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2010 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

The Little Engine That Can

Volkswagen’s TDI-powered Touareg will make a
diesel believer of even the most ardent skeptics.

Selling a diesel-engine-powered vehicle in the United States is getting easier, but it still can be an uphill push. Car guys know how good diesels are nowadays. Engineers know. Truck guys know. For the majority of the general public, however, diesel still holds a few outdated connotations: slow, smelly, noisy.

So let’s dispel any myths about Volkswagen’s TDI-powered 2010 Touareg before they begin: None of the above adjectives applies. At all.


The TDI-powered Touareg is nimble and spunky, quiet and blissfully fragrant. It’s true. The factory windshield washer fluid smells like lemons. Every time you spray the windshield it smells like Florence Henderson herself just dusted your car with Pledge.

It’s also downright peppy to drive around town, on the freeway and with a trailer in tow. For example, the SUV ran from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, according to Dynolicious iPhone software. It also ran from 40 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. Now, those figures might not mean much to you, so let’s put it another way. Around town, the Touareg always has some pedal left if you need more power. And with 406 pound-feet of torque available from 1,750 to 2,250 rpm, there is plenty of power on the freeway at all but the loftiest speeds.

The Touareg TDI presents perhaps one of the greatest compromises between a daily driver and a capable tow vehicle, so let’s get on with the details.

Towing With It

Any discussion of towing with the Touareg TDI begins with the engine, and just as important, the transmission. We rarely find reason to use the word “fabulous,” but it certainly applies to the test vehicle’s powertrain.

The TDI V6 cylinders are arranged at 90 degrees, which is not the norm because a 60-degree design makes for a much smoother engine. In fact, the TDI is not as smooth as a 60 degree gasoline engine, but for a diesel, this engine is positively creamy. VW should sell it for installations in half-ton trucks. It’s torquey and powerful and every bit as efficient as VW claims. Seriously, this engine and transmission would be a great option in an F-150, a Silverado or a Ram. They are that good.

Around town, we could net the 18 mpg listed on the window sticker—if we tried—and we did see 25 mpg on the computer when we did a freeway trip. The onboard computer updates frequently so it’s helpful to keep the mpg figure displayed on the dash to help you get better fuel economy. We expected the Touareg TDI to be efficient without a trailer, but we were most eager to see what kind of mileage it netted while towing.

On a 355-mile trip to Spring Mountain Raceway in Pahrump, Nev., which involved a lot of uphill climbs, we netted a solid 19.7 mpg with a 4,200-pound trailer in tow. The display even ticked 20 mpg briefly. We restricted our speeds to about 65 mph, and at that speed, the engine was lumbering along at a low 2,000 rpm, which is right in the middle of its torque curve—we’re sure the calibration engineers planned things that way. On the way home, we turned up the wick  a bit—so we could get home faster—running speeds of 70 and 75 mph, and even then we got 18 mpg.

Another key feature that makes the Touareg so perfectly suited to towing is the auto-leveling air-suspension system, a $2,750 option. With a trailer hitched up, we traveled down what could charitably be described as a third-worldly stretch of highway between Ventura, Calif., and Santa Barbara, Calif. The freeway is so pockmarked and uneven, it borders on being unsafe.

With a conventional leaf spring, shock absorber and live-axle suspension, the jounce is so unsettling it takes a a few hundred feet or so before the truck settles down. While towing with the Touareg and its air suspension system on that same stretch, we found ourselves bracing for big hits that never came. The compression and rebound were so controlled that they took all the drama out the experience. Likewise, Highway 126 between Ventura and Valencia, Calif., has probably four or five railroad crossings, all of which lie 8 to 10 inches lower than the road surface. The dips can be unsettling while towing a trailer, but the Touareg soaked them up so readily it had us looking forward to the next one, just to marvel at how well the air suspension worked. If you plan to tow, the air suspension is a must-check option, and definitely money well spent.

Our test vehicle also came with the a couple of other options packages, but they’d be easy enough to leave off. For example, the Lux Limited package included 20-inch wheels, leather seating, and interior and exterior décor touches, but came at a price of $5,100. Likewise, the $6,350 Premium Technology package included a navigation system, a backup camera, high-end sound system, remote start and a keyless starting system, but it would be easy enough to live without. By deleting those two packages, you could drop the sticker price by more than $11,000, which is significant because it would make the Touareg TDI affordable to more buyers.

Despite its wagon-like dimensions and handling, the Touareg did come with some nice, large mirrors, which looked right at home on the SUV. They also provided ample view to the rear of the vehicle and of the road to the sides and behind the trailer.

However, a couple of down sides are that the factory electrical connector requires an adapter before it can be used with a conventional seven-blade round terminal (see News & Notes page). It’s also a bit difficult to access because it’s tucked behind the rear fascia. Also, the eyelets for the safety chains are so thick that traditional S hooks won’t loop over them. We appreciated the added brawn, but if you’re towing a small trailer, you might have to get new, larger S hooks.


Living With It

In terms of finding a tow vehicle you can live with everyday, the Touareg is tough to beat, and very likely unbeatable. For example, it’s a snap to whip into tight parking places at the grocery store, thanks to its short front and rear overhangs and a 112.4-inch wheelbase. The variable assist steering system is buttery smooth, with lots of boost at parking lot speeds, but nice and taught on the freeway.

The Touareg also is luxurious, with an interior that rivals that of a German sports sedan. Volkswagen’s sister company, Audi, has won awards for its interiors and it’s obvious that lessons learned have been put to good use in the Touareg.

The aforementioned air suspension also adjusted with a twirl of a knob. Three settings, comfort, auto and sport let the driver choose ride quality. We used them all and comfort worked just fine for towing and for daily driving. On some twisty back roads, we switched it to sport, which reduced body roll and firmed up the ride, but it’s key to remember you’re still trying to throw around 5,300-pound vehicle.

The console also has a switch for changing ranges—low and high—on the all-wheel-drive transfer case, switches for the heated front seats, which are a standard feature, and a switch that turns off the reverse-gear proximity alarm.


The Touareg does a lot of things well, from grabbing groceries and commuting to work, to pulling trailers and hauling the kids around, and it does so with little compromise on any front. With TDI diesel power, the little engine that can, it’s an efficient and capable daily driver, and with up to 7,716 pounds of towing capacity, it’s a heck of a lot of tow vehicle.


Acura MDX, BMW X5, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Infiniti QX56,  Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benze ML350, Nissan Patfinder,  Porsche Cayenne,  Toyota Sequoia.

- Excellent ride quality and maneuverability

- An outstanding daily driver
- Air suspension controls compression and rebound beautifully
- 20 mpg highway while towing 4,200-pound trailer; 25 mpg highway without trailer
- Luxurious interior
- Lots of standard features

- Trailer wiring connector requires an adapter
- Safey chain loops thicker than some S hooks can accommodate

EPA Fuel Economy Estimates

City   18 mpg
Highway 25 mpg


0-60 mph nontowing     7.4 seconds

40-60 mph nontowing   5.3 seconds
0-60 mph towing           14.6 seconds

40-60 mph towing         8.1 seconds

Engine       3.0-liter, 90-degree V6 diesel
Horsepower      225 at 3,500 rpm

Torque      406 lb./ft at 1,750 rpm

Compression ratio     16.8:1
Transmission      Six-speed Tiptronic automatic


Curb weight      5,304 pounds

Tow rating      7,716 pounds

Gross vehicle weight rating     XXXX pounds

Gross combined weight rating       XXXX pounds


Axle ratio     3.90:1
Fuel capacity     26.4 gallons

Tire size 
Brakes      Four-wheel disc with antilock and electronic stability control
Suspension Front:     Double wishbone independent steel spring suspension
Rear:       Four link independent steel spring suspension


Overall length   187.2”

Maximum width   75.9”

Wheelbase     112.4”

Base price     $44,350

Price as tested     $59,850


1999 Miata on a U-Haul car hauler

4,200 pounds


Customer service              800 DRIVE VW (374-8389)

Web site                  


Remove the rear headrests to fold the seats forward to create a nearly flat load floor. The tailgate operated electrically, which was handy at the grocery store and while towing. The rear glass also opened to make it quick and easy to stash small items.

A driver can adjust ride height and comfort settings, transfer case range and turn off the electronic stability program with swithces mounted right on the center console. V-Tex leatherette seating features heated cushions and seat backs.

The 3.0-liter TDI diesel V6 produces 225 horsepower at 3,500 rpm and 406 pound-feet of torque between 1,750 and 2,250 rpm. Inside, the roof console houses switch gear for the sunroof and interior lighting, a clock, compass and calendar.


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