2008 Volkswagen Touareg

Sam Smith
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For the 2008 model year, Volkswagen treated its first-ever SUV to some minor changes, mostly appearance tweaks. The Touareg 2, as VW now refers to it, is very much the same vehicle that arrived way late to the SUV party, a party that sky-high fuel prices have busted up with the same devastating effectiveness as campus cops puncturing the keg at a dorm-room beer blast.

As before, the Touareg proffers true off-road ability, but are there any buyers left who care? The extra traction of four-wheel drive is nice, but for most people the off-road hardware and jacked-up ride height serves no purpose other than to drag down fuel economy; a quick glance at the Touareg's EPA numbers will attest to how effectively they do that. Our test car, with the V-8 engine - arguably the worst of the three engine choices for 2008 - clocks in at 12 (!) mpg city, 17 highway. For 2009, VW was able to get the estimates up to 13/18. Hurray.

That's pretty pathetic for what is only a mid-size, five-seat SUV. The standard, 3.6-liter V-6 punches a slightly smaller hole in the ozone layer and buyers' wallets, with mileage ratings of 16/20 mpg for '08, slipping to 14/20 mpg for '09. The '08 Touareg also offers the V-10 TDI, which is amusing for its prodigious torque (553 lb-ft), but provides little of the much-talked-about diesel efficiency, with EPA numbers of 15 mpg city, 20 highway. It's also nearly $20,000 more expensive than the V-8, itself a healthy $9000 over the base six-cylinder.

The V-8 is a heavy drinker, but it has the muscle to move this chunky monkey with ease, and to tow a hefty trailer (of up to 7700 pounds) to boot. The powertrain is smooth and fairly quiet. The whole car has an overall sense of refinement, it coming out of VW's We're-just-as-good-as-Mercedes era, a period which also produced the Phaeton luxury car. The interior materials quality is above reproach (but beware that the base version comes with vinyl, not leather, seats, despite a sticker price just shy of $40,000). Our example was loaded with upmarket options such as navigation, a rearview camera, keyless ignition, a high-end audio system, and an air suspension.

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