By on September 23, 2011

How many people would rather have a Volkswagen than a Mercedes? The first-generation Volkswagen Touareg, introduced as a 2004 model, was the product of two unusual events. First, CEO Ferdinand Piech took the brand upmarket (and then some) to challenge Mercedes-Benz—so what if that was Audi’s job. Second, Mercedes, which previously had all but ignored the specific needs of the American market, jumped on the SUV gravy train. So, like BMW, Volkswagen (and Porsche, but that’s next) had to have one, too. Add in some newbie cluelessness concerning how the vehicle would typically be used, and the original Touareg became a luxuriously-outfitted, hyper-complex, 5,000-plus-pound, air-suspended, off-road-capable chunk of a truck with a price tag to match. In subsequent years, VW abandoned its assault on Stuttgart and perhaps learned a thing or two about the SUV market. But would you know it from the redesigned 2011 Touareg?

Exterior styling doesn’t appear to have been a primary consideration with the original Touareg. Quite likely, the engineers developed a body structure then tossed it over the wall to design, which then dressed it as much as possible like other VWs. The various curves and bulges fit together awkwardly, especially around the ends. With the 2011, the exterior is much the same—the typical car buyer probably cannot tell the two apart—but with subtle tweaks that eliminate the earlier awkwardness without adding anything eye-catching or distinctive. As noted in my review of the Q5, the Touareg strongly resembles both the half-size-smaller Audi and the closely-related Porsche Cayenne.

In the retreat from Stuttgart, Volkswagen decontented the interiors of its cars. The new Touareg’s interior doesn’t induce shock and awe like the original’s did (“This is a VW?!”), but remains a cut or two above the others in the showroom. As with the exterior, the new design is cleaner, perhaps to a fault. Though curb weight is down nearly 400 pounds (to a still hefty 4,700) the Touareg retains a tight, solid feel that even the best domestic SUVs (e.g. the new Jeep Grand Cherokee) can’t quite match.

The Germans haven’t yet gotten the memo that Americans want more car-like SUVs (as suggested by the rise of crossovers). So the Touareg’s driving position remains much the same following the redesign, with a high seat behind a large, relatively upright windshield. The leatherette seat itself is a touch mushy and largely devoid of lateral support—both surprises in a VW. Creating some distance from the Porsche? The rear seat slides and reclines. Slide it back and there’s a decent amount of legroom—but no more than in the 14-inch-shorter, 1,100-pound-lighter Tiguan. The two-speed transfer case no longer crosses the Atlantic, but the Touareg’s packaging efficiency remains that of a conventional SUV. To give credit where due, the Touareg’s cabin is a couple inches wider than the Tiguan’s, and it can hold considerably more cargo (70.9 vs. 56.1 cubic feet), with much of the difference behind the second row seat.

The original Touareg’s V8 gas and V10 diesel engines didn’t survive the change in mission. In their places we now get a 333-horsepower supercharged V6 hybrid and a 225-horsepower V6 diesel. But I sampled the third, relatively boring engine choice, the 280-horsepower 3.6-liter narrow-angle VR6, which like the others is now mated to an eight-speed automatic. Aided by the additional ratios and reduced poundage, this engine feels strong once underway (the initial movement from a dead stop won’t snap any necks). The transmission sometimes seems indecisive, but perhaps it was still learning my driving style. The EPA ratings of 16/23 are typical of a midsize SUV. Require better numbers? Then VW has the hybrid (20/24) or the diesel (19/28) for you. Or the Tiguan (21/27).

Unlike every other U.S.-market VW, the Touareg is not based on a front-wheel-drive platform. Instead, the engine and transmission are located much as they are in any given truck, for a 53/47 weight distribution and a more balanced feel than you’ll find in a car-based crossover. Body motions are very well controlled for an SUV, and the ride is generally smooth and quiet, with just a little clomping over tar strips to remind you of its national origin. A height-adjustable air suspension is no longer offered, but won’t be missed as long as you remain on the pavement. And yet, despite the Porsche tie, “fun” is a stretch. The steering is quick, perhaps a little too quick, with some twitchiness at highway speeds, but it’s not communicative. And, let’s face it, this is a tall, heavy vehicle with little in the way of sporting pretensions. The Touareg feels smaller and lighter than it is, but not to a sufficient degree to call the laws of physics into question.

The new Touareg might not aspire to the same heights the original did, but VW has been cutting prices. Well, not in this case. The 2011 I drove, a base trim V6 with only a couple of minor options—the cheap one—listed for $46,005, about $2,800 more than a comparable 2010. This is the price with no leather, no wood, and no sunroof (but with standard nav and xenon headlights). For 2012 nav became optional to enable a  $1,475 price cut. Add it back and you’re $545 over the 2011.Such pricing pits the Touareg against some heady competition. The vehicle that started it all, the Mercedes-Benz ML350, has just entered its third generation. To similarly equip a Touareg you need the $5,880 Lux Package (not on the tested vehicle), which bumps the tab to just under fifty. A comparably-equipped Mercedes lists for $7,400 more. Use TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool to adjust for remaining feature differences and compare the two invoice-to-invoice (often a better indicator of what you’ll actually pay), and the gap shrinks to about $4,300. Perhaps you’d rather think of the Touareg as a Cayenne without the Porsche price? The latter will set you back about $8,500 more if you go easy on the options, perhaps $13,000 more otherwise.

The Touareg’s toughest challenge might come from the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which received a substantial upgrade for 2011. Equipped similarly to the tested Touareg, the Jeep runs about $7,800 less before adjusting for feature differences, about $8,700 less afterwards. Until it gets its own eight-speed automatic, the Jeep feels sluggish compared to the VW, and even afterwards (2013?) it should continue to feel heavier and cushier. So it’s not a direct substitute. But the Jeep has its own strengths, and $8,700 is a sizable chunk of change.

The Volkswagen Touareg is certainly a solid, thoroughly competent vehicle, but its construction and consequent price continue to reflect Piech’s “beat Mercedes” ambitions of a decade ago rather than his “beat Toyota” ambitions of today. The Phaeton large luxury sedan is long gone from these shores, but its companion SUV has survived into a second generation. To have the interior ambiance reflect the price tag, you’ve got to spend another $5,880, at which point you’re uncomfortably close to $50,000 and the all-new Mercedes. Rather have a diesel? Then the price difference is cut in half and is hardly worth thinking about. So, how many people would rather have a VW than a Mercedes? Apparently about 500 a month. Odds of a third-generation $50,000+ Touareg in 2018?

Vehicle provided by Dan Kelley, Suburban VW in Farmington Hills, MI, 248-741-7903

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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34 Comments on “Review: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg VR6...”

  • avatar

    So compared to the last generation – which, at least by my eyeballing the roads of upscale San Francisco, New York and Boston suburbs over the last seven years, sold pretty darn well in its target market – this one looks and feels substantially cheaper inside and out, and loses its off-road capability, but costs _more_ than the vehicle it replaces, all in light of much-improved competition.

    Michael, if one were wedded to buying a VW for some reason, is there any reason whatsoever to choose one of these over a CPO 2009 model (even a TDI, if you’re interested in mileage)?

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t mean to imply that the new Touareg looks or feels cheap, as it doesn’t. Cheaper, perhaps, but still far from cheap. Part of the reason the new one is less impressive is how much the average interior has improved since 2004.

      I haven’t driven the first-generation Touareg since 2004, so I cannot comment how the handling compares. But given the weight reduction and seven years of learning it’s likely that the new one handles better. I also prefer its cleaner exterior. Between the weight reduction and two additional gears the new one should also be quicker and more fuel efficient.

  • avatar

    How does the interior of this Toureg compare with the Jeep Grand Cherokee?

    It sounds like the Toureg interior has slipped a notch from the previous model, while the Grand Cherokee has made big improvements with the latest model.

    I have rented a couple of 2011 Grand Cherokees to go on long trips to remote areas, and found them to be impressive vehicles. With the elimination of the off road capabilities from the latest Toureg, I would prefer the Jeep even if the price difference were smaller – but I’m not a typical SUV buyer, I would rather drive a car if I am not going to be venturing off road.

    As you suggest in the review, I really don’t see who is going to buy this thing. Euro-poncer badge snobs will almost certainly prefer the Benz, the rest of us will get the Jeep…

    • 0 avatar

      My impression is that the VW’s interior continues to feel a little more solid and higher in quality. I had a new Durango the week I drove the Touareg. Very nice inside, but even the base trim Touareg seemed higher in quality, for reasons I find hard to pinpoint.

    • 0 avatar

      I drove the Grand Cherokee and Touareg back-to-back. I was impressed with the interior and drive in the Jeep until I drove the Touareg. Everything was better – fit, finish, handling.

      I think the Jeep design is great. I liked the Jeep but don’t trust reliability (even more than VW).

  • avatar

    The VW is also dangerously close to a the base price on a Land Rover LR4, also ~$48k, which includes a 5.0 liter 375 HP V8.

    The Toerag costs too much and offers too little compared to the upscale suburban competition.

    • 0 avatar

      I hadn’t considered this comparison, because the LR4 is a half-foot taller and a half-ton heavier (and this comes through strongly in its handling). Third row as well. But running the two models through TrueDelta finds that when similarly equipped they are close in price.

    • 0 avatar

      I was about to say something about the LR4’s reliability being inferior, but then I remembered that the last-gen Touareg was one of the worst on the market. So who knows who wins there (Michael does!).

      In that comparison, I think most would go for the Land Rover though. The brand cachet makes it seem way more expensive than it is.

  • avatar

    OK, Michael…review was interesting.
    Still not sure what “the initial movement from a dead stop won’t snap any necks” means. Is that when asking a little more from the peddle, or just regular take off? Is there any grunt trying to go up an expressway ramp?

    How would the driving feel compare to the smaller Tiguan’s?

    And what about the other possible engineering bits that might give buyer’s remorse in a few months, and especially after the service warranty is up?
    For example…can you change your own oil, or will it end up costing 60 to 80 dollars in parts and dealer charges?

    • 0 avatar

      I meant that the Touareg does’t feel strong right off the line, but does once moving. No trouble with the highway on-ramp.

      No idea how easy it is to change the oil, but how hard could it be? This is a “people’s car,” after all.

      The Tiguan feels considerably smaller and lighter, perhaps because it is. Also seems much cheaper. Which it also is.

      Also no idea on reliability. The first-generation Touareg was notoriously unreliable when new. We haven’t had enough responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey to provide solid results for the Touareg. What we do have suggests that the 2004 and 2005 haven’t aged badly, with scores near the average. The 2008 currently has a “worse than average” score, but this is based on a small sample size.

      We need more owners signed up before we can provide reliability stats for the 2011+.

      • 0 avatar

        What about the reliability of the diesels as a whole with VW?
        I am more inclined to look at the diesel and keep hearing bad things about the long term cost.

        As far as the oil change…the reason I ask about this is so many manufacturers seem to force you into their dealers for these used to be at home type jobs.
        I think the German makers do this more.
        And then there is the oil filter!
        My daughters Tiguan will need me to start purchasing the filters which run 16 bucks!

  • avatar

    A guy at work bought a 2004 for his wife. White exterior with a beige interior, nice vehicle. She rarely drives it, and it only has 12,000 miles, so its like new. He says the V-8 engine is similar to what goes into the Porsche Cayenne. It is built for performance, not for fuel economy, so it gets driven only occasionally for highway trips. She has another vehicle, easier on gas, that she uses around town. I’ve seen him drive it only once, and he was using it to tow a trailer down through Ohio and West Virginia to North Carolina.

  • avatar

    Just so I’m clear on this, VW wants to sell me a mildly optioned $46,000 Tourawhaever when I can get a fairly well loaded Audi Q5 for the same or less money, OR I can throw scant few more pennies onto the monthly payment and step-up to a “stripped” Audi Q7?

    I’m sorry, but leave out the uber brand concious american consumer factor, and I’m already going Audi just to get away from the nose-picking morons sitting at the VW service desk. If I want crappy customer service, I have no intention of paying that much for it.

    • 0 avatar

      Mildly-optioned is not accurate for the $46k Touareg. It has a very nice Nav, dual climate, and all the usual standards. What is mildy optioned is the Q5 “Premium”. How Audi can call that car a luxury premium and not have standard Nav system is beyond me. I’ve tried to stretch the Q5 to Touareg comparison but besides being better handling the Q5 is most definitely a small SUV and the Touareg is Midsized. Interiors are fairly close in quality from my experience.

      Having dealt with the self-absorbed Audi salesman I’d say the reverse about which dealer I’d better tolerate. Having had a Passat for a few years I’ve had nothing but great customer service.

      Having said that I’ve looked at all the options and the Touareg is near the top of my list but still having a hard time swallowing that price.

  • avatar

    Have you driven the X5 recently?

    I think this car’s best advantage is its styling. Not another ditzy Q7… it’s a sensible VW.

    Funny how it (and the Cayenne?) match the new ML’s taillights.

    Nice review.

  • avatar

    Unless we are talking Jetta vs 300SL Gullwing, I would always choose a VW over a Mercedes. Unless I was allowed to sell the Merc and buy 14 old Fords for the money….
    Btw, I can tell the difference between this normally ugly model and the extremely boring slightly ugly first model :)
    And this guy I know owns a Phateon, and nobody knows, they all think it’s a Passat. VW won’t be a premium brand ever, but they can engineer a well engineered car when they have to. Even if they can build the most awesome diesel ever.

    • 0 avatar

      VW does have its quality and quality control problems, and problems with dealers..
      I’d like to see the VW factory take over here, this would be better, IMO.
      I’ve owned a number..I’d love to have my ’84 Diesel back, but its probably in some yard by now..
      Its true that VW will never be premium, any more than Ford or Chevy.
      A crying shame that American always has to be cheap !

  • avatar

    …”…Exterior styling doesn’t appear to have been a primary consideration with the original Touareg. Quite likely, the engineers developed a body structure then tossed it over the wall to design, which then dressed it as much as possible like other VWs…”…

    So mistaken Michael. You and Alex Dykes (whose site autosavant is a good read too) are usually pretty good at discussing design.

    I think you are off base here. The original Toureg is one of the best looking SUV’s to come out in the past 10 years. It has aged very gracefully and still looks modern and stoic.

    I actually think the Toureg1-2 and the current MDX are the best looking SUV’s from a design standpoint. They have strong designs and exude expense.

    Too bad the Toureg is a terrible used car proposition. I would love to locate a V10 TDi and ride off into the sunset… unfortunately, I dont think I would get very far…

    To be fair, I have no knowledge of Toureg reliability. Perhaps True Delta can shed some light on that….

    Good job on the review as always…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in agreement with suspekt on the design. I’ve always liked the original T-Reg’s very handsome, if somewhat plain, looks.

      The T2 interior is a significant improvement. Very nice indeed.

      But as suspekt says – the first gen T-Reg is a *terrible* used car proposition. I have a friend who runs a service department and he legitimately feels bad for most Touareg owners due to the problems they’ve had with them.

      That all said – for the price, I would be hard pressed to select one over a Q5 or X3. My wife recently looked at Q5s and was absolutely in love with them. Personally, I find them to be the ultimate bland-mobile, and a bit of a letdown from Audi, but in 2.0T guise with all wheel drive, it’s a pretty good value.

  • avatar

    The interior reminds me of a 2005 Buick Rendezvous. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…..

  • avatar

    Not a bad looking vehicle for those who want inconspicuous luxury. However, I would never consider it due to VWs reliability history and their terrible dealer network.

  • avatar

    I really don’t like the stupid vinyl seats. “Leatherette, MB-TEX, Etc” It is all just synthetic junk. If I can get real leather seats in a 20k Honda Civic, why can’t I get them in a 50k Luxury SUV?

    • 0 avatar

      You can get them for $50k here. Just not for $46k.

    • 0 avatar

      It would be good if they offered cloth seats because many prefer them, especially in northern climates. But plastic? Do they intend to sell these to industrial fleets?

      How does the material feel, anyway? Is it a breathable?

      • 0 avatar

        The VW leatherette is more practical than comfortable. But they are not as bad as they could be. They are probably heated (at least they are in the previous Euro Passat–not sure about the American iteration) and will probably last the life of the car-truck. Cheap leather seats (seating surfaces) are just that. It is a sign of the times that you can’t get a nice leather seat for 46 large.

  • avatar

    VW actually rates the Touareg as quite the capable SUV. Towing capacity on the VR6 is 7700lbs (VW gives all Touareg powertrains the same towing capacity)and payload is 1462 lbs. Those are close to fullsize SUV numbers.

    VW’s website claims that the payload capacity on the Hybrid version is 2236 lbs! That has to be a typo…

  • avatar

    Great article, thanks for calling a VR6 a VR6.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Cars in this class mostly lease. In the NYC area some 80% of luxury vehicle are leased. Long words about price differences in article. Comparably equipped, does the VW have a nice advantage over the Benz? So I looked. Based on local area ads VW goes for $3100 down 479 p/36 month Mercedes $5100 down 569 p/33 month. That could lead people into a VW dealership. Sometimes.

  • avatar

    I noticed that in the US, the Touareg comes standard with a 10 year/100k powertrain warranty, which matches Hyundai/Mitsubishi and is much longer than any of the luxury marques. Make of that what you will.

  • avatar

    I will still take a Volvo XC90 as direct competitor though Volvo is stupid in my opinion not to offer the current T6 as a powertrain; however Volvo is still haunted by the original XC90 T6 GM supplied transmissions premature deaths, call it the XC90 Sport or Premium instead of T6. I think the styling of the XC90 is still more definitive,unique and modern despite being released back in 2003. Plus the XC90 still is able to maintain its status as an IIHS top safety pick despite its age and the introduction of the roof strength test. Plus the inline six isn’t a compromised design has been quite durable.

  • avatar

    I purchased a new 2011 base model for 42k. The interior is stunning, and I had figured out the media/nav touchscreen system 5 minutes into the test drive (unlike the ridiculous ML). The interior space is considerably greater than a Q5 (a significant difference for tall drivers), the car maneuvers much better than the Q7 (i.e. turning circle). The volvo XC90 handles terribly, and objectively the interior and features are just not as nice. I test drove about every suv on the market, and this one just blew me away. If you have developed a negative opinion of this car without having driven one, my advice to you would be to drive it.

    • 0 avatar

      To me, the overloooked aspect for comparisons is the TDI version. As things stand, the TDI t-reg is much nicer than anything it competes with, and it is actually not that many: X5 diesel, an ML bluetec, and … noting else. The Q5 is not offered with a diesel, and is way too small and carlike to be thrown into the mix. Having driven a super loaded X5d, which included the Adaptive Drive (a $3500 option) I can still attest that the 2007 origin of the design of X4 is severely behind. The idrive system is horrible. The beautiful and HUGE screen on VW is was able to figure out on the fly. The VW with TDI is silent, super silent, and the X5 diesel is chatty like a tractor. The VW turns on a dime, feels nice and nimble, the X5 is like a heavy cow. The biggest issue with the VW is the lack of backup cams (a temporary thing they say, because of the Tsunami in Japan). Other than that to me the VW TDI is THE best of the bunch. The JGC is expected to bring the ZF 8 speed and diesel in 2013, but as of now, the JGC feels like a cow as well, thirsty at that!

      • 0 avatar

        Problem is the TDI is $3500 more than the VR6 model. It would take over 10 years driving 12k miles a year to break even on fuel savings. That is assuming diesel is the same price as gasoline, which in my part of the country it usually isn’t with diesel being at least 15-20% more expensive. The TDI makes no sense unless you simply must have the torque or drive an insane amount of miles a year, in which case you should be driving a different type of vehicle if you can.

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