Volkswagen is continuing its diesel story in the United States with the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI. VW sold its first diesel vehicle in the U.S. way back in 1997 and introduced the turbo-diesel engine to the States in 1992. The latest chapter in this story is the 2009 Touareg with the 3.0-liter V-6, which will be available in the spring of 2009.
You may remember Volkswagen's monster V-10 turbo-diesel Touareg, which churned out an incredible 310 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque with little regard for fuel economy. Thankfully, this time VW is bringing us a Touareg TDI that's all about fuel economy, a much better fit in the current economic and political landscapes. This V-6 should return 17/25 mpg. For comparison, the gasoline V-6 engine gets 14/20 mpg and the V-8 is rated at a mere 13/18 mpg. With 221 hp and 407 lb-ft of torque, the Touareg TDI V-6 doesn't sacrifice performance; a 0-60 mph sprint should take about 8.5 seconds.
Perhaps more amazing than the increase in fuel economy is the reduction in emissions Volkswagen has achieved through the years. Emissions have been reduced by 90 percent when compared to the original VW diesels sold here and the Touareg meets the Tier 2, Bin 5 requirements, so it can be sold in all 50 states. The complex exhaust system, which uses a selective catalytic converter and AdBlue, removes 90 percent of the NOx emissions and 95 percent of particulates in the exhaust. There's no black smoke, soot, or smell associated with this SUV.
Servicing the Touareg TDI is particularly important because of the AdBlue solution used to treat the exhaust. All diesel vehicles that use AdBlue (a mixture of 32 percent urea and 68 percent water) must have the solution onboard in order to start the engine (this is a federal mandate and also applies to Audi, Mercedes, and BMW vehicles using AdBlue). Volkswagen designed the AdBlue tank to accommodate up to 10,000 miles of regular driving, but that number could vary depending on individual driving habits. A warning light comes on when there is only 1500 miles worth of AdBlue left in the 4.5-gallon tank. Theoretically, there is enough AdBlue capacity to last the duration of a regular service interval.
Driving the Touareg TDI is no different than driving any other Touareg. Those used to driving a V-8 Touareg may miss its horsepower on the highway, but the extra torque and fuel economy are worth the small sacrifice in high-speed passing prowess. Anyone with a trailer to tow will really benefit from the available torque and the tow rating is an impressive 7700 lbs. For road trips without a trailer, fuel stops will be scarce. It's possible to travel more than 600 miles on a single tank of diesel in the Touareg.
Aside from the available TDI engine, the 2009 Touareg is largely the same as the 2008 Touareg. We were happy to find a new infotainment unit residing in the dashboard, as the old unit was getting a little tried. Now VW is right with the best-in-class as far as navigation units go. A much nicer display and more intuitive functionality make interacting with the navigation system a breeze.
The other change we noticed was a much softer suspension setup than previous Touaregs. We sampled an the standard steel spring suspension, not the fancy air suspension, and found the amount of body roll to be excessive. The Touareg used to strike a decent balance between sport and comfort when fitted with traditional springs, but the new "comfort" suspension, as the spec sheet calls it, really isn't very comfortable. Navigating canyon roads left us a bit queasy, but puttering around town wasn't so bad. Hard drivers would be well served to pick up a set of aftermarket springs and firm up the ride.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the Touareg remains the lack of a third row of seats. A vehicle of this size should have at least a pair of kid-sized seats in the back. That would broaden the appeal of the Touareg and allow even more consumers the ability to drive a diesel SUV. For now, those seeking three rows of seating and a diesel will be forced to shop for a Mercedes-Benz; both the R- and GL-classes offer three rows of seats and modern diesel power. However, the Benz name adds quite a bit to the price.
Volkswagen finally has the right engine for the Touareg. Hopefully the 3.0-liter TDI will spur sales of the SUV in 2009. For the first 11 months of 2008, Volkswagen only sold 6226 Touaregs compared with 7590 during the same 11 month period in 2007. An economical SUV could be just what the sales doctor ordered for these tough economic times.