter, always charged.
On the whole, we have to describe the Touareg as an uncommonly capable 4x4, easily able to negotiate Hell's Revenge, a 4-rated trail, without a scratch.
Specifications Vehicle Model: 2004 Volkswagen Touareg
Base Price : $34,900 (V-6), $40,700 (V-8)
Type : V-8, aluminum block and head
Displacement : 4.2 liter
Horsepower : 310 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque : 302 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Recommended Fuel: 91 octane
Type : V-6, iron block and aluminum head
Displacement : 3.2 liter
Horsepower : 221 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque : 224 lb-ft @ 3,200 rpm
Recommended Fuel: 91 octane
Transmission : Six-speed automatic
Axle Ratio : 4.56:1
Transfer Case: Part-time 2-speed
Low Range Ratio: 2.66:1
Crawl Ratio: 50.34:1
Front: Independent, Double wishbone, coilover shocks, anti-sway bars, air suspension (optional)
Rear: Independent, Double wishbone, coilover shocks, anti-sway bars
Front: 14.0-in. vented disc
rear: 13.2-in. vented disc
Wheels (in.): 17x7.5 (V-6), 18x8 (V-8)
Tires: 255/60R-17 (V-6) 255/55R-18 (V-8)
Weight (lbs.): 5,086 (V-6) 5,300 (V-8)
Payload (lbs.): 1,400 (V-6) 1,250 (V-8)
Maximum Towing Capacity (lbs.): 7,716