Is the Touareg 2 diesel worth its premium price? |

Is the Touareg 2 diesel worth its premium price?

Andy Stonehouse

After several experiences with the very stylish, well appointed and always impossible to pronounce Volkswagen Touareg (named, if you must know, after the nomadic people of North Africa) ” a close mechanical cousin to both the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi Q7 ” I have always been impressed, and consistently confused.

Granted, two of these previous drives were with the first-generation and then last year’s new V6-powered version of the versatile SUV (now called the Touareg 2). And like the BMW X5 I got to drive at about the same time last week, itself powered by a smaller, economy minded 3.0-liter six-cylinder, there was never quite enough juice in the Touareg’s V6 to haul the big machine around, especially on those steep mountain routes we all know and love.

For many years, I’d heard stories about the ultimate variation of the Touareg, powered by a fearsome-sounding 5.0-liter V10 diesel engine, so when time came to take it out on the road, I was, again, both impressed and confused by the results.

The power is definitely there, some 310 horsepower of twin-turbo TDI blast that will send you screaming down the highway, as well as enough torque (an astounding 553 pound-feet) to pull down a barn. The diesel engine also produces a three mile-per-gallon highway mileage increase over the optional V8, which is the third variation on the vehicle.

But ” and this is a very big but ” do you really want to pay $20,000 (or, fully, fully optioned out, almost $30,000) more than the base V8 model for that extra torque and … three extra MPG on nearly $5 per gallon diesel fuel? Given my tester’s almost $78,000 price tag, would you not go out and by a nice Cayenne S instead?

I had previously been on a personal mission to share the global love of diesel-fueled vehicles with the U.S. audience, but in this incarnation, I’m really not so sure.

If this were a perfect world (1997, perhaps, when diesel was considered junk fuel and sold for $1.25 a gallon), the Touareg V10 would be a no-brainer: tons and tons of power on a discount fuel source, ready acceleration even with low engine revs, and ample hill-climbing boost.

As American gas prices reach their all-time peak this weekend, it’s a stretch. There are a few other issues: the diesel adds 700 pounds to the Touareg’s weight (a very beefy 5,924 pounds of total curb weight) and, oddly, actually produces less horsepower than the 350-HP 4.2-liter V8. It’s also fairly rattly on start-up and while idling.

So, rather than being a total downer, let us instead suspend disbelief for a second and concentrate on the Touareg itself, and leave you and your dealer to work out the engine pricing issues (who may, at this point, steer you in the direction of the new and more austere Tiguan).

VW’s SUV is, as initially mentioned, comfortably laid out, fun to drive, fully ready for off-road duty and impeccably finished. The mixture of fine leather seating surfaces, hardwood-styled paneling and chrome on the inside makes for impressive motoring; chrome door sill plates and in the back, under the liftgate, add to the appeal. Foot wells are deep and offer good room, as well. Entries and exits are subsequently very simple, which was much appreciated.

Ride is solid and smooth on the pavement, and when you want to get rugged, the four-corner air suspension system lifts the Touareg up to give it nearly 12 inches of clearance. Dial in the low-range 4XMotion system (operated by one of two pop-up knobs) with a locking center differential and the machine will climb, ford, crawl and crash through backcountry nastiness like nobody’s business ” and back on the pavement, float along with a range of comfort or sporty damping.

It’s definitely Germanic: the main control for an optional four-zone HVAC system features 18 buttons and two noisy clicker switches, plus another 11 control buttons and two spinners on the steering wheel alone. A medium-sized color display in the instrument panel offers trip computer and safety warnings; chrome-edged instruments keep you abreast of oil and coolant temperature, fuel and battery levels.

The six-speed automatic transmission offers normal, sport and self-adjustable mode with what is arguably the most attractive, chrome- and leather-covered shifter in the business. The keyless pushbutton starter allows, uh, keyless pushbutton starting and easy keyless door access.

Some features are a bit over the top, however ” I found a fellow auto writer’s notebook wedged in the “Winds of War”-sized manual, indicating he too had been lost in the woods when he tried to figure out how to stop the perpetually runaway convenience seats or program the navigation system.

It’s the second VW I’ve driven where, because of the head unit’s single slot design (you either listen to an audio CD, or you put the navigation disc back in, but not both at the same time), yet another car journalist had accidentally made off with the nav DVD and the system was rendered useless. An inconveniently placed 6-CD changer cartridge hidden in a panel in the side wall in the rear will solve this problem for regular users; the Dynaudio system, with Sirius satellite radio, is still rather impressive when it’s put to use.

New to the Touareg 2, a blind spot information system, like Volvo’s, warns you with yellow lights inside the side mirrors when vehicles are traveling too close behind and to the side of you; the left side mirror is also oddly convex on its edges, a la Saab. Adaptive cruise control also uses radar (or lasers, or something) to judge and keep distances if you’re into non-interactive freeway driving. Colored, beeping parking sensors also provide safer domestic navigation.

So, back to the engine issue. If you didn’t need to make record time on the tunnel approach, the V6 would be the most logical and frugal choice; the V8, on paper, seems to be able to get you there a little faster; the V10 diesel will rock your world (0-60 in 7.5 seconds, 130 mph top speed) but seems more than just a tad spendy.

You be the judge on that one.

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