When VW rolled into the SUV game in 2003, the Touareg, though critically lauded, was publicly received with an attitude that could be described as lukewarm at best. Here was VW, known at the time for their quirky, hip, Gen-X-appealing models, suddenly throwing the Touareg against the Rovers, the Bimmers, the Benzes. And they expected the luxury SUV set to swallow this. Riiiiight.
Jump forward a few years to VW's next shot at SUV royalty: the beastly Touareg V10 TDI. Casting modesty and economy to the wind, the overcompensating V10's 310 horses and 553 lb-ft of torque were a touch over the top, unless of course you wanted to tow your 155-ton jumbo jet around (for reals, look it up). And at near $70,000, the range-topping price was a tad excessive (read: silly money). What they needed was a game changer.
We've had our fair share of diesels at ec, but our long-term Jetta TDI is the one that continues to impress (see page 88). So when VW offered to let us try the more socially conscious-but still adequately beefy-Touareg V6 TDI, we jumped at the chance. Green credentials aside, this latest Touareg made us TDI fans all over again. Here's a crossover with 225 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. A stout powerband, indeed. Now, it doesn't quite sip fuel like its Jetta counterpart, but it certainly doesn't gulp either. At 18 city/25 hwy, let's say it respectfully quaffs. With a zero-to-60 time of just 8.5 seconds, it only gets better.
Sitting at the helm of the Touareg, it's clear that VW is still pushing for that luxury SUV cred. This 3.0-liter V6 is already easy on the ears, so the quiet, smoothly executed cabin only softens things further: leather, Sirius satellite radio, back-up camera, and an audio/nav unit that's-wait for it-actually intuitive. In fact the dash overall just felt right, with everything where your digits expect them. Generous sight lines provide a commanding view of the road, asphalt or otherwise, and the suspension, though a bit too cushy off the beaten path, was comfy around town (different suspension options are available). We've had a few other top-tier SUVs at ec lately, and compared to the new V6 Cayenne (clunky and heartless), and Volvo XC60 (somewhat uninspired), the Touareg is the clear champ. Not to mention its more palatable $42,000 starting price.
Stepping on the throttle, I was instilled with a healthy dose of fear. Plying the good stuff from this powerplant is terrifyingly easy. From the six-speed automatic that's as smooth as it is smart, torque comes on early and heavy, and gone is the smoky, clattering diesel of yore. Steering response is sharp, and crisp handling belies the Touareg's 5,300-pound bulk. Factor in that it can pull 7,700 pounds(!), and you've got a car that's both sporty and utilitarian-a true SUV.
Will the U.S. consumer catch on to TDI, or the Touareg specifically? Word is getting out that diesel isn't what it used to be, so if those in the market for an SUV do some research, they should discover the little secret we've known for a while now. Capable, comfortable, fun, affordable. Is there anything it can't do? -Drew Farrington
From the hip
Comfy drive and interior, liberal torque, affordable and efficient
No third row of seats
2009 VW Touareg TDI
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
3.0-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve
Peak Power: 225 hp @ 3500 rpm
Peak Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.5 sec.
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)
Fuel Economy: 18 city/ 25 hwy
Price as tested