Our first impression of the Volkswagen Touareg was its relatively quiet cabin. The V6 and V8 engines are smooth and the six-speed automatic transmission is really smooth. Overall, Touareg feels like a well-engineered vehicle carved from a single block.
The V6 has received a much-needed shot of 20 more horsepower for 2005, bringing the total to 240 at 6000 rpm, with 229 pound-feet of torque at 3200. Though smooth and quiet, last year's V6 Touareg took about 9.4 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60, slow by anyone's stopwatch, and it felt sluggish at altitude. The 2005 model should be better, but we don't expect a dramatic improvement.
The V8, on the other hand, delivers strong torque around town and the transmission always selects the right gear. So you don't need much throttle pressure to smoothly accelerate to the desired speed. Slam the throttle down and the V8 responds well, but it still does not deliver breathtaking thrust. Granted, we drove the Touareg at 6000 feet where thinner air reduces the V8's 310 horsepower to something less than 250. But at any altitude, a V8 Touareg weighs about 5,300 pounds when empty. That makes Touareg 375 pounds heavier than a BMW X5 4.4i, and 425 pounds heavier than Mercedes-Benz ML500. Still, the V8 Touareg delivers respectable performance. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds, says Volkswagen, which is comparable to the performance of a V8-powered BMW X5.
We haven't tried the new turbo-diesel V10, but we are impressed by its specifications, especially its 553 pound-feet of torque at just 2000 rpm. VW claims the new engine places the Touareg among the best-performing diesel SUV's ever, capable of clocking a 0-60mph time of just 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph. Twin turbochargers account for its power, while Volkswagen's sophisticated diesel fuel injection accounts for its relatively efficient 17/23 City/Highway mpg. (TDI stands for Turbo Direct Injection.)
The V6 and V8 models are not as fuel efficient, at least partly due to the Touareg's considerable weight. The V6 earns an EPA rating of 15/20 mpg City/Highway, while the V8 returns 14/18 mpg. VW recommends premium gas for maximum performance.
The transmission that comes with all three engines is brilliant, a luxury-grade six-speed automatic used in the new Audi A8 L. Fuzzy logic senses the driver's intentions then smoothly selects the proper gear. Switch from Normal to Sport mode and it selects higher shift points for more aggressive driving. There's also a Tiptronic mode for manual shifting, useful in some situations, but ultimately the transmission will still shift up automatically when redline is reached.
VW says it has recalibrated the 2005 Touareg's suspension for more sport. The ride quality of last year's model was good, though road vibration increased with wheel size, most noticeable with the 19-inch wheels and tires. The V6 model's standard 17-inch wheels offered the best ride quality, smoother and quieter, though the aggressive tread pattern of the tires generated some noise and vibration.
Steering responses are sharper with the 19-inch wheels, and more lethargic and mushier with the 17-inch wheels. The 18-inch wheel and tires seemed like a good compromise between the two. Most of my time with the 18-inch wheels was spent off-road, but the ride seemed quite pleasant during the few, short highway sections that I drove with them. Overall, I preferred the 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires.
Two suspensions are available for Touareg: a standard suspension with regular steel springs and an optional air suspension. The standard suspension works very well and we recommend it highly. It might even be our preference. It offers a nice ride and handles well, as we discovered on some winding mountain roads in Utah. Touareg boasts an impressive 8.3 inches of ground clearance with the standard suspension.