Even without its stellar turbodiesel engine, the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V6 TDI would still be a rolling seminar on why people like SUVs. Commanding driving position, go-anywhere capability, roomy and luxurious cabin -- they're all here, tempered only by an unyielding ride from the off-road-biased suspension. But the new 50-state-legal "TDI" turbodiesel V6, replacing last year's thirstier and far more expensive diesel V10, takes the Touareg 2 to a higher level. Proving that traditional SUV virtues need not be sullied by wheezy performance and poor fuel economy, the Touareg 2 V6 TDI is an object lesson in what a sport-ute should be.
Direct competition for the turbodiesel Touareg comes exclusively from das Vaterland in the form of the Audi Q7 TDI, the BMW X5 xDrive 35d and the Mercedes-Benz ML320 Bluetec. In this company, the VW is a knockdown bargain at its base price of $42,800, undercutting the second-cheapest Benz by almost $6,000 and offering better performance to boot. The $50,900 Audi shares the Volkswagen's platform and powertrain, so all it's got over the Touareg is snob appeal and an available third-row seat. And while the BMW blows them all into the weeds with its prodigious thrust, it's the most costly of the four, commanding an $8,400 premium over the VW's base price.
As for gas-powered SUVs, they simply can't compete with the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V6 TDI's combination of explosive yet civilized low-end power and laudable fuel economy. That goes for gas-powered Touaregs, too, which get stomped by the TDI's 407 pound-feet of torque from 1,750 rpm while slurping up far more fuel.
Unfortunately, Americans just can't seem to get the specter of yesteryear's sluggish, smelly and smoke-belching diesels out of their heads, judging by the stubbornly slow sales of diesel-powered vehicles. That's a shame, because the Touareg 2 V6 TDI is just a compliant ride (and perhaps a third-row seat) shy of SUV perfection.
The all-wheel-drive 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 TDI is powered by a remarkably refined 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 -- uninitiated passengers will never know it's a diesel -- that hammers out 221 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of readily available torque. As with many other so-called clean diesels, the TDI's emissions are kept within legal limits by the injection of urea into the exhaust stream. A low-range transfer case for hard-core off-roading is standard, as is a slick six-speed automatic with manual control -- the only available transmission.
At the test track, our turbodiesel Touareg dispatched the sprint to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds on its way to a 16.0-second quarter-mile at 83.4 mph. EPA fuel economy ratings for this 5,361-pound SUV are 17 mpg city/25 highway and 20 combined, on par with the much smaller and less capable Ford Escape V6 AWD, and we observed 20.4 mpg over approximately 2,000 miles, including one 575-mile tank. Maximum towing capacity is in excess of 7,700 pounds, which puts some full-size trucks to shame. Braking performance, however, is just average, with our standard panic stop from 60 mph requiring 131 feet.
On the road, the Touareg 2 TDI constantly reminded us why manufacturers of 18-wheelers wouldn't think of putting anything but turbodiesels in their trucks. All that torque is available virtually from idle, so there's no need to rev up the engine to extract the most from it; on the contrary, there's so much grunt on tap below 2,000 rpm that downshifts are rarely necessary. Throw in its superior fuel economy and the TDI looks like a no-brainer choice over relatively high-strung and inefficient gasoline V6s and V8s.
In other respects, too, the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 TDI's performance impresses, from its extraordinarily sharp steering response and tight turning circle to its above-average handling. One of the highest compliments a large vehicle can receive is that it drives smaller than it is, and that's certainly true of this VW, which doesn't feel a pound over 2 tons. In addition to the Q7, the Touareg family includes the Porsche Cayenne, and it's clear that the Cayenne isn't the only athlete among these cousins.
VW makes much of the Touareg 2's off-roading chops; the official press photos, for example, depict Touaregs hurtling over sand dunes, perhaps in the Saharan region inhabited by the Tuareg people, after whom the vehicle is named. We have no reason to doubt VW's claims in this regard, but we suspect most Touareg drivers would gladly trade some of that trail-busting ability for a supple ride.
Our TDI test vehicle's structure was obviously robust, but even minor bumps and ruts sent shocks running through the seats and steering wheel, a presumptive consequence of the suspension's off-road readiness. We'd advise trying out the optional electronically adjustable air suspension ($2,750), which our Touareg lacked.
Otherwise, the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 TDI provides exemplary comfort for all passengers. The highway ride is luxury-car quiet, the elevated front seats provide firm support even after hundreds of miles (as they should, given the TDI's prodigious range) and the rear quarters offer generous head- and legroom as well as a pleasantly high seat cushion.
Minor demerits are warranted for the missing third-row seat (you'll need the Q7 for that) and the faint, low reverberatory sound emanating from the cargo area at highway speeds. Overall, though, this VW affords just about all the comfort an SUV shopper could ask for, with the notable exception of that flinty ride.
The Touareg 2's controls are logically arrayed, and seemingly every single one of them is backlit in red at night, a VW/Audi signature touch. Our Touareg was equipped with VW's revised-for-2009 navigation system, and we found that it worked quite well, though the touchscreen interface is hampered by an annoying delay between input and response.
The back-up camera and front parking sensors were also much appreciated, combining with the Touareg's relatively tidy dimensions to make parallel parking a snap. The optional stereo isn't Dynaudio's best effort, but its extraordinary clarity and separation confirms our sense that the Danish company is a rising star among car audio providers.
In our real-world functionality tests, the Touareg 2 TDI's 31-cubic-foot cargo area had no trouble swallowing our standard golf bag (albeit at an angle) and suitcase, and the power-closing liftgate made our hauling activities that much easier. Folding the rear seatbacks opens up 71 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity -- not overly impressive by SUV standards, but still a significant amount. Our child safety seat fit easily in the Touareg 2's airy rear compartment.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 is largely the same vehicle that debuted for the 2004 model year as the Touareg, but exterior and interior styling enhancements implemented in 2008 ? marking the transition to "Touareg 2" -- have helped keep it fresh. The overall aesthetic is clearly that of a premium vehicle, with one of our passengers going so far as to call the cabin "Range Rover-esque."
The doors close with a resounding thump, and materials quality is excellent except for the lower dash, which consists of hard beige plastic panels that sound hollow. Build quality was beyond reproach on our Touareg.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V6 TDI holds particular appeal for premium midsize SUV shoppers who are already enamored of turbodiesel power, but this VW also has considerable crossover appeal. Drive one and we think you'll agree that the Touareg 2 V6 TDI is one of the best five-passenger SUVs on the market.
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