Car reviews - Volkswagen - Touareg - V6 5-dr wagon
Price/value, equipment, luxury feel, build quality, interior space, off-road features
Room for improvement
Weight, PULP diet, fuel economy
18 Jun 2004
By TIM BRITTEN
AMONG luxury sport utility vehicles, the Volkswagen Touareg is an undisputed value leader.
At an entry level price under $70,000, the vehicle that shares its basic design with the Porsche Cayenne comfortably undercuts everyone else in the luxury SUV market.
And it’s not as if the base Touareg skimps on equipment to achieve the low price. At a launch figure of $67,600, the V6 model comes with six-speed automatic transmission, climate control air-conditioning, 10-speaker sound system and a complete grab bag of active and passive safety equipment including electronic stability control, traction control and fully-fledged ABS complete with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, as well as full-length curtain and front side airbags.
Then of course there’s the four-wheel drive system, which sidesteps normal soft-roader expectations by building in a dual-range transfer case for reasonably serious off-road work.
Here, the Touareg is also assisted by electronic niceties like traction control, hill descent control and a "hill holder" that helps keep the VW in place when stopped on a steep slope.
VW says the Touareg is able to take on inclines up to 45 degrees, which is pretty serious off-road stuff.
This off-roader built in the Czech republic is less expensive, at entry level, than any other serious contender in the luxury SUV market and that includes Lexus RX330, Honda MDX, Mercedes M-class and BMW X5.
Yet its on-road stance, and its general presence, do little to support such an impression.
In terms of size it is bigger than its Euro competitors Mercedes M-Class and BMW X5. And inside, even at base level, there’s never any questioning its luxury status.
The visible quality is consistent with other present-day VWs and there are plenty of useful touches including a split rear tailgate with a flip-up window that allows quick access to the load area from outside, a large centre console able to take a one-litre drink bottle and slide-out trays under both front seats.
The base V6 model replaces wood trim with charcoal grey metallic inserts and misses out on the standard leather-covered power front seats seen on the more expensive V6 Luxury, V8 or flagship turbo-diesel V10 models, but still manages to look quite classy.
With its generous body dimensions (it’s barely any smaller than a Range Rover, and about the same weight) there is plenty of room inside the Touareg.
All passengers – and this includes full-size adults - are given plenty of space to stretch out longitudinally, vertically and laterally. Because there’s no third-row seat, luggage space is generous too, varying from 555 to 1570 litres depending on whether the 60/40 split-fold rear seat function is utilised.
In base form the front seats are manually controlled, but they do offer plenty of adjustment. No driver should feel short-changed in terms of finding a comfortable position behind the wheel.
The instrument panel is a neatly styled affair with no complaints about the ergonomics. Steering wheel controls are left to a minimum, which will probably please those who are starting to get confused with the migration of so many functions to this location (the new Toyota Prius for example even allows the climate control to be fiddled from here).
On the road, the Touareg (which, incidentally, is the name of a tribe of tough Middle Eastern desert nomads) has a definite Euro feel.
The suspension is certainly not soft, although it’s far from uncomfortable, and the big 4WD turns in more like a car than many other SUVs. However, you’re never unaware of the Touareg’s weight, and remain always thankful for the numerous electronic aids in place to keep the whole show securely on the road.
Despite VW’s claims about structural strength, a few squeaks and rattles can also be heard on rougher surfaces.
The 3.2-litre V6, which is a development of the compact, ultra narrow-angle engine first seen in the VW Golf, does a good job of propelling all the weight, although it drinks premium unleaded in an eager fashion that makes you grateful for the big 100-litre fuel tank.
The six-speed automatic is the same transmission now in wide use across the luxury-car market and this helps make the most of the slightly disadvantaged weight-power ratio.
Changes are smooth, and there’s normally a useful ratio handy when a bit of acceleration is needed. The Touareg V6 does not lose a lot of ground to the 3.0-litre BMW X5.
Off-road excursions were limited in this case to a bit of grass paddock work, but the VW’s ground clearance proved handy for crossing hidden ruts and the dual-range transmission romped easily up some quite steep gradients.
Heading home on the freeway, the Touareg felt serene, secure and comfortable, maintaining cruise-controlled speed with ease and kicking down quickly to allow rapid overtaking.
But after a few days in the base V6 Touareg, one gets the feeling that there’s a lot more in store, particularly in terms of performance. The V8 is reportedly quite brisk, but takes an even heavier toll in fuel consumption.
The monumentally torquey V10 turbo-diesel is the most expensive and fastest Touareg of all - $138,500 takes it into revered territory although it’s still far cheaper than the flagship Porsche Cayenne Turbo – yet it’s also the most economical, which once again underlines the basic sense of turbo-diesel 4WDs.
The Volkswagen Touareg looks a promising contender among prestige SUVs, with the company expecting to sell more Luxury-pack V6s - which get leather trim, walnut inserts in dash and doors, power front seats and a sunroof for an extra $8200 - than anything else.
This model is expected to account for around 57 per cent of sales, while the V8 will be around 20 per cent. The V10 and base V6 will account for 12 and 11 per cent respectively.
Not a true mountain-cruncher, but closer than just about any other soft-roader, the Touareg is also quite at home on the open road and makes a smart styling statement too. Definitely one to look at before making a luxury SUV decision.
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