What's New for 2010
Known for a spell as Touareg 2, Volkswagen's premium midsize SUV loses the "2" suffix for 2010. It also loses its optional V8 engine. Additional deleted options include adaptive cruise control, lane-change assist and the locking rear differential. On the plus side, the Touareg now features standard wood interior trim and Bluetooth.
The 2010 Volkswagen Touareg has at least one thing in common with the Saharan nomadic people from whom it gets its name: It's good at going off-road, thanks to excellent ground clearance and a permanent all-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing. But while this certainly sets the Touareg apart from its "soft-roader" rivals, it's not especially relevant for most shoppers in this segment. Folks with $40,000-$50,000 to spend on a premium midsize SUV are more interested in refined on-road performance, quality construction and an ample helping of luxury. Fortunately, the Touareg is anything but rustic in these respects; on the contrary, it's one of the most appealing vehicles in its segment, even as it enters its seventh year of production on the same basic platform.
The Touareg shares that platform with the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. Not surprisingly, we've noted in past reviews that the Touareg veers uncomfortably close to Audi levels of capability and sophistication while undercutting its price by a wide margin. Apparently, parent company Volkswagen thought so, too, because for 2010 the Touareg has become notably less Audi-like. The 350-horsepower V8 has been dropped, as has adaptive cruise control, both of which are now available only on the Q7. In a nod to the Touareg's predominantly on-road use, the optional locking rear differential has been ditched as well.
Nonetheless, the Touareg remains one of the best at its craft. The base gasoline V6 is hampered by the vehicle's considerable curb weight, but it's still smooth and capable. Fuel economy is rather poor, though, which is where the diesel-powered V6 TDI model comes in. Giving up nothing to the gas V6 in terms of performance, the torquey TDI also gets more than 25 percent better fuel economy on the highway. With either engine, the Touareg impresses with its relaxed cruising demeanor, high towing capacity and surprisingly capable handling, though the latter comes at the expense of ride quality (the optional air suspension smoothes things out). Interior appointments are a cut above as well, rivaling costlier German competitors in materials quality and craftsmanship.
The Touareg's competitive set is difficult to pin down. It's a bit pricier than compact luxury crossovers like the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 T6, but the extra coin nets a larger interior, optional diesel power and that genuine off-road ability. It's cheaper than similarly engined versions of the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, but it lacks their brand cachet and -- compared to the Audi and BMW -- available third-row seats. Two others to consider are the Lexus RX 350 and its hybrid sibling, the RX 450h, which boast competitive pricing, quicker acceleration and a plusher ride. The Acura MDX is also a very viable alternative. But this VW is still a desirable premium midsize SUV -- and not just because its off-road chops play well in the Sahara.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Volkswagen Touareg is a midsize five-passenger SUV available in two trim levels that correspond to engine options: VR6 FSI and V6 TDI. The VR6 FSI comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, automatic headlamps and wipers, a power tailgate, a sunroof, rear parking assist, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 12-way power driver and eight-way manual passenger heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, walnut wood accents, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a 10-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The V6 TDI shares this equipment roster and adds a turbodiesel V6 under the hood.
Options are largely grouped into packages. The Luxury package features 19-inch alloys, special front seats, leather upholstery, a 12-way power passenger seat, different wood interior trim, a sliding armrest and a heated steering wheel. The Lux Limited package starts with the Luxury package's goodies and adds 20-inch alloys, chrome tailpipes and grille, exclusive front and rear bumpers and side sills and upgraded interior trim. The Technology package offers bi-xenon headlamps, a hard-drive-based navigation system, a back-up camera, an iPod input, an upgraded 11-speaker sound system and keyless entry and ignition. The Premium Technology package starts with the Technology package and adds the top-of-the-line Dynaudio sound system. Other options include a trailer hitch, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and an electronically adjustable air suspension. Note that the air suspension requires either the Luxury or Lux Limited package.
Powertrains and Performance
A six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and a low-range gear for serious off-roading are standard on every 2010 Volkswagen Touareg. The VR6 FSI model gets a narrow-angle 3.6-liter gasoline V6 that makes 280 hp and 266 pound-feet of torque, while the V6 TDI features a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 good for 221 hp and a whopping 407 lb-ft of torque at just 2,250 rpm.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the VR6 stand at 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined, which is below average for a V6-powered crossover. The TDI is rated at a considerably more palatable 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. Properly equipped, the Touareg can tow 7,700 pounds, more than most competitors.
Both 2010 Volkswagen Touareg trim levels come with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, hill descent control and incline roll-back control. Passive safety features include front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In crash tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Touareg a perfect five-star rating for frontal and side impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
The only real difference between the Touareg's cabin and, say, the BMW X5's is the big VW badge on the steering wheel. You just have to wrap your head around the fact that the "people's car" company now makes full-blown luxury vehicles. Most surfaces in the Touareg's interior are soft-touch, and the hard surfaces (lower dash, console, doors) feel smooth and substantial. The optional hard-drive-based navigation system boasts crisp graphics and an intuitive touchscreen interface. Other options allow the Touareg to be decked out like a Range Rover, including the air suspension, the Dynaudio stereo and the Lux Limited package's upgraded styling cues and interior materials.
While many other midsize or large SUVs offer a third-row seat, the Touareg makes do without one, limiting passenger capacity to only five. However, the second row is roomy enough, with a higher cushion than you'll find in the X5. Cargo capacity is 31 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 71 cubic feet when they're folded -- useful, to be sure, but not particularly impressive given that a humble Honda CR-V has more maximum storage space.
The 2010 Volkswagen Touareg can get down in the dirt like few other premium SUVs, but even if you never venture off the beaten path, this is one satisfying SUV from behind the wheel. Steering response is particularly sharp, and overall handling is above average. The VR6 engine is refined and adequately powerful, but the V6 TDI is well worth the extra cash, providing superior torque and fuel economy. With either engine, the six-speed automatic transmission's shifts are barely noticeable. At speed, the Touareg feels unflappable, devouring highway miles while cosseting its passengers in a cocoon of quiet luxury. The ride may be objectionably firm to some in standard guise, but the optional air suspension is an easy (albeit pricey) fix.