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2006 Volkswagen V8 Touareg Road Test
Volkswagen's tough luxury
By Kevin 'Crash' Corrigan
Although the word “Touareg” is known throughout the world, it is often recognized under different appellations. To many, it's a tribe of nomadic people whose ancestors once lorded over the southern Sahara region. To people in northern Africa and in some Arabian countries, it is a wonderful blending of flavoured tea. To the rest of us, it's a wonderful blend of sports car and SUV.
As I'm a die hard Earl Grey type of guy, I'm not going to talk tea, I'm going to give you a little insight into Volkswagen's V8 crossover offering.
When you first look at the VW Touareg, it's hard to tell whether this was designed foremost as a sports car or if, in fact, it was the brainchild of an off-road enthusiast. It certainly has a more athletic stance than some of its competitors. This is possibly due to its rather large front fenders and the wide rear quarter sections. This would lead one to believe that this would not be an easy vehicle to roll sideways on a hairpin bend, yet could also be deemed useful when traversing a grassy hillside.
Then there are the exceptionally short front and rear overhangs, as they obviously put the wheels in exactly the right place for good road handling, but the design also strangely allows for some very nice approach and departure angles when venturing off road.
Then there are the sealed electrical connections and the watertight doors, which apparently allow for a wading depth of up to 22 inches, not usually a major requirement on a sporty road vehicle. Add in some pretty decent ground clearance, Hill Descent Control, Hill Climb Assist, and we start to see that the off-road enthusiast had a little more than his fair share of influence in the design process.
This now brings us to the interior of the Touareg. No, I'm not going to tell you that it has waterproof seat coverings and that the rubber mats on the floor are designed to be hosed out -- far from it. The Touareg's interior can only be described as luxurious. In fact, it abounds with copious amounts of high-grade wood and leather.
It obviously carries most of the features that we have come to expect on vehicles in this class, so I'll just tell you a few that impressed me. The 12-way power seats are fully heated, including the seatbacks, and have a power-positionable lumbar support system. The side mirrors have nice turn signal repeaters built unobtrusively into them and also sport small floodlights to aid entry and exit at night. The automatic Bi-Xenon headlamps light up the road like daylight and the rain sensing wipers work exceptionally well.
The dashboard layout is pleasing and the controls are mostly well situated. One or two did seem somewhat unusually designed; they worked well but just weren't the normal shape and feel. The vehicle that I tested had the optional Sat Nav system, which includes off-road navigation capabilities. This system proved relatively simple to use and could come in quite handy when trying to find your way back to the pavement.
Possibly the thing that impressed me the most with the interior was the illumination; it seemed like every single switch was illuminated. I now know what it must be like flying a Concorde at night.
The interior of the Touareg feels like that of a luxury/sports car, yet at the same time gives the impression of a very capable vehicle. It has sturdy grab handles above each of the doors, great for when the terrain gets a little bouncy. Then again, possibly they were put there for slightly anxious road passengers.
Which brings us nicely to the Touareg's driveline, and we're back into the sports car realm. The 4.2-litre V8, producing 310 hp, moves the Touareg along at considerably more than a sprightly pace. (A V6 model also is available.) The six-speed automatic transmission changes with silky smoothness and the Tiptronic feature adds to the overall sporty feel.
The suspension system, with its front double wishbone setup and the four link independent rear, handles the twists and turns with ease, and an air ride system is available as an option. Braking is provided by four large vented discs and is further enhanced with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and of course ABS.
The Touareg boasts Volkswagen's 4Xmotion permanent four wheel drive system with low range and adaptive torque distribution. To engage the low range, a conveniently placed turn knob on the centre console pops up. Add to this Traction Control System with Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), Anti Slip Regulation (ASR), Engine Braking Assist (EBA). There's more, but I think that you get the idea that this is a very capable off road machine.
The crossover market has become a highly competitive place to be and Volkswagen has some strong competition in this sector, including the BMW X5, Mercedes M Class, Lexus RX 330, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Volvo XC90 and the Acura MDX. While some of these vehicles may be well known to the upscale SUV market, most set their focus on their pavement performance. Few can stand up to the Touareg when taken off-road and Volkswagen has proven itself as a serious competitor in this 'capable' vehicle sector.
Whilst the Touareg may not be the cheapest of the group, there are many who say that this vehicle is setting the new benchmark. That's a hard call, especially with so many excellent players in that sector. Then again, VW wowed the world and showed us that it could build amazing luxury vehicles with its famous Phaeton. It appear to have done it again with its Touareg SUV.
Volkswagen really is quite the company. What's next -- a Ferrari competing VW Supercar?
Kevin 'Crash' Corrigan is an automotive writer based in Caledon, Ont.
My rating: 8+/10
Base Price (V8): $63,800; $69,675 as tested (the 2006 costs $3,400 less than the 2005 model)
Fuel economy (Premium fuel recommended) -- City/Hwy, L/100 km: 17.3/11.8 (16/24 mpg)
Note: The forthcoming 2007 Touareg V8's 4.2-litre V8 engine will receive an increase in power (from 310 to 350 hp), thanks to the adoption of FSI direct fuel injection.