2011 Volkswagen Touareg
The Volkswagen Touareg, you may recall, traces its roots to a joint effort between Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen to create a superior SUV for all environments, equally capable on tarmac and trail. Platform triplets were born, with the Touareg joined by the larger Audi Q7
and sportier Porsche Cayenne
. These utes were indeed highly skilled in all conditions, but they were saddled with a bunch of hardcore off-road hardware that added weight and went unappreciated by most owners.
So what did Volkswagen do for the Touareg’s 2011 redesign? Took a few hundred pounds of heavy-dutyness out of the suspension, gave the Touareg full-time all-wheel drive instead of two-mode four-wheel drive, and focused on the on-road driving experience—that’s what.
Having put a Touareg TDI through its paces over a thousand miles of varied terrain, we can report that the Touareg’s reinvention is a rousing success. The bushwhacking capability is still there to an extent, but it’s now overshadowed by exemplary road manners at all speeds. Throw in exceptional fuel economy and range from the robust turbodiesel V-6, as well as an impressive suite of technology features, and you’ve got the rare $50,000-plus vehicle that can legitimately be called a bargain. No one’s pursuing driving perfection like the Germans these days, and few SUVs come as close to that goal as the new Touareg TDI.
What's to Like
The Touareg’s turbodiesel V-6 is a gem, delivering ample thrust and an estimated 28 miles per gallon on the highway. Road noise and vibration at speed are negligible, and off-road capability remains respectable. The steering is amazingly slop-free and responsive by SUV standards, and the brakes grab reassuringly. The touchscreen interface is crisply rendered and idiot-proof; we also like the high-resolution information display between the gauges. Backseat comfort is about perfect.
What's Not to Like
The Touareg’s new eight-speed automatic transmission isn’t nearly as smooth or responsive as the rest of the driving controls. The ride quality is decidedly firm over broken pavement, and you’re stuck with it, as the previous Touareg’s optional air suspension has been discontinued. Look closely and you’ll find some less-than-premium interior materials; the Mercedes M-Class
has the edge here. Keyless entry and ignition should be standard at this price point.
With the new Touareg, Volkswagen has created what we thought was an oxymoron: a driver’s SUV. Other than the Cayenne
, we doubt there’s a more satisfying ute to drive. It starts with the driving position, which is stellar – an extra-large dead pedal accommodates feet of all sizes and is perfectly aligned with the accelerator, while the seat has seemingly two feet of vertical travel, allowing you to dial in the perfect amount of commanding height. The steering wheel is relatively compact and wonderfully contoured, adding to the sense of control. On the road, the Touareg’s precise hydraulic (not electric) steering rack feels like it was yanked out of a sport sedan, and body roll through the corners is quite disciplined for a 5,000-pound brute (yes, the old TDI was even heavier). High-speed stability is exemplary, as is brake feel. Moreover, despite its lowered ride height and lack of low-range gearing, the new Touareg shrugs off washboard desert roads, grooving through whoop-de-dos on its long-travel suspension like a Ford Raptor
protégé. Color us impressed.
Engine and Drivetrain
The all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Touareg TDI is powered by a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 that cranks out 225 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic. We have no complaints about the TDI V-6, which will happily waft you up even the steepest highway grade at a cool 2,000-2,500 rpm. We take issue only with the transmission’s leisurely and sometimes clunky gear-changes in automatic mode, which we circumvented by using manual mode most of the time. That’s an imperfect solution, though, as the manual gate is located on the passenger side of the shift gate, and there are no shift paddles on the steering wheel. For better transmission performance in this segment, try the ML350 BlueTEC. Towing capacity is a very healthy 7,716 pounds.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The Touareg TDI is EPA-rated at a laudable 19 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. For reference, the Volkswagen Passat V-6 family sedan is rated at 20/28/23, and it weighs about 1,700 pounds less. Like most US-certified diesels these days, the Touareg TDI features a special injection system that sprays a urea solution into the exhaust stream, reducing NOx emissions by up to 90 percent.
Interesting Features and Technology
Let’s just run down some of the standard niceties provided in the $52,620 TDI Lux: bi-xenon headlamps, a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear climate vents (and a two-prong outlet for rear passengers), front and rear footwell lighting, power split-folding rear seatbacks with illuminated switches on the wall of the cargo bay, a power liftgate…yeah, that’s all standard.
Fancy knob-based infotainment systems get all the press these days, but Volkswagen has quietly come up with a superb user-friendly alternative in the Touareg’s eight-inch touchscreen interface (standard on TDI Lux). We’ve rarely encountered a system that achieves such intuitive harmony between the on-screen commands, the physical buttons below the screen, and the auxiliary steering-wheel buttons. The graphical resolution is also top-notch, and that goes for the complementary display in the instrument cluster as well. The VW system offers plenty of neat media features, too, including hard-drive music storage, iPod connectivity, and twin SD-card slots in the glovebox. Shoot, the navigation system even displays the current speed limit.
If you’re worried about diesel clatter, don’t be. The TDI has a gruff voice if you’re standing next to it, but inside the cabin, there’s so much sound insulation that you’ll barely hear the engine at all. Regarding the interior design, we appreciate it because it manages to be at once upscale and unpretentious. Materials quality is generally high (though the cheesy flip-lid storage bin above the touchscreen would never have been approved by BMW or Benz), yet the controls are no-nonsense and intuitively laid out. The backseat merits special praise for being unusually accommodating, even for large adults.
The Touareg has always been an attractive vehicle, but the first-generation model lost its way toward the end with its shiny chrome face. Happily, order has been restored with the redesigned 2011 Touareg, which has VW’s corporate three-slat grille and styling that generally epitomizes tasteful restraint.
Market Segment and Pricing
The Touareg TDI competes in a German-only class of diesel luxury SUVs that includes the Audi Q7 TDI
, the BMW X5 xDrive35d
, and the Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC
. Not only is the VW the cheapest of the bunch with its starting price of $47,950, it’s also neck-and-neck with the BMW for most fun to drive. The Mercedes has none of that athleticism, but its ride and transmission are smoother, and its interior is marginally nicer. As for the Q7
, it shares the Touareg’s powertrain but rides on the first-generation Audi/Porsche/VW platform, so it’s still got all that extra weight. We’d skip it unless Audi’s third-row seat is an absolute must.
What We Think
In case you didn’t notice, we like the Touareg TDI. A lot. If uncompromising engineering is what you’re after, you may have found your next ride.