A Mid-size SUV That Does It All
The Volkswagen Touareg TDI has 406 pound-feet of torque and a tow rating of 7,700 lbs. This makes it really stand out among mid-sized SUVs in its class as having the potential to be a great tow vehicle. While very true and of interest to most of you, we are going to put that aside for now because it’s only a small piece of this vehicle’s story.
It starts with a sleek looking exterior silhouette, making the vehicle look smaller than it actually is. There is a nice blend of aggressive and classy looking features such as a bulging hood, trapezoidal headlight housings, a bold U-shaped ring of LED daytime running lights, and pronounced body curves. When we were testing, the design elements took many people by surprise with the unexpected, luxurious look. Several stopped and stated, “that’s a VW?” It wasn’t meant as an insult to VW, but our spectators merely thought of this model in a higher perceived luxury brand of vehicles. I can’t say that I disagree with them either. It’s no wonder that the Touareg shares the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7.
The inside of the Touareg continues its nicely styled theme using high quality materials and a well thought out design. Passengers quickly realize that they are sitting in a luxury vehicle, and have access to several adjustments that can be made to ensure they experience an extremely comfortable ride. I think my wife said it best, “it really feels like they (VW) thought of everything with this vehicle.” Being a licensed massage therapist, she’s more attuned to ergonomics of a vehicle, and the Touareg did not disappoint! Beyond the 12-way power heated seats being very comfortable and having “proper lumbar support,” she was pleasantly surprised that the head rests could even be adjusted forward and back.
Infotainment systems are often hit or miss, and VW also got this right. We enjoyed how intuitive it was to use, not requiring us to read through a manual to figure things out. We also liked how it incorporates a second screen above the steering wheel which could display navigation system information or other screens while a passenger could potentially be browsing through music selections. Speaking of music, the sound system is also what we would hope for in a vehicle of this caliber.
One area we’ve heard some grumblings about in the 2012 models was that the rear back-up camera was temporarily unavailable as an option. Instead, it was being manufactured with rear parking sensors. This was also true of our test vehicle, but we only briefly missed this option when hooking up to a trailer hitch. Otherwise the Park Distance Control sensors were more than adequate. (The temporary unavailability was due to back up camera supply issues as a result of the natural disasters that struck Japan last year.)
There is ample leg and head room in both the front and rear seats which allows five adults to fit comfortably. The rear seats also have the ability to recline just enough. To maintain it’s mid-size stature, the Touareg does sacrifice third row seating. Looking up, passengers enjoy a large panoramic sunroof which has a cloth sun screen to provide shade when wanted. I’m normally not a guy who yearns for a sun roof, although I do love convertibles, but I truly enjoyed having this version (comes with the Lux, Executive and Hybrid models.)
When looking for places to store various goodies in the cabin, we found it to have just the right amount, including cup holders in convenient locations.
The glove box is even air conditioned, which brings us to a brief side story. For whatever reason, many manufacturers are now including this feature. A few friends and I enjoyed mocking the concept. wondering whose brilliantly useless idea it was. On one of my several trips with the Touareg, a friend and I stopped for beverages before reaching our hiking destination. Looking at my four year old son sleeping away in the back, we thought it might make sense to give him a candy bar to inject some energy once we arrived. Don’t say it, I know. That’s a splendid idea only thought up by guys. I teased my friend that we should put the candy bar in the oh so wonderful air conditioned glove box. Ha, ha, ha. With our cabin being cooled nicely via regular air conditioning, we just put it elsewhere. When we arrived and woke my son, he was quite happy to have a yummy surprise waiting. We think we also heard VW’s engineers snicker at us as we learned one reason why that glove box is air conditioned.
The only minor items we found lacking in the Touareg’s interior are separate temperature controls for rear occupants and air conditioned seats. Life is rough.
Did Someone Say Diesel?
The old negative stigma of diesel vehicles still lingers when explaining to unknowing passengers that TDI stands for Turbo Diesel Injection. In the past decade, diesel technology has made huge strides in the right direction. Gone are the days of noisy, smelly, and slow diesel powered vehicles. Today’s clean diesel technology delivers low emissions, better fuel mileage than gasoline counterparts, and increased torque at lower rpm which is especially attractive for towing. Due to these continued perceptions, I made sure not to mention that this vehicle is powered by diesel until passengers had a chance to take a trip in it.
Test case number one: Prior to my family’s 2 ½ hour drive to our first destination of the day, I wanted to fill up the fuel tank. We pulled into the gas station, and my wife asked me what I was doing. I wasn’t in the normal pump location, but instead was at a fuel pump off to the side. I got out of the Touareg and revealed that it’s actually a diesel. Yes, this took her by surprise and is not an embellishment. In fact, this wasn’t her first experience inside of the SUV. She previously drove it for a quick errand and heard it running from inside the vehicle. She’s not a car chick, but she knows what a diesel truck sounds like. It definitely eliminated some of the negative perceptions of the loud, grumbling diesel engines we were familiar with. When inside, it’s barely noticeable even to a car enthusiast’s ear that it’s a diesel engine. Outside, it’s a little more obvious but even then it’s quite muted with little diesel clatter.
One of our editors thought it was a good idea to give it a sniff test. No really, he got on the ground and put his nose up to the exhaust with the Touareg running. What’s even worse is that I quickly followed suit. I said we’re a group of car enthusiasts, not always brilliant in our testing methods. Our oh so official results concluded that the exhaust doesn’t smell that bad, and certainly doesn’t smell like an old diesel.
We also performed similar tests (of the driving sort), and unknowing gas-SUV-loving passengers were all surprised to discover the Touareg was a diesel. This triggered a series of observations and questions that we want to address and will discuss in greater detail in a separate diesel article coming soon.
Fuel mileage: The Touareg TDI is rated at 19 mpg city, and 28 mpg highway. On our combined highway / primarily country road trips, we saw an average of just over 22 mpg. We also were testing its performance capabilities which didn’t help fuel mileage. One of our readers and now friend owns a 2012 Touareg TDI. He’s quickly amassed over 8,000 miles on it and is averaging a combined mileage of 28 mpg. Pretty impressive to say the least! Now you won’t go out and purchase a Touareg simply due to it’s gas mileage. It’s a luxury SUV which doesn’t come with a low price tag. However, once you get it, you won’t feel guilty driving it around often since it does get great fuel mileage for an SUV.
Fuel sources: While fuel stations do not have as many diesel pumps as gas pumps, they are extremely commonplace and not difficult to locate. In fact, we were unable to locate a station that didn’t have at least one diesel pump.
Travel costs: Diesel fuel often costs more than it’s gas counter part, especially 87 octane gas. At our local gas station, the costs for gas were $4.03 for 87 octane, $4.13 for 89 octane, and $4.23 for 91 octane. Diesel was $4.29. Keep in mind that many of the Touareg TDI’s competitors including the Acura MDX recommend 91 octane, therefore the price discrepancy isn’t much if any.
The TDI and some other diesels require Urea, but what is it? Volkswagen uses a urea solution called AdBlue to clean up the nitrogen oxide produced during diesel combustion. AdBlue, which is odorless, biodegradable and nontoxic, is sprayed into the exhaust stream before the exhaust gasses reach the catalytic converter, reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 90 percent according to Volkswagen. How rapidly you deplete the urea tank depends on your driving habits; the more aggressive you drive, the sooner you’ll need to refill the 4.6 gallon tank. VW uses a guideline of approximately 10,000 miles, but several owners we spoke with said they get well beyond that (12,000 plus miles). When the system detects the urea level is getting low, a series of AdBlue related countdowns will continue to urge the driver to refill. If you fail to re-fill it, eventually the Touareg TDI will stop running until the urea tank is replenished.
The fill-ups are to be completed upon the recommended maintenance schedule of every 10,000 miles and is covered under VW’s care free maintenance plan. This plan provides free scheduled maintenance for the first 3 years/36,000 miles, whichever comes first. After this time you can buy the urea at VW dealerships and many other locations. The dealership we spoke with quoted a the cost of the solution alone to be about $40 for 5 gallons. Unfortunately they wanted an additional $78 for labor. Bleh! If you can fill your fuel tank, you can easily fill the Urea tank yourself too. What we suggest is to buy at least the first DIY round of urea solution through the dealer. This dealer supplied bottle has a trick screw section that ensures the fluid won’t be spilled. Then if you want to buy AdBlue from another source, chop the bottom off the jug, and use this as a funnel to fill the Adblue tank that’s conveniently located in the trunk.
By this point it’s pretty clear that we’ve been impressed with our Touareg thus far. However, the ride is where we were really taken by surprise! This SUV is packaged with a smooth shifting 8-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, and uses a unibody design unlike many less refined SUVs and trucks. While the engine only puts out 225 horsepower, it produces an impressive 406 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 rpm. There’s not a huge surge of power pushing you back in the seat and in fact, there is some turbo lag but it’s far from horrible and is not slow by any means.
It handles extremely well making this SUV fun to drive, and yes, I did say fun! I actually cracked a smile several times while driving around on some twisty country roads. And it wasn’t just me who enjoyed the ride from both in the driver’s seat and the passenger seats. On that family field trip I mentioned before, we spent a total of 6 ½ hours driving around with several stops along the way. None of us, including the four year old boy, had that usual anxious feeling to get out of the vehicle. Even the next day when one might think I’d have exhausted my desire to drive it, I found myself taking a late Sunday afternoon ride just because.
For those who simply feel the Touareg needs more power, the TDI engine is responsive to chip tuning. The engine, transmission, and driveline can easily handle the additional power gained with a proper tune. While we hesitate to place much emphasis on various performance claims, we are hearing potential power increases of approximately 35 horsepower and 15 torque.
In terms of finding a tow vehicle you can live with everyday, the Touareg TDI is tough to beat. VW was nice enough to install a trailer hitch (a $515 option) and a 7 pin adapter plug ($140 option) so we could actually test how it tows. If you need a 5 pole flat connector, you can easily purchase an adapter. For trailers with electric brakes, you’ll also need to purchase an aftermarket brake controller ($70 – 140 plus installation).
As I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear, especially with all of its torque and relatively wide stance, it’s more than a capable tow vehicle. We completed our testing with two different types of trailers and toys in tow. First was a 21’ boat in which the total trailer length is 24’ and has an approximate total weight of 4,200 pounds. Next we tested it with an open car trailer that weighs around 1,600 pounds, plus a 2,300 pound car filled with gear and the trailer loaded with several race tires. In both instances, it handled the load extremely well. In fact, I needed to often remind myself that there was a trailer behind, especially when making lane changes.
While we have heard of more than one racer towing enclosed trailers with a sedan car inside with their Touareg TDI and being pleased with the results, we feel the 7,500 pound tow capacity is border line for this usage. Many people don’t take into consideration how much extra gear they quickly accumulate when space becomes available in an enclosed trailer and the associated extra weight that carries.
An Off Road Excursion
Quite honestly, we didn’t intend to bring the Touareg out on trails to test its off road worthiness. But in between the driver and passenger seat there’s a knob that kept taunting us, “take me off road!”
In 2011, VW replaced the 4XMotion system as well as the center and rear differentials with a lighter 4Motion Torson limited-slip differential in the U.S. Consumer feedback was that the majority of Touareg owners do not take their vehicle extreme off roading. In fact, I’d bet that most owners only use it on snow covered roads or wet boat ramps. The benefit of using the 4Motion system is that it’s less expensive and not as mechanically complex. This change contributed to the 330 pound weight reduction for the TDI and 366 pound reduction for the gas FSI. This weight savings also helped to improved fuel efficiency. This does not necessarily mean it’s not still off-road worthy. Since we’re not exactly typical, and we know many of you are at least curious what it is capable of off road, we felt is was necessary to comply with the knob’s beckoning.
Turning the control knob from “On Road” to “Off Road” does three primary things. First, the hill descent assist program is activated. At the same time gearshift points are raised, providing higher engine revs which translates to more power to work with while in lower speeds. During this mode, if the shifter is switched to manual mode, the transmission no longer upshifts automatically. Lastly, the ABS is engaged with higher control interval thresholds. Simply said, it provides more grip on slippery surfaces.
While it does not have a four-wheel-drive low setting, the ample torque at low RPMs made it more than possible to crawl up inclines at low speeds. We started the testing off nice and easy, then opted to give it a bigger challenge traversing up a trail with loose rocks. The embedded video gives you a sense for the trail, but certainly doesn’t give it’s level of difficulty justice. Before venturing up it, I truly wondered if it might make it and planned on bailing out early if it seemed as if it was going to be too much. Nope! The Touareg actually made it seem pretty darn easy. As a reference point, a few days later we took an older Jeep Wrangler on the same trail and it couldn’t reach the top. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve traversed the same trail many times before in Jeep Wranglers, but it did make us appreciate the Touareg’s off road ability. Don’t worry VW, we saved the more rigorous trails for another day not because we didn’t think it isn’t capable, but the vehicle is just too darn pretty (and expensive) to risk it. Hey, VW, it’s your fault for adding that knob.
The Touareg is not inexpensive, but consider what you are getting for your investment. The Touareg TDI has a surprising package of luxuriousness, plenty of comfortable and functional interior space, a 7,500 lb towing capacity, great SUV fuel economy and it is fun to drive.
So if you’re in the market for a luxurious mid-size SUV that gets good fuel mileage, the Touareg TDI is absolutely worth looking into. If you happen to be a person who also wants a capable tow vehicle, then you need to take one for a test drive.
Vehicle type: Diesel Engine, 4Motion all-wheel drive system, 5 passenger
Price as tested (including destination): $52,355
Horsepower: 3.0 Liter 225 hp @ 3,500 to 4,000 rpm
Torque: 406 lb ft @ 1,750 to 2,250 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
RWRT’s 0 – 60 MPH: 7.5 seconds; VW states 7.9 seconds
RWRT’s Towing 0 – 60 MPH: 15.4 seconds
EPA Rating (city/hwy/comb): 19/28/22
Required Fuel: Ultra low sulfur diesel
RWRT’s 0 – 60 times were calculated using a DriftBox system. Tow performance times used a 4,200 pound boat/trailer.
The Touareg comes in nine different models ranging from the gas powered V6 Sport starting at $43,375 to V6 Executive from $55,095; TDI Sport from $46,875, to TDI Executive from $58,595; and the Hybrid from $61,995. Learn more at Volkswagon’s website.
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