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
I was going to comment on the price of the Touareg and the fact that it’s encroaching on Audi Q7 territory, but after driving a BMW 535xi that costs almost $10,000 more, this VW suddenly seems like a relative bargain. Admittedly, there’s probably not a lot of (if any) cross shopping between a 535xi and a Touareg, but both vehicles have all-wheel drive and a turbocharged six-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed transmission. And they return very similar fuel economy (19/29/23 for the BMW, 19/28/22 for the VW) despite the fact that the Touareg outweighs the BMW by almost half a ton. Plus, the Touareg can tow up to 7700 pounds. Credit goes to VW’s TDI diesel V-6. If any engine could make Americans forget about the rattly, underpowered, unreliable diesels of the early ’80s, this is it. In fact, if you put someone behind the wheel of this Touareg and didn’t tell them that it was diesel-powered, I’d wager they’d never realize it until they saw the label on the inside of the fuel filler door.
Inside, materials and the way they’re put together are first-rate. The large navigation screen is easy to read, and I like large, legible buttons located just below the screen for each of the functions: radio, media, phone, climate, nav, car, setup, etc. No need to fiddle with a dial, like with BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI. Last but not least, when I got in the Touareg, the readout between the tach and the speedo said that the range was 710 miles. Surely that’s not possible, I thought. But then I looked up the capacity of the fuel tank (26.4 gallons) and multiplied it by the vehicle’s highway EPA mileage rating (28 mpg) and came up with 739.2 miles. Even at its city rating (19 mpg), the Touareg could travel 500 miles on a tank of fuel. Very impressive – even when you consider that, at today’s prices, it’ll cost you close to $100 per fillup.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
This redesigned Volkswagen Touareg is so much smaller than the previous generation that I had to look twice at the model name on the key chain to make sure that I wasn’t getting into VW’s smaller sport-ute, the Tiguan. Not surprisingly, it felt smaller and more nimble from behind the wheel, too, despite only a minor reduction in overall weight. But while downsizing was good for vehicle dynamics, it might seem a bit counterintuitive in terms of vehicle sales as the Touareg’s passenger and cargo volume is within 10 cubic feet of the much more affordable Tiguan. The advantage of stepping up to the more expensive Touareg though, was evident once I stepped on the throttle. While the Tiguan only has one available engine, the Touareg offers a roster of three powertrains, the most notable player being the responsive turbo-diesel in this example. It’s completely unobtrusive and gives the Touareg a significant bump in fuel economy — it’s actually rated at 28 mpg highway, 4 mpg better than the Touareg Hybrid. It’s 400+ lb-ft of torque would also be a boon to those who plan to tow a trailer.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
The Touareg feels like a collection of everything this company does well: high-quality interior, superb diesel power train, premium German driving dynamics. Like Jennifer, I could have sworn I was driving the smaller Tiguan with how nimble and responsive the Touareg feels. It helps that the diesel, paired with the eight-speed automatic, always feels like it’s in its ideal rev-range when you step on the gas pedal. Some might argue that a sumptuous $60,000 SUV has little place in VW’s American lineup, but I’d counter that it’s a perfect counterbalance to the brand’s push down market.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Executive
Base price (with destination): $58,320
Price as tested: $58,320
Side curtain protection head impact airbags
Electronic stability control
Climatronic dual-zone automatic climate control
12-way power & heated front seats w/ driver memory
40/20/40 split folding rear seat, heatable on outside positions
Wood interior trim
Multi-function steering wheel, heated
Height adjustable, telescoping steering column
Rearview camera and park distance control
RNS 850 touchscreen radio navigation system w/ single CD player
Media device interface w/ iPod cable
Sirius satellite radio w/ limited-time complimentary subscription
Bluetooth mobile telephone connectivity
Power windows w/ auto up/down and pinch protection
Rear side & tailgate privacy glass
Power adjustable heated exterior mirrors w/ memory
Bi-Xenon headlights w/ AFS & LED daytime running lights
Automatic headlights w/ coming & leaving feature
Rain-sensing, variable intermittent front windshield wipers
Variable intermittent rear wiper
Trailer hitch preparation
115V power outlet & four, 12-volt power outlets
Panoramic sunroof w/ power tilt/sliding
DYNAUDIO premium sound system
Keyless access w/ push-button start
Options on this vehicle:
Toffee brown metallic exterior – No charge
Cornsilk beige interior – No charge
8-speed automatic transmission – No charge
Key options not on vehicle:
Trailer hitch — $500
V6 TDI clean diesel luxury package — $3850
19 / 28 / 22 mpg
Size: 3.0L turbocharged diesel V-6
Horsepower: 255 hp @ 3500-4000 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 1750-2250 rpm
Curb weight: 5186 lb
Wheels/tires: 20-inch alloy wheels
275/45 R20 all-season tires