Volkswagen Touareg TDI Review

Walter Pabst
by Walter Pabst

Every day, VW sales consultants encounter “diesel ups.” (For those unfamiliar with car lot lingo, an “up” is a browsing customer, bound for service by a revolving pool of salesman.) For the last three years, California-based “diesel ups” have been a shortcut to nowhere. Since 2003, the Golden State’s rigid emissions laws have outlawed diesel-powered Vee Dubs. Meanwhile, hybrid owners, cheapskates and other mileage-crazed customers pester commission-hungry staff about TDI’s that get 50 mpg on spent French fry oil. So, after three years of consumer anticipation and wasted ups, CA has finally given the A-OK to a diesel VW: the Touareg TDI. It’s a great landing at the wrong airport.

The Touareg’s Teutonic style has attracted a well rounded demographic of admirers. Side on, it’s spot on; short overhangs complement subtle, well-integrated fender bulges. A beefy hood, bi-xenon headlamps and an assortment of visually balanced front vents create a butch prow that maintains the familial resemblance— and makes the Porsche Cayenne look decidedly goofy. The TDI's rear hints at the ill-fated Phaeton luxobarge, with horizontally arranged taillights, a VW badge big enough for an 80’s rapper and twin letterbox exhausts large enough for a couple of FedEx overnight letters. Subtle chrome accents complement the clean lines. In total, the Touareg’s exterior is so clean and classical that Wolfsburg rightly decided to forgo the usual mid-model cycle cosmetic surgery.

Once inside the watertight doors, the Touareg’s cabin is beginning to show its age. The cockpit is rich looking and well appointed; well-judged wood and chrome accents prevent drabness without looking cheesy or contrived. But the overall style clearly springs from VW’s last gen design, when it was hip to be square: square vents, square steering wheel, square buttons. To be fair, all the controls and knobs are extra large for a welcome dose of Volvo-esque utilitarianism. But the driver is quickly overwhelmed by the plethora of mysteriously labeled buttons.

The DVD-navigation system is almost as easy as folding a large map, and obviates the dead simple in-dash CD player. The on-board air compressor is a thoughtful inclusion, but using it to pump up the deflated spare is a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Features like the flat-folding rear seat, 115-Volt power outlet and heated steering wheel are less essential to Mom’s Taxi than [the missing] third row seating, DVD entertainment system and a power lift gate.

Then again, my Mom’s taxi never had 553 lbs-ft. of torque underfoot. Twist the switchblade key and the 5.0-liter twin turbo's muffled chattering evokes unpleasant memories of school bus rides gone by. Yes, well, the Touareg TDI’s three-point automatic safety belts and active head restraints are all that’s between you and whiplash when you punch the accelerator. The twin-turbo diesel V10 moves 5825 pounds of fully galvanized steel and aluminum body, 4-wheel drivetrain with locking differentials, Vienna leather hides and Vavana wood trim to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds— and would still do so if you tied it to a tree. The TDI would be even faster if the transmission let the engine wind out properly…

At highway speeds, the TDI’s air suspension deflates slightly, so the body can hunker down over the wheels. At that point, the TDI Touareg glides with all the ease and quiet of the V8 version. The Touareg’s low center of gravity, four wheel independent suspension, 4XMotion all-wheel-drive and rack and pinion steering make for solid, sophisticated handling at reasonable speeds. At unreasonable speeds, the nose heavy monster plows into understeer like an old S Class Merc. A tight steering radius, folding side-view mirrors and rear-view camera make the V10 as easy to park as any Volkswagen.

The Touareg’s off-road prowess is equally impressive– or so I’ve heard. I’d love to traverse sharp rocks with the air suspension holding the body at maximum height or test the fording depth in a two-foot stream. Suffice it to say, the majority of Touareg owners will never engage the low-range gear, let alone the locking differentials.

Which raises an interesting question: who’s the buyer for this dignified, sprightly, capable machine? Like VW’s Phaeton, this exotic farvergnugen-powered space shuttle will serve as a showroom oddity, dealership fixture and joy-ridden jungle gym for service customer’s children. Touareg sales continue to maneuver a rough patch thanks to handsome styling, not off-road or towing capability. Well-funded Suburbanites are opting for trendy crossovers with three rows of seats, automated finger slammers and DVD babysitters. And at $70k plus tax, the V10 TDI’s uninspiring gas mileage (17/22) is pretty inconsequential.

The TDI Touareg makes no attempt to attract the tree-hugging Super Beetle-turned-hybrid drivers or the diesel junkies hanging out behind fast food restaurants at closing time. A robust, capable, TDI powered 4X4 might be the perfect car for desert runners at half the price and twice the gas mileage. Until then, California's “diesel ups” will continue to be fruitless and frustrating for customer and salesman alike.

Walter Pabst
Walter Pabst

More by Walter Pabst

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 35 comments
  • Anonymous Anonymous on Mar 05, 2007

    10 cylindars is necessary to keep emmisions down. Diesel fuel burns slower than gas. A smaller cylindar ensures complete cumbustion within the timeframe alotted for combustion. It also allows for higher revs, which translates to higher horsepower.

  • Nneo Nneo on Jun 04, 2007

    On the Diesel question: I live in Europe (Hungary) and I (sometimes) drive a 2003 BMW 530D (E39), which has an inline six 3 liter TDI engine. It delivers about 200 hps, 368 lbs/feet torque and accelerates the BMW in about 7,5 seconds to 60 mph and it's top speed is about 150 mph. It has an urban mpg (and I am not kind on the gas) of about 30. So, yes diesels have every right to be in cars like these. (It is another question however that I also drive (sometimes) a Z4 3.0i and I would never ever want a diesel sportscar, but not because of performance or mpg, but sound, rpm and stuff like that.)

  • Lou_BC Question of the day: Anyone actually care to own an old TVR?
  • Bd2 First, this was totally predictable. 2nd, Genesis already does have hybrids in the form of a 48V mild hybrid, but more performance oriented (supercharged and turbocharged), so not really helping with regard to fuel consumption. 3rd, Hyundai's hybrid systems don't really help as there currently isn't one that would be suitable power-wise and the upcoming 2.5T hybrid system would have to be heavily reworked to accommodate a RWD/longitudinal layout. 4th, it seems that Genesis is opting to go the EREV route with the GV70 the first get the new powertrain.
  • Bd2 Jaguar's problem was chasing the Germans into the mid size and then entry-level/compact segments for volume, and cheapening their interiors while at it.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Aja8888 I expected that issue with my F150 starting at 52,000mi. luckily I had an extended warranty and it saved me almost $8,000. No more Fords for me, only Toyota.
  • Lou_BC I saw a news article on this got a different read on it. Ford wants to increase production of HD trucks AND develop hybrid and EV variants of the SuperDuty. They aren't scaling back EV production. Just building more HD's and EV variants of HD's .
Next