I drove some 565 miles over an early-April weekend, about 200 miles of which was on two-lane, northern Michigan roads; the rest was mostly freeway. My average fuel economy was 26 mpg, as indicated by the trip computer, so if I had been driving solely on the freeway and kept my speed in check, I suspect I could have achieved the 28-mpg EPA highway figure. I was going 78-80 mph on the freeway and I've been told by automotive engineers that SUVs and crossovers suffer a dramatic loss in fuel efficiency above 70 mph.
This is the second weekend I've spent in the new-generation Volkswagen Touareg with an alternative-fuel engine; over the Christmas holidays I had a Touareg Hybrid. Both the hybrid and TDI powertrains are quite innocuous for normal driving, by which I mean you won't miss your conventional gasoline-powered internal-combustion engine. As for the TDI (which stands for turbocharged direct-injection diesel), my brother Greg, a longtime VW mechanic, was astounded that the vehicle he was riding in was powered by a diesel engine, because it is so quiet. Other random people I encountered over the weekend were also amazed to learn that this Touareg's powertrain was a diesel. It goes to show that the general American public still doesn't have a clue as to how good modern diesels can be.
Anyway, I had the opportunity to drive on some pretty good roads, with lots of different surfaces and some dipping, curvy sections through the northern Michigan woods, which were just emerging from winter. The Touareg handled it all quite well, demonstrating accurate steering, a compliant but not too soft ride, very good body control, and excellent on-road comfort. Greg, who is quite tall, sat in the back seat and had plenty of legroom; my 88-year-old mother was very comfortable in the front passenger's seat, and her ingress/egress maneuverings were much less tortured than they have been in many other SUVs I've driven her in.
The Touareg offers excellent visibility, with a big, broad windshield, and you don't feel like there are yards of dash spreading out in front of you; the A-pillars are a reasonable size, unlike those of many other crossovers. The optional panoramic glass roof brings lots of light into the rear-seat area.
The challenge in considering the diesel Touareg is that it is a mid-size luxury SUV with a mid-size luxury-SUV price but without a luxury badge. If you can get over that and can become accustomed to the idea of a $58,000 Volkswagen, you most likely will love it. If you squint, you might think you're in an Audi, anyway; that's how nice the interior is. I particularly like our test example, which is a medium brown exterior over a tan and brown interior, mostly tan with a brown dash and brown uppers on the interior door panels, all accented with wood trim. The stereo is superb, the steering wheel and gauge cluster are handsome and upscale looking, and my Blackberry synched very easily with the Bluetooth. All in all, I can easily recommend this vehicle to anyone who can afford it.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor