The real sleeper in all this will be the new 5.0-liter V-10 turbocharged direct-injection diesel (TDI), which produces 313 horsepower and a whopping 553 pound-feet of torque.
The VR6 is perfectly adequate, the V-8 is fast, the W-12 is faster still, but the V-10 TDI will make strong men weep. It is also capable of 24 mpg combined city/highway fuel economy. Volkswagen would very much like to send this engine our way, but they doubt that they can get it past the California Air Resources Board, which is the American answer to Robespierre's Revolutionary Tribunal. Make no mistake, the ultimate Touareg will be the one powered by this mind-bending diesel engine, but we poor deprived Americans are unlikely to get it.
All U.S.-spec Touaregs will be equipped with six-speed manu-matic transmissions, and a steering-wheel-mounted paddle-shift will be available. The paddle-shift feature should be a very useful boon to serious off-road drivers, although it will quickly seem superfluous in normal day-to-day commuting. This transmission is beautiful enough when polished and opened to display its innards that we should each have one on a stand in our living room. Equally beautiful are the massive Brembo brakes that are standard on all Touaregs.
An air suspension system will be optional on the six-cylinder price leader and standard on Touaregs fitted with the other three engines. Two simple rotary switches and one roller switch at the center of the instrument panel control the various settings for the suspension and the all-wheel-drive system. They're a little intimidating at first, but they're well marked and logical in their functions, and the first-time driver quickly becomes accustomed to them. The suspension automatically lowers the vehicle at highway speeds, and if you switch the AWD to low range, the suspension raises the vehicle to maximum ride height.
Truth to tell, so much driveline and suspension management is automatic that many owners will go through their years with the Touareg, driving on every kind of surface, without ever exploring the additional command-and-control possibilities. For instance, there are the electronic stability program, anti-slip regulation, anti-lock brakes, engine braking control, hydraulic brake assist, the traction control system, and engine-drag torque control, all toiling silently and transparently to make your drive up the wall of the Grand Canyon a pleasant one.
Interior accommodations are as comfortable as they are good-looking. There has been no attempt to shoehorn a third-row bench seat into the rear compartment, and all VW product planners should receive medals for their restraint. Individual controls are handsome and ergonomically appropriate. There are air bags and temperature control zones for everybody. The exterior appearance is clean and station-wagon-like, with strong Volkswagen identity front and rear. The family ties to the Passat cannot be missed. The cargo compartment is accessed by a liftgate with a window that opens separately and is thus very convenient in use. There has been no styling attempt to telegraph a lot of off-road machismo. As the technical presentation said in its summation: "The Touareg covers both the luxury sedan and the pure off-roader. The Touareg is a European SUV. The Touareg is a Volkswagen." To which we say, "Amen."