If cars had superpowers, the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V8 would be Captain Light Fantastic. Each time you start the VW Touareg 2, it salutes you with an impressive light show as the range-adjusting dynamic headlights calibrate themselves.
That's the story with this revised version of VW's sport-utility, as a range of exotic enhancements to the electronics expand its dynamic possibilities, while a number of luxury features have been added, like a stylish interior treatment and a power liftgate. It's a sport-utility with a superhero's range of special powers.
The Touareg 2 seems to have driven away from its VW heritage and become more like the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, with which the Touareg shares the fundamentals of its platform and powertrain.
Of course, this 2008 Volkswagen Touareg V8 rang the cash register to the tune of $55,750, and this makes us wonder, is the Touareg 2 now the sport-utility version of the Volkswagen Phaeton, a luxury sedan that never found its audience?
Touareg 2, the Sequel
Now known as the Touareg 2, this is really a sequel and not a remake of the original movie. Wheelbase, length, width and height are exactly the same as last year's model.
Cosmetically, the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 is more of a nose-tipping than a full face-lift. The exterior changes include the new-look grille (chrome for the V6 model and matte chrome for the V8 and the V10 diesel) that clarifies the family resemblance to the rest of the VW line. The overall look is more aerodynamic, thanks to a redesigned front bumper, shapelier headlamp casings and more slippery side mirrors. The rear of the Touareg also gets aero with a rooftop spoiler, while the dark taillight lenses and reshaped exhaust tips are there for visual freshness.
Full-time all-wheel drive remains part of the program, and the six-speed automatic transmission still includes a low range for poor traction situations. The V6 version of the Touareg 2 now comes with a comfort-calibrated suspension as standard equipment, but the V8 remains a sporting proposition, and 19-inch wheels with 275/45R19 tires are part of the program.
Comfort Is the New Black
When you slip into the Touareg 2, you'll immediately notice how comfortable it is. The revised interior seems to have been inspired by the luxurious Volkswagen Phaeton and features the sedan's high-fashion architecture and luxurious, richly colorful materials. The sound ergonomics help place every little control within easy reach, and the tilt-telescopic steering wheel is now matched by a standard 12-way power-adjustable driver seat.
All this luxury makes you wish that the interior dimensions of the Touareg 2 had been expanded. With a total passenger volume of 99 cubic feet, the Touareg 2 should be plenty spacious for a five-passenger utility with its 112.4-inch wheelbase, but we still feel that rear legroom seems a little stingy at 35.6 inches. Although compared to the BMW X5 with its 115.5-inch wheelbase, the Touareg 2 offers 1.3 inches more front-seat legroom at the price of 1 inch less rear-seat legroom.
Cargo capacity with the second row in place is still 31 cubic feet. With the 60/40-split-row folding seats down, capacity increases to 71 cubic feet. However, this is 4 fewer cubes than a BMW X5, which has been stretched for 2008 to afford an optional third-row seat.
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, More Powerful Than...
You'll recognize this 40-valve 4,172cc V8 after its introduction to the Touareg lineup last year, and its rating of 350 horsepower and 324 pound-feet of torque remains the same. But the new application of direct fuel injection makes it possible to achieve peak power at 6,700 rpm, 100 rpm lower than before.
The Touareg 2 reaches 60 mph in 7.7 seconds (we put the transmission in Sport mode), and the quarter-mile arrives in 15.7 seconds at 90.2 mph. Not bad for an SUV that tips the scales at 5,240 pounds, although we paid the price with an observed fuel economy of 13.1 mpg.
Despite its 68-inch overall height, the Touareg still rated "Good" in our handling tests. On the skid pad it pulled 0.77g and weaved its way through our 600-foot slalom course at 62.2 mph.
Most of the magic for the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 lies in the upgraded electronics. The stability control is already pretty sophisticated, as the relatively extreme threshold of intervention doesn't keep you from getting the most out of driving the Touareg at sporting speeds. But now the braking system incorporates brake assist, a dry brake function that skims the moisture from wet rotors to improve braking action, a supplemental boost in brake pressure to compensate for brake fade, and logic that controls understeer and forestalls rollovers. In addition, the ABS system now allows sufficient wheel lockup under braking on loose traction to allow a wedge of gravel or sand to build up in front of the tires, a measure that reduces braking distances by 20 percent, VW claims.
Whew. It's like having the Justice League of braking working for you. Of course, all you'll probably notice in everyday driving is the Touareg 2's impressive ability to stop from 60 mph in 120 feet.
The Road Usually Traveled
For off-roading, the Touareg has everything you need. It's supremely capable, as if its German engineers believe that American drivers must negotiate the slippery red rocks of Moab, Utah, on the way to every grocery store. But most of us will only use the Touareg for driving the streets and piling a bunch of bored kids into the backseat with drinks, iPods and backpacks of everyday stuff. So it's the interior that's really important here.
Passengers benefit from optional four-zone climate controls, heated seats both front and rear and a 620-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio sound system with a six-disc CD changer and aux input jack. Unfortunately, the disc changer is mounted in the trunk — so five years ago — and the aux port seems to have been squeezed in as an afterthought. It's an indicator that the Touareg architecture comes from a time before such things were thought of.
There are even more buttons on the center console than in the Audi Q7. They continue on the Touareg's steering wheel and just so rear riders don't feel left out, they get a cluster of buttons as well. For all the people who reject the Audi MMI and BMW iDrive controllers, the Touareg 2 illustrates the consequences of the one-button/one-function philosophy — buttons that threaten to take over the world.
Meanwhile the standard parking-distance sensors all around the Touareg 2 warn of alien invasion, just as you'd expect with a superhero-style device, but they fire off with such sensitivity that they warn of motorists passing uncomfortably close on the freeway and even overgrown sea grass on the side of the road.
Finding Its Place
As superheroes go, the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 has lots of powers, but it's still the poor stepchild of the Justice League. Some 8,812 examples were sold in 2007, a decline of 13.3 percent. In comparison, 20,695 Audi Q7s went on the road in 2007, while there were 35,202 new BMW X5s on the road last year.
It seems like no one wanted the spunky, no-frills personality of the Touareg V6, so VW has given us a dressed-up Touareg 2, hoping to find the same upmarket audience that is attracted to the Audi Q7 and BMW X5. But we're thinking the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2's price might be its Kryptonite.
If you can comfortably afford the Touareg, why not step up to its platform mates, the Audi Q7 or Porsche Cayenne? The 2008 V8 Touareg is a little too expensive for people who are traditional Volkswagenistas, yet it hasn't earned enough prestige to cut into the Audi, BMW and Porsche markets.
Haven't we been through this before with the Volkswagen Phaeton?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
The best thing here is the name, which reminds us of the Tuareg, the nomadic people of the Sahara known for the blue headscarf they wear to protect themselves from the sun and blowing sand. The Touareg has been making its own name in the desert, as VW uses this silhouette for its Dakar rally-raid race vehicles.
The Phaeton-style interior looks terrific and there's some useful console storage space at last, but the control buttons on the dash look like mating fireflies when you're driving at night, resisting all attempts at comprehension.
It drives like a bit of a mess. The light-effort steering has weak on-center feel, and since the Touareg tends to wander a bit on its suspension anyway, it always feels like there's a crosswind blowing. Soggy compression damping is matched with stronger rebound damping, so this VW mushes into each bump like a tugboat. And then the hard bushings required for precision at autobahn speeds make the ride harsh.
For me, the reluctance of the transmission to kick down a gear while passing is completely spooky, and I drive around in Sport mode for fear of jumping into the fast lane and waiting two seconds for the transmission to catch up. And the lag in throttle response as you transition from brake pedal to gas pedal is just not right.
Never has such sophistication been devoted to replicating the feel of a bad pickup truck. This is a development failure, not an engineering failure. The hardware is here, but all VW seems to know about sport-utilities is what the engineers apparently read in American magazines.
But the one thing I can't fault is the size. It's tempting to think that every sport-utility should accommodate three rows of seats, but I can feel the extra stretch applied to the 2008 BMW X5 for this reason and the X5's dynamics have suffered as a result. (In fact, the new BMW X6 simply drives like the former X5 already did.)