2004 Volkswagen Touareg
Volkswagen’s Touareg proves that a truck needn’t be gargantuan to be a competent tow vehicle.
If you set aside the marketing wisdom of assigning a model name to an SUV that most North Americans can’t pronounce using elementary phonics—much less define—the Volkswagen Touareg makes perfect sense. For the record, it’s pronounced simply torr-egg, and the name comes from a nomadic tribe in the Sahara desert region in northern Africa. Maybe there weren’t any suitable cities, states or regions left in the western United States after which to name VW’s first SUV.
That aside, there is a lot to like about the Touareg. It’s quiet, comfortable, luxurious, very German and capable off road if you’re that way inclined. More important, the Touareg pulls every bit of its 7,700-pound capacity easily, and believe it or not, it’s a ball to drive.
Its engine is a highly refined 310-horsepower 4.2-liter V-8 with five valves per cylinder. Volkswagen introduced this valve configuration in its Audi A-series V-6 car engines in 2000. The results are better breathing, higher volumetric efficiency and increased power output.
Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with the manual-shift Tiptronic feature, the engine pushed the truck from zero to 60 mph in 8.21 seconds during our tests, making it the quickest accelerating tow vehicle we’ve tested. Despite having six gears from which to choose, the transmission didn’t exhibit any undue “busyness” or excessive hunting to find the right gear, and all those gears came in handy when towing.
For instance, the 4.15:1 first gear ratio was great for climbing the ramp. The Touareg had no trouble pulling a 7,500-pound Nordic powerboat up the ramp, and equally important, the truck never felt like the boat was going to drag it down into the water, despite the 2,200-pound weight differential between them. What’s more, the Touareg had an automatic hill-holding feature, which kept the truck from drifting backward on hills when it was in gear—yes, even with a boat locked and loaded.
The automatic leveling system helped keep the front end planted while towing. The system also included a switch on the console, which adjusted the shocks to three settings: sport, automatic and comfort. In comfort or automatic mode, the ride was somewhat firm, yet not stiff or harsh in any way. In sport mode, it was discernibly stiffer.
The transmission also featured overdrive in fifth and sixth gears. At 60 mph with a boat in tow, the truck loafed along at 2,100 rpm in sixth gear. No engine bogging, no pinging, no drama. As it climbed a 2-mile long 7 percent grade, the Touareg needed only to drop into fourth gear at 3,600 rpm to maintain 60 mph. All the while, it was smooth and quiet enough to talk without raising your voice.
No doubt, the 4.56:1 final drive ratio, lofty 6,200-rpm redline and broad torque curve contributed to the truck’s towing ability, but even with two overdriven gears up top, the truck’s engine never seemed to be overtaxed under considerable load.
Traveling back down the same 7 percent grade revealed what we expected: an excellent braking system. The truck slowed quickly even before the trailer brakes engaged. Brake feel was about as good as it gets and power was prodigious, with lots of grip extra left no matter what the pedal position.
The truck worked so well under load, we couldn’t wait to offload the boat. During panic stops, the antilock system kicked in smoothly and quietly and squawked the tires only in the last 20 to 30 feet of stopping distance. Since the truck also was fitted with electronic brake force distribution, we hammered the brakes a couple of times in the middle of a curve on wet pavement—often a good way to wind up in a ditch—and the truck did nothing but slow down. Awesome.
Without a boat in tow, the truck made for an excellent daily driver. It’s small enough to fit into tight parking places and it’s far more maneuverable than, say, a standard Suburban or Expedition. It does have a fairly significant blind spot at the right-rear D-pillar, which makes backing to the right or checking over your shoulder a bit more difficult.
Other complaints had to do with the HVAC system, which was so complex we couldn’t figure it out without reading the owners manual that had 10 pages devoted to the system. What’s more, the owners manual consisted of nine booklets in a ring binder, which measured about 2 1/2-inches thick. Heavy reading, indeed. We also weren’t jazzed about the 91-octane fuel requirement, but it wasn’t surprising given the engine’s 11:1 compression ratio.
Some of the complex items we loved included the Tiptronic function of the automatic transmission. Not only did it give the driver the ability to keep in a particular gear when necessary, it also blipped the throttle to match engine rpm when downshifting. We also loved, of all things, the ignition switch. Just bump the key and the truck takes care of the rest. The starter would engage and remain so until the engine fired. Once the engine was running, it was impossible to hit the key a second time and “grind” the starter drive into the flywheel. We know because we tried it. We couldn’t help ourselves.
It was genuinely slick, as were the turn signals. Just tap the lever up or down, as if to pass, and the signals automatically flashed three times. That’s something we’d like to see on all trucks and SUVs—cars, too, for that matter.
In fact, the Touareg had a lot of nice touches, including the easy-out power seats, which slid back and down when you opened the door to get out, and automatically returned to the position stored in memory when you hit the key. The steering wheel powered up and out of the way upon egress—and back to the stored position when you fired the engine.
The Touareg felt a lot like a fine German sports sedan, and in many ways that’s a fair comparison, but it is every bit a competent tow vehicle. If you don’t need the cargo room of a Tahoe or an Expedition, the Touareg is viable alternative to mid- and full-size domestic SUV.
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
City... 14 mpg
Highway... 18 mpg
0-60 towing... 15.68 seconds
40-60 towing... 9.57 seconds
0-60 non-towing... 8.21 seconds
40-60 non-towing... 5.06 seconds
Engine... 4.2-liter DOHC 40-valve V-8
Horsepower... 310 @ 6200 rpm
Torque... 302 ft./lbs. @ 3000 to 4000 rpm
Compression ratio... 11:1
Transmission... six-speed electronic automatic with Tiptronic
Axle ratio... 4.56:1
Fuel capacity... 26.4 gal.
Tire size... P255-55-VR18
Brakes... four-wheel disc with antilock and electronic brake force distribution
Suspension... four-wheel independent with automatic air leveling
Tow rating... 7,716 lb.
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating... NA
Gross Combined Weight Rating... NA
Overall length... 187.2"
Maximum width... 75.9"
Curb weight... 5,300 lb.
Price as tested... $50,965
1994 24’ Nordic
Customer service... 800-DRIVE-VW
Web site... www.vw.com