Rides Like an Audi…and it’s Priced Like One, Too.
You buy this one for the sound it makes. A guttural roar that seems to rumble up from the Earth itself, at the command of your right foot. It’s somehow brutal and subtle at the same time. It sounds like a demon in a finely tailored suit. It sounds like the anger of a patient man.
The 2010 Volkswagen Touareg, in its last year before a redesign, is still a little bit of an enigma. It’s the most expensive thing Volkswagen sells in the United States. Since VW has its own luxury marque — Audi — the Touareg’s price is confusing. Our fully-equipped TDI model carries a sticker price of $59,850 – a lot to pay for a VW. But it’s a lot of car.
V-Dub engineers worked hard tuning the pipes, and they got that much right. After a week in the Touareg, we are happy to report, they got a lot right. But at that price, they have to. Can it hold its own against luxury competition? Click through for the details.
It looks the part. The Touareg sits somewhere between midsize and large, but it carries its bulk well. As most automakers have moved from truck-based, body-on-frame SUVs to car-based crossovers, many sport ‘utes have started to look cartoonish. Most designers can’t seem to figure out how to build a big, heavy, four-wheel-drive vehicle off of a sedan platform without drawing something that would look at home on a science-fiction set with some green dude with five eyes behind the wheel. But Volkswagen built a gorgeous one.
The corners are smooth, rounded, polished. The ride is actually quite high (it’s adjustable, but even the lowest setting doesn’t exactly hug the road), but it never looks ungainly. Spring for the 20-inch alloy wheels. It looks more at home on those than on the standard 17-inchers.
Also, buy a dark color. Our test model, in Sapphire Blue Metallic, turns a few heads. Similar Touaregs in lighter shades of silver or white barely get a glance. Dark shades set off the chrome well – and there’s a lot of it. A huge chrome grille. Chrome step plate on the rear bumper. Chrome lining the undersides of the mirrors. Even the roof rails shine. These German designers used brightwork fearlessly, like American designers used to, and it works here.
VW clearly faced that price problem head-on here. It’s not easy for the Touareg to look the part of a $60,000 car while wearing the same badge as a $16,000 punch bug on the grille. But we think they’ve pulled it off.
Audi interiors are usually the very best in the business, short of something hand-built by Rolls Royce or Bentley. It’s easy to see that that design quality has carried down in the Touareg. If you want your Touareg to look the part of a luxury SUV, there are a few option boxes you’ll want to check. It works best in two tones. Our tester, in black-and-tan leather (VW calls it Anthracite and St. Tropez) has a high-class look that single-color seats don’t quite match. Two-tone leather costs the same as single-shade, so trust us, and check that box. Walnut trim is standard, but the Lux Limited Package, which adds those 20-inch wheels, gives you polished aluminum instead. We like the metal look. Most manufacturers have it these days, but VW used two different polishes on its aluminum, giving the interior more of a textured, subtle look. It works. It works very well.
The Premium Technology Package isn’t cheap (a $6,350 option), but it gives you an easy-to-use touchscreen interface, a hard-drive based nav system that responds quickly, Bluetooth and satellite radio.
It takes a few minutes of adjustment to get the 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio system to sound just right, but once you have it set to your taste, it sounds like 15 speakers. The sweet spot is aimed just a little toward the front seats, so the driver gets the best part of the show.
Complaints? Just a few, and none that would rule it out. The back seat’s a little tight for adults. We also found the seats could use a bit more support to the sides. They’re wide, and flat. Perhaps those German engineers have read too much about America’s obesity problem, because they’re very wide and flat. They’re comfortable for calm driving, but you slide a bit when you start to get a little aggressive behind the wheel…and…well…there’s that sound we told you about…
That gorgeous rumble will have you driving a little too hard. It will make you want to bury your right foot in the carpet. It’s that diesel engine that’s to blame. It’s actually just a 221-horsepower V6. Nothing to be ashamed of, but once you’ve driven it, you’ll be surprised by that figure. It feels like 350 horsepower. Diesels offer so much low-end torque – 406 lb-ft in this case – that they can feel like a lot more power than they actually produce. It’s a trick that pays you back at the pump, too. The feds will tell you that the Touareg TDI gets 18 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway. We found it easy to beat those numbers, and we weren’t exactly trying to drive it slow.
The car makes it hard to resist driving with a little attitude. All that torque means that it’s surprisingly easy to chirp the tires and jump away from a stoplight. You’re not going to out-drag a Mustang, but the Touareg doesn’t feel like a big SUV when you step on it. It comes only with a six-speed automatic, but you can shift it manually with a tap of the stick if you’d like. There’s also a Sport mode, which actually works. It moves the shiftpoint from 1,500 rpm to 2,500, and the change is noticeable.
An adjustable suspension (a $2,750 option) is the same. Many manufacturers build adjustable suspensions, but in most, the changes are barely noticeable. Here, each of the three settings feels distinctly different. Comfort mode is soft, and won’t spill your coffee on a bumper-to-bumper commute. Sport mode is firm, stiffens up the springs to prevent body roll and makes the tall SUV feel nimble on a winding road. Auto mode is…well, honestly, we spent most of the time in Sport. That sound begs for it.
And that’s where the big VW’s secret identity shows. The Touareg, you see, was developed jointly with Porsche. It shares its chassis with the Porsche Cayenne SUV. This thing has Porsche bones, and on a winding road, you can tell. Set the suspension to sport, keep power on just a little deeper into the corners than you feel like you should, and it comes alive. The steering is perfectly weighted.
The big thing starts to corner like something out of Stuttgart. The big thing starts to dance. The Touareg handles with a grace and athleticism it shouldn’t have. If you push it a little too hard, the anti-lock brakes reel it all in pretty quickly. Stopping distances are impressive for such a heavy vehicle.
We didn’t get much time to test the Touareg in rough conditions. Its 4motion full-time four-wheel-drive has a reputation as a very capable off-road setup, but sadly, we didn’t even get a rainstorm to play in. To justify its luxury price tag, the Touareg would need serious performance chops. And it has them. With that growling diesel’s massive torque and surprising agility for such a big vehicle, it rides like an Audi. Under the right circumstances, it rides like a Porsche.
The federal government gives the Touareg a perfect five stars in every crash test, and four stars in the rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has never tested one. The full list of safety equipment you’d expect to see is there, including six airbags. It lacks some of the more advanced electronic systems German automakers have put out in recent years – there’s nothing to brake automatically if you don’t.
So, if you’re going to drop $60k on a luxury SUV, should you consider one with a Volkswagen badge? When Audi and Porsche and Mercedes and BMW and Lexus can all sell you something with a more impressive logo on the grille for that price?
After a week in the Touareg, we wouldn’t hesitate.
It looks like a $60,000 ride – particularly in a dark color with all of the brightwork options checked. It feels like one from inside as well – particularly in two-tone leather with all of the electronics options checked. And from behind the wheel, it feels sportier and more composed than any VW has a right to feel. That Porsche skeleton and that torque-heavy V6 seal the deal. And yes, this Touareg was loaded with options, but that’s part of the point.
You could buy a Porsche Cayenne at this price, but it would be a bare-bones model. You could buy an Audi Q5 or a BMW X5, but you lose the thrust of that big diesel and pay a price in fuel economy – and once again, you’ll have to go light on the options.
The Touareg, on the other hand, comes in at $60k with absolutely every option box checked. It might sound steep for a Volkswagen – but this thing is so well-put-together that they could have slapped an Audi badge on the grille instead, and no one would have complained.
After a week in a Touareg, it’s not the idea of a $60,000 VW that makes no sense to us. It’s the fact that they didn’t put a luxury banner on this one and try to charge more for it. For that glorious rumble alone, it’s worth every penny.