Touareg looks like a Volkswagen, with smooth, arched surfaces, a Volkswagen face and a Volkswagen rear end. Other VW cues can be seen in the jeweled headlamps, the design of the hood and other features. If that isn't enough, prominent VW badges leave no doubt.
Touareg looks brawny, though its off-road capability isn't immediately apparent. The Touareg is designed to look rugged yet refined, practical yet stylish. Its high ground clearance, large wheels, and the robust design of the wheel arches and bumpers are the first clues to its impressive trail worthiness. Big air intakes in the lower bumper contrast with the upper radiator grille, which is shaped like that of a modern passenger car. This contrast hints at its dual role of luxury car and off-road vehicle. In the same theme, smooth, elegant surfaces above the beltline contrast with broad, rugged-looking side sills. Big exterior door handles look functional and are well designed and easy to grab.
Like a car, the Touareg is built on a unibody chassis. It was designed to be a highly rigid structure (40 Hz), so that it won't bend or twist even in the most tortuous off-road driving conditions. We were able to open and close the doors when the Touareg was teetering on two or three wheels, an impressive feat, especially considering Volkswagen's tight fitment of body panels. This rigidity contributes to the Touareg's ride comfort and high-speed stability. The doors are completely sealed when closed, providing a quiet cabin and allowing the Touareg to ford up to 22 inches of standing water.
Like many SUVs, the Touareg features a two-stage rear hatch with a glass window that can be raised separately. It has a neat feature that many owners may never discover: The glass hatch can be hard for shorter people to reach when it's open. If this happens, simply raise the rear door. When they reconnect, the window clicks into the door. Rejoined with the glass, the hatch can then be closed as one unit. Tall people have it easier, of course: They simply reach up and close the glass.
Perimeter lights illuminate the area around the Touareg when getting in or out at night, and can be programmed to the driver's preferences.
The Touareg cabin is luxurious and attractive. It elegantly combines robust dimensions with delicate details in rich leather and wood trim. Burled walnut is standard, with vavona or myrtle wood available as an upgrade on the V8 and V10 TDI. We like both grades of leather, Cricket and smooth Nappa. (Leatherette is standard.) The premium light-colored wood with tan leather is particularly attractive and the dark-colored wood is quite nice. The textures found on the dash, door panels and other trim appeal to the sense of touch as well. Chrome and brushed aluminum trim add elegance with a hint of technology. Everything seems perfectly tailored and fitted.
The seats are excellent, supportive and comfortable, much better than most. We've found it sometimes takes time to get comfortable in Volkswagen seats, but I was immediately comfortable in the Touareg.
Visibility from the driver's seat is quite good, aided rearward by huge outside mirrors. All controls are easy to reach. The steering column tilts and telescopes manually; optional power adjustments make it easier to fine-tune its position. The switchgear, climate control, audio controls, and window lifts all feel smooth and sophisticated. Move the turn signal lever momentarily and the signals flash three times, handy for lane changes. Instruments are attractive and easy to read, big and clearly marked, using white-on-black graphics.
Robust climate controls make adjusting temperature quick and easy. The standard two-zone system (with rear A/C) does an excellent job. The optional four-zone system, allowing separate control of each of the four primary seating positions, may be overkill but it does give passengers more control over their personal space and it works well. Farther down on the center console are big round knobs for controlling the differential locks and air suspension (when equipped). The center armrest features a ring designed to hold large water bottles. Overhead, you'll find a small indigo display with compass and clock along with a pair of nicely designed map lights. The glove box is air-conditioned, so you can store a sandwich or beverage in there.
Touareg's optional Navigation System provides traditional route guidance with mapping and voice announcements. But it also includes a neat off-road navigation system with compass, altimeter, and GPS coordinates. A tracking mode leaves an electronic trail that can be used to retrace your route.
Automatic wipers respond well to changing conditions. While driving through a squall in the mountains near Park City, Utah, they quickly changed the wiper speed from ultra-fast to slow to intermittent, then stopped them altogether when the going got dry.
The rear seats are firm, supportive, and comfortable. The back seat of a Touareg is a pleasant place to be and we spent several hours there, sometimes in extreme terrain. Vents in the B-pillars help direct air back there and the four-zone climate control offers individual temperature controls. A second heat exchanger for the rear seats helps get heat back there quickly on cold mornings.
Fold down the rear seats and Touareg offers 71 cubic feet of cargo space with a nice, flat floor. That's more than what's found in the BMW X5, less than that of the Mercedes M-Class or Lexus RX 330. Folding the seats is a little fussy because the seat bottoms must articulate before folding the seat backs down, but the system works well. Put the rear seats back into place and there's 31 cubic feet of space behind them. There's an optional pass-through for skis available, a cargo cover to shield valuables, and a net partition that keeps cargo from flying forward in the event of an accident or hard stop.