Touareg takes rough with the smooth

Volkswagen's Touareg can hold its own against the super-luxury 4x4s, says ANDY ENRIGHT.The Touareg is a car that Volkswagen couldn't afford not to build.

Volkswagen's Touareg can hold its own against the super-luxury 4x4s, says ANDY ENRIGHT.

The Touareg is a car that Volkswagen couldn't afford not to build. Missing out on a huge slug of the burgeoning American sports utility market didn't sit happily with VW top brass and sharing the chassis development budget with Porsche helped to defray spiralling costs. The result is a car many feel is better-looking than the Porsche Cayenne, and features a wide range of engines. A used Touareg may not be the obvious choice but it's one of the best big bruisers.


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What you pay

The Touareg has sold in respectable numbers given that it's up against tough rivals in the Volvo XC90, BMW X5 and Range Rover. Prices kick off at �10,000 for an 03-plate 3.2-litre V6 petrol model with the more desirable 2.5-litre TDI diesel starting at �12,000. You'll be hard-pressed to find the awesome V10 TDI diesel for less than �14,000. Insurance ranges between group 15 for the 2.5 TDI up to 19 for the V10 diesel.

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What you get

The philosophy behind the Touareg was to offer three vehicles in one with an eye on the lucrative US market. In a category dominated by the Mercedes M-Class, BMW X5 and Range Rover, the Touareg needed to be something special.

So what's it like? In a word, big. At 170cm high it's not lacking in road presence. The range-topping V10 TDI sits a couple of centimetres higher still on air suspension, the other models rely on conventional steel springs. Unless you hit the options list. The interior styling is pleasantly restrained, the materials quality is class leading and the look and feel is like the opulent Phaeton. Standard kit includes electronic climate control, multi-function computer, 10-speaker CD system, walnut trim, heated and folding door mirrors and lots of airbags.

The 2.5TDI and V6 models wear slightly overwhelmed 17in alloy wheels. Move up to the V8 and there are features such as leather trim, dusk-sensing lights, heated seats, engine compartment lights and chrome finishing on the doors and grille. The V10 TDI adds continuous damping dontrol air suspension, bi-xenon lights, remote engine start and memory for your seat belt height, steering column, mirrors and seats. It can be recognised from the outside by its 18in wheels, chrome air intake and front fog lights. The Altitude trim provided huge 20in alloys and bodykit.

On the road

The Touareg can't quite back up VW's claim to be better than a BMW X5. It comes close and is a little tauter than a Range Rover and keener than a Mercedes M-Class. The VW has slightly more lateral roll in corners and there's that bit more side to side 'wobbly head syndrome' that BMW has worked so hard to exorcise. The V10 TDI is monstrously muscular and the V6 and V8 petrol models respectably quick, but neither can match the diesels' parsimony. The 3.0-litre V6 TDI, added later, is a more modern proposition than either the V10 or the 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit, with greater refinement and improved emissions.

It's off road that the Touareg plays its trump card, especially with air suspension. Permanent four-wheel drive and a low-ratio gearbox are taken for granted, but factor in selectable front and rear differential locks, hill start and descent assist and very short front and rear overhangs and the Touareg becomes an awesomely capable tool. With low range engaged, the Touareg can drag itself up a 45-degree slope with 35 degrees of sideways lean.

Overall

Although at this price there are competing attractions for your money, the Touareg is perhaps the best compromise. It's not as sporty as a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne, not quite so family-friendly as a Volvo XC90 and doesn't have the badge equity of a Range Rover. It covers all these bases acceptably well while offering one of the best off-road performances of any of the super-luxury 4x4s.

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