2015 Volkswagen Touareg

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Quick Summary
Though not always on the tips of the tongues of luxury SUV buyers (it might take you a few times to pronounce Touareg correctly), the 2015 Volkswagen Touareg is angling for attention this year with a fresh new look both inside and out. And while its appearance might have been updated, the Touareg still combines excellent road manners with competent off-road ability in a refreshingly subtle package.

What Is It?
The 2015 Touareg is a midsize SUV with some good bones, as it shares its chassis with the highly regarded Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. Like the Cayenne, the Touareg seats only five, but while the Cayenne is tuned to deliver high performance, the Touareg is dialed back and strikes a solid balance between on-road comfort and agility, and off-road capability.

Though available with three different engine options, our tester was equipped with the base 3.6-liter V6 that makes 280 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. Regardless of engine choice, power is managed through an eight-speed automatic and is then routed through Volkswagen's standard 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.

In a crowded and competitive class of midsize luxury SUVs, the Touareg makes a strong statement by really not making much of a statement at all. The exterior aesthetic is fresh and modern, but remains subtle, something that can also be said about the interior, which is free of clutter and confusing buttons. But the sophisticated looks shouldn't fool you, as all Touaregs are capable of towing more than 7,700 pounds.

What Trim Levels Are Available?
There are four levels of trim: Sport, Sport with Technology, Lux and Executive. The Sport trim level is available only with the base V6, while the other trims can be had with either the base V6 or the optional 3.0-liter diesel V6. The diesel option will set you back roughly $3,500 over and above the gasoline V6 but is EPA rated to return 23 mpg combined (20 city/29 highway). During our time with the base V6 we saw 17.3 mpg in combined driving. On our highway-heavy evaluation loop we managed 21.6 mpg. The EPA rates the 3.6 V6 at 19 mpg combined (17 city/23 highway).

The third engine option is a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 hybrid, available in the aptly named Hybrid trim level. With a combined system output of 380 hp (333 hp from gas power) and 428 lb-ft of torque, it certainly earns its spot at the top of the trim levels. All that power does come at the expense of fuel economy, however, as the hybrid powertrain barely outdoes the standard 3.6 V6, earning 21 mpg combined (20 city/24 highway) from the EPA.

How Does It Drive?
Driving the Touareg reminds you just how good any vehicle can be when the chassis is well sorted from the get-go. It exhibits better road manners than anything else in its class, and with quick and well-weighted steering, the Touareg is surprisingly capable at both tighter, twistier roads as well as vast stretches of open highway. Some of the credit goes to our tester's 18-inch wheels wrapped with 255/55 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires. They shrugged off road irregularities that would otherwise upset a larger set of wheels with lower-profile, higher-performance tires.

Power from the 3.6-liter V6 isn't abundant, especially for a vehicle that weighs in at nearly 4,800 pounds. To its credit, the V6 does respond smoothly and snarls its way all the way up to a 6,400-rpm redline. The eight-speed automatic, though not a particularly quick-shifting transmission, is smooth and befitting of the nature of the Touareg. Our instrumented testing showed runs from zero to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, or 7.5 seconds with one foot of rollout as on a drag strip. And while the brakes work fine during regular driving, testing revealed some fade during hard stops. Our first attempt yielded a solid distance of just 114 feet, but our fifth and final stop was quite a bit longer at 126 feet.

Off-road, the Touareg surprises with confidence and a fair amount of ability. Ground clearance is ample, and on our modest off-road excursion, approach and departure angles were good enough to not result in any scratched bodywork. Credit, too, goes to Volkswagen's 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive. Its Torsen limited slip was never out of sorts for long, even when the Touareg had one of its wheels well and truly off the ground. It's by no means a Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it has considerably more off-road credibility than an Acura MDX or a Lexus RX 350.

What's the Interior Like?
The interior echoes the exterior's subtle sophistication, with a clean, clutter-free design and good materials. The menus and various controls are uncomplicated and the lack of buttons is refreshing. Volkswagen really does do steering wheels well, and the one in the Touareg is no different. There are controls for the audio system as well as the multifunction display in the instrument panel, and they never get in the way, even during spirited or off-road driving.

Our tester came with Volkswagen's V-Tex leatherette and eight-way power-adjustable and heated front seats. The seats are very well designed and can accommodate a wide range of body types. The backseats, too, are accommodating for many physiques and offer genuinely comfortable seating for two adults and a child. As with its sister, the Porsche Cayenne, there is no third-row seating available.

How Much Does It Cost?
With all this praise for the Touareg's ride, handling, clean styling and general solidity you'd think there wasn't a downside. Well, there is and it's the price. Although the Sport package with the 3.6 V6 isn't too difficult to swallow at just under $45K, it doesn't come with standard luxury features such as a back-up camera, a sunroof, keyless entry or a navigation system. And while the Lux and Executive packages offer those features, they flirt with the upper reaches of $50K.

If you'd like to add the solid 3.0 diesel to either of those packages, you'll find yourself dangerously close to $60K, or a few thousand over that. That's Land Rover LR4 or Mercedes-Benz ML money, both of which offer a more traditional luxury interior as well as more off-road capability and brand cachet, respectively.

The Touareg Hybrid pegs the dial at nearly $67K, and while it does offer 380 hp and a trendy hybrid powertrain, it's not much more efficient that the base 3.6 V6, which can be had for about $25K less. You might have to convince people into believing you paid that much money for a Volkswagen.

What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is nearly identical in dimensions, both inside and out, and while the Volkswagen may offer a higher level of refinement, the Grand Cherokee can be had with many of the same luxury features, and more, for a more competitive price. Plus, you have a choice of three engine options (a similarly powerful 3.6 V6, a very good 3.0 diesel as well as a 5.7-liter V8) and Jeep's highly regarded off-road ability.

If technology and on-road performance are more appealing, the 2016 Acura MDX is a strong competitor. Packed with standard features, it can be had in front-wheel drive or Acura's very capable SH-AWD system. There is only one engine available (a 3.5-liter V6) but it's mated to a nine-speed automatic and makes more power and is rated to return better fuel economy numbers than the 3.6 V6 in the Touareg. It also has a third row of seats for seven-passenger capacity.

The Land Rover LR4 might not seem an obvious competitor, but in base trim it can be had for a little over $50K. And that's strong money for a 340-hp supercharged V6 engine, a much more traditionally luxurious interior, with dual sunroofs and Land Rover's legendary off-road prowess.

Why Should You Consider This Car?
You fancy a bit of adventure but without wanting to compromise an ounce of good behavior on your way to work. You value competency and solidity, but dislike showing off the amount of money you spend on your vehicle. Above all, you appreciate good design, subtlety and a vehicle that can do it all, pretty well, right out of the box.

Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
It doesn't seat seven people, it lacks many standard luxury features, it isn't particularly flashy or plush and it lacks a luxury badge that some people find important in the price range.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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