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2004 Volkswagen Touareg

A Radical New SUV

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Touareg

Touareg is nifty on the road and tough offroad.

Go offroad
The Touareg, Volkswagon's radical new sports utility vehicle, represents an attempt to attract a more upscale group of buyers to the Volkswagen brand – buyers who might otherwise be tempted by Mercedes Benz. Accordingly, the company calls the Touareg “one of the most important new vehicle launches in VW history.”

Equally comfortable crawling over Buick-sized boulders in the wilds of Utah as it is hurtling down the track at 130 mph (really!), the Touareg represents a milestone in sports utility design offering luxury, high performance and extreme off-road capability in a single, quite extraordinary package.

It has the new VW Phaeton’s athletic stance, which is accentuated by big front fender flares and muscular haunches. Combined with exceptionally short front and rear overhang, it looks like it will go anywhere. And as we found out in Utah, it darn near will.

While new design trails weren't blazed, from most angles, the Touareg offers generic SUV looks with familiar VW markings. However, it’s loaded with engineering features almost unimaginable in a passenger car even a few years ago, including a completely new self-supporting body.

The frame is distinct, the supporting framework and the body structure form an inseparable unit. This provides superior static rigidity, which lends not only high speed stability but also severely limits the amount of twisting or flex experienced in extreme off-road situations.

The Touareg’s design incorporates high static and dynamic rigidity (body stiffness). To illustrate: An Audi A8 sedan, which provides a comfortable and stable ride at very high speed, has a stiffness rating of 42 hz. The BMW X5 – widely considered to be the best handling SUV in the world – has a rating of 35hz. The Touareg has a rating of 40hz. This means it should handle better than an X5 and almost as well as an A8 sedan. Incidentally, a typical SUV has a stiffness rating of 22 – 25hz.

The Touareg’s all-round performance capability is nothing short of astonishing. Besides sports sedan-like body stiffness, all Touaregs come with 4Xmotion - VW’s permanent 4WD, which includes low range gearing and adaptive torque distribution. An automatic center lock differential is standard. A rear-locking differential, essential for serious off-roading, is optional.

Official EPA fuel economy ratings: With the V6, 15/20mpg (15.7/10.8l/100km) and with the V8, 14/18mpg (17.3/11.8/100km). Towing capacity is 7,700 lbs with either engine.

A Hulk-like, 5.0L V10 TDI diesel will be available in 2004. In its European configuration, it produces 303hp and an astounding 553lb-ft of torque. This engine gets raves in Europe and it’s not difficult to see why. First of all, forget everything you think you know about diesels. This diesel is different. This diesel can push the Touareg to 150 mph and 25 mpg, although not, regretfully, at the same time.

While it's currently available in Europe, VW doesn't rule out the possibility that its 5 cylinder, 2.5L diesel with 172hp and (gasp!) 400 lb-ft of torque, could be an option for North America late in '05. VW has teased that the all-round performance on the 2.5L diesel is similar to the 4.2L V8 gasoline engine – except it’s two to three times more fuel-efficient. I’m waiting for this one.

Returning to our base in Salt Lake City from Park City on the highway portion of our road test, I pushed the Touareg hard enough to make my driving partner nauseous on the twisty mountain back roads. I was able to take very tight corners at speeds I wouldn't have thought possible. The Touareg felt like an Audi TT in these corners.

Later, running at about 90mph in a pack of about eight Touaregs on an empty stretch of freeway between Park City and Salt Lake City, my vehicle felt as steady as an A8 sports sedan. Before this experience, I would never have dreamt any SUV could feel so planted on the highway at that speed.

Next: Touareg’s off-road capability.

VW Touareg Specifications

Transmission
A new 6-speed Tiptronic is the only transmission available in North America, but a 6-speed manual is reportedly on the way. Both a hill climb assist and a hill descent assist are standard. You'll need them when you meet your first serious off-road challenge.
Engines
In North America, the Touareg currently comes with a choice of two engines– a 3.2L 24vale V6, which produces 220 hp @ 5400 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque @ 3200 rpm; a 4.2L 40 valve V8, which produces 310 hp @ 6200 rpm and 302 lb-ft of torque @ 3000 rpm. The V8 will do 130 mph and has 0 – 60 mph times in the mid-sevens.

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