2004 VW Touareg
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

Refined on-road, capable off-road

2004 VW Touareg
Click image to enlarge

With the possible exceptions of the Vanagon Syncro, the Thing, and the Kubelwagen, the new Touareg is Volkswagen’s first foray into the world of off-road utility vehicles.

But what an off-road vehicle this is! The Touareg is an upscale, five-passenger vehicle with the features, road manners, and luxury finish of an Audi or a Mercedes-Benz. Like a lot of other up-market SUVs these days, the Touareg embraces the philosophy, “If you’re gonna rough it, you might as well do it in style.” That’s particularly true of the V8-powered model, this week’s test vehicle.

First impressions

In case you’re asked, the name “Touareg” comes from the name of an African Saharan tribe, “Toureg”, and means “knights of the desert”. It’s pronounced “Tour-egg”. Personally, I think I could have come up with a better name.

In Canada, Touaregs are available with V6 and V8 engines borrowed from Audi: a 220 horsepower 3.2 litre V6 and a 310 horsepower 4.2 litre V8. A six-speed Tiptronic transmission with manual shift mode, is standard. Rumour has it that a 313 horsepower 5.0 litre V10 diesel may also be offered in North America. In Europe, the Touareg will also be available with a 6.0 litre W12 engine. Why anyone would buy a Touareg with a 12 cylinder engine in Europe, I’m not sure..

Touaregs come standard with an advanced version of Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and electronically-controlled locking centre and rear differentials, and a Low Range gear. But its most useful off-road feature may be its height-adjustable air suspension (optional on the Touareg V6 and standard on the Touareg V8). It allows the driver to vary ground clearance from a minimum of 160 mm (6.3 in.) to a maximum of 300 mm (11.8 in.), and is similar to the system on the Audi Allroad.
Top class interior


2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg
Click image to enlarge

As mentioned, the Touareg’s interior is really top-notch – the quality of the materials, the fit, and the appearance are all quite impressive, worthy of a luxury brand like Audi or Mercedes-Benz. Extensive leather, wood trim, chrome trim, and high quality plastics are used.

Getting in is easy – the doors have big pull-type door handles and the step-in height is only 45 mm (18 in.). As well, the Touareg features “keyless” door unlocking and locking. With the key in your pocket, you can unlock the driver’s door simply by touching the door handle. You can also lock it the same way. However, unlike some other vehicles, you can’t start the Touareg without putting the key in the ignition.

The front seats are big and comfortable with a multitude of adjustments including a power lumbar adjustment for the lower back – a feature that’s been identified by J.D. Power and Associates as one of the most wanted seat features. The driver sits high, and visibility is good. The view out the rear window is aided by a centre head restraint that is positioned lower than the outboard head restraints. However, the Touareg’s rear window is high, and it’s difficult to see the nose of the car behind you in a parking lot.

The instrument cluster consists of two large round dials, a central digital readout, and many smaller gauges – the latter are sometimes difficult to read, depending on the lighting conditions. The digital information display between the two larger round gauges is very easy to read, and includes radio, clock, outside temperature, trip computer, transmission gear indicator. This is the first transmission indicator I’ve seen that tells what gear you’re in at any given time.

My car had the optional navigation system, and in addition to a colour map adjustable for scale, the centre screen includes radio function displays, compass, GPS position in longitude and latitude, and even an altimeter!

The navigation system is generally easy to use. To input a destination, the driver can enter the address or location, or use a scrolling system with vertical and horizontal lines to pinpoint the destination. The computer then takes over and guides you to the destination with visual and audible commands, such as “Turn left in 100 metres” and “turn right at the next corner”. In addition to showing where your vehicle is on the screen, the system also gives your exact “real-time” location, such as “Corner of 152nd Street and Fraser Highway”, and has locations of restaurants, hotels and gas stations built in.

The standard dual zone climate control for the driver and passenger quickly cools down or heats up the interior in “Auto” mode – but to operate it manually, you must manually decrease the fan speed with a pushbutton – there is no “Off” button. As well, to turn off the air conditioning, you must press “Economy mode” – something that took me a while to figure out.

My car had the optional Four-Zone automatic climate control, which means that rear passengers have their own left and right temperature and fan controls, and individual seat heaters – this is the first four-zone system that I have seen.

The rear doors are large and offer easy entry, and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom for rear passengers – however the cabin is a bit narrow for three adults. Between the rear seats is a folding rear armrest with two flip-out cupholders, and between it is an optional ski-bag pass-through.

The 60/40 folding rear seatbacks can be folded flat by pulling up the rear seat cushions and folding down the seatbacks. However, the rear head restraints must be removed first, and stored in dedicated slots on the top of the seat cushions.

The cargo compartment has a lift-up hatch and a loading height 711 mm (28 inches). The 900 litre cargo area is quite roomy, much roomier than a BMW X5 – the load floor is 0.9 metres (3 feet) long, and 1.1 metres (3 ft 7 in.) wide to the back of the rear seats. To minimize scratches, the sensibly-shaped trunk has a carpeted floor and walls and hatch door, and a polished steel scuff-guard on the ledge. The cargo area includes four chrome tie-down rings in the floor and three on the back of the rear seatbacks, two 12 volt powerpoints in the cargo area, and a sliding privacy cover. Overall, a very useful and nicely finished cargo compartment.


Driving impressions

Refinement is probably the key word that comes to mind when driving the Touareg. The engine is very quiet, even under acceleration; the body and suspension are tight and rattle-free, and wind noise is minimal. The cabin is so quiet and the engine so smooth, that I felt detached from a sensation of speed, and often found myself travelling faster than the speed limit. This is a common problem with many new vehicles nowadays, but the Touareg seemed even more detached from the world outside. It doesn’t help that the speedometer reads a maximum speed of 320 km/h!

The Touareg’s quiet powertrain and controlled take-off also belie its quick acceleration: VW quotes a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.6 seconds – that’s quicker than most of its competitors. And at freeway speeds in top gear, the engine purrs along at just 2200 rpm at 100 km/h and 2600 rpm at 120 km/h.

In automatic mode, the six-speed Tiptronic shifts quickly and often (there are more gears to shift remember) but it’s smooth under most circumstances. On occasion, it would drop into first with a thud when coming to a stop.

I wasn’t satisfied with the Touareg’s electronic throttle. While it’s generally responsive to pedal pressure at speed, I experienced some hesitation in dead-stop starts and low-speed starts. It might have been the transmission hesitating, but I’m guessing it’s the throttle.

However, performance is remarkably more responsive when using the Tiptronic’s manual stickshift, and the Touareg really comes alive when the driver can control the 310 horsepower 5 valve per cylinder V8 engine.

My car had the fully independent air suspension that features continuous damping control and six adjustable ride heights. On paved roads, the Touareg has a comfortable, controlled ride, and stable handling, although it understeers a bit in the corners and feels heavy when you throw it around. Big Continental Contact 255/55VR-18 all-season tires keep the Touareg glued to the road.

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg

2004 VW Touareg
Click image to enlarge

Power-assisted rack and pinion steering, which is non variable-assist, is nicely balanced for both city and highway driving, but it’s not particularly responsive and lacks road feel. I did however, like the Touareg’s relatively tight turning circle of 11.6 m (38.1 ft.).

Exceptional off-road performance

The Touareg really shines off-road. On the console just behind the gear lever are two large dials: the left dial is for the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, and with a simple turn of the dial, you can choose 4WD High, Auto AWD, Low Range, or Low Range with rear and centre differentials locked.

On the right side of the console is a dial that controls the air suspension levels. The lowest level, 160 mm, is for loading or slow speeds up to 5 km/h. The standard driving level is 220 mm. High speed level I which kicks in at 140 km/h is 195 mm; and high speed level II which activates at 190 km/h, is 185 mm. Presumably, this is for driving on the German autobahn and Italian motorways. The Off-road height level, from 0-70 km/h, is 245 mm, while the X’tra level, from 0-20 km/h, has a maximum height of 300 mm – this can be used for fording streams or crossing large obstacles like trees or boulders. The Touareg has a maximum fording depth of 580 mm (23 inches).

The combination of the 4Motion system and the air suspension allows terrific flexibility in negotiating demanding off-pavement surfaces, and can probably be only matched by a Land Rover Discovery or a Range Rover. The Touareg can tolerate a gradient of 45 degrees, and a lateral slope of 35 degrees.

Still, I can’t help wondering if this much off-road prowess is overkill for the majority of drivers. It would be difficult to even find roads that bad, and I doubt many Touareg owners would be venturing in to that kind of territory. Still, the Touareg’s refined, comfortable on-road performance will keep the majority of buyers happy. Its dual nature is really quite amazing.


Competitor overview

Direct competitors for the VW Touareg V8 ($60,550) include the Porsche Cayenne S ($78,250), Infiniti FX45 ($59,900), BMW X5 4.4i ($69,800), Mercedes-Benz ML500 ($66,100), Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland ($52,280), Lincoln Aviator ($58,950), and Cadillac Escalade ($74,970).

It’s worth noting that the Touareg V8 is not much cheaper than the Cayenne S once you add on the Touareg’s options, many of which are standard on the Cayenne S. As well, the Cayenne S has a bigger 340 horsepower 4.5 litre V8 with a 0 to 60 time of 7.2 seconds.

Other than the Cayenne S, the Touareg is the only SUV in its class available with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capability, and a four-wheel air suspension.

All the Touareg’s competitors, with the exception of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, are “luxury nameplates”. That could be a disadvantage for Volkswagen if buyers are looking for prestige as well as practicality in their SUV.


Verdict

Though it offers terrific on and off-road performance, the Touareg V8 is more of a super duper family vehicle than a performance SUV like the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. Some may question its high price given that it is not a luxury nameplate.


Technical Data: 2004 Volkswagen Touareg V8

Base price $60,550
Freight $650
A/C tax $100
Options $16,175 (Premium Plus Package: Navigation System, Bi-Xenon Headlamps, Convenience Package, Air Suspension, Nappa leather trim, wood interior upgrade (Myrtle or Vavona), and silver roof rack $10,500; Convenience Package: Keyless access, memory function for passenger seat/steering column/front seatbelts and power adjustable steering column/front seatbelts $1,275; Winter Package: Heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and ski bag $900: 4-Zone Climatronic Air Conditioning $1,800; Rear Differential Lock $800; Electronic Parking Assistance $900.)
Price as tested $77,475
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized SUV
Layout longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive
Engine 4.2 litre V8, DOHC, 40 valves
Horsepower 310 @ 6200 rpm
Torque 302 lb-ft @ 3000 – 4000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed Tiptronic
Drivetrain 4Motion AWD with Low Range
Tires 255/55VR-18 all-season
Curb weight 2404 kg (5300 lb.)
Payload capacity 567 kg (1250 lb.)
Towing capacity 3500 kg (7716 lb.) (braked trailer)
Wheelbase 2855 mm (112.4 in.)
Length 4754 mm (187.2 in.)
Width 1928 mm ((75.9 in.)
Height 1726 mm (68.0 in.)
Ground clearance Load level (0-5 km/h) 160 mm (6.3 in.)
  Standard level 220 mm (8.7 in.)
  High speed level I (from 140 km/h) 195 mm (7.7 in.)
  High speed level II (from 190 km/h) 185 mm (7.3 in.)
  Off-road level (0-70 km/h) 245 mm (9.6 in.)
  X’tra level (0-20 km/h) 300 mm (11.8 in.)
Cargo area 900 litres (31.0 cu. ft.) (seats up)
  2000 litres (71.0 cu. ft.) (seats down)
Fuel consumption City: 17.3 l/100 km (16 mpg)
  Hwy : 11.8 l/100 km (24 mpg)
Fuel Premium unleaded recommended
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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