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 between Panama and Colombia, the lava fields of any new volcano, or even parts of off-road parks around California.

However, I 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 in. of ground clearance, 2.5 in. more than a H2.
· There is very little front or rear overhang, leading to angles of approach and departure of 33- amd 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 for both doors and components. With the air suspension, fording depth is 22.8 in.
· 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 I have driven to date. While tires are decidedly biased toward on-road performance, a day of challenging rock crawling on the aptly named Moab, Utah trail "Hell's Revenge" left them unscuffed, because wheelspin is negligible.
· First gear, low range holds back the Touareg extremely well on steep hills. Low range is 2.66:1; the axles house 4.54 gears--ideal gearing to maintain control going up, and down, steep hills.
· 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.

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