First Glance: Brains, Brawn and Beauty
My test vehicle was a 2007 Touareg V6 loaded with a fair number of options, including adjustable air suspension, navigation system and comfort seating upgrades. This vehicle was an early 2007 model -- VW plans to roll out a late-2007 update.
Even without the late-year makeover the exterior styling is handsome, with pronounced wheel wells, wide tires and a planted road stance that combine to give the Touareg a somewhat menacing presence. This beauty definitely isn't just skin-deep, as the heart of an off-roading monster beats under the stylish exterior.
I test drove the Touareg on a variety of roads, including some extensive driving on unpaved, rutted and partially-finished roads. My time with the Touareg convinced me that when it comes to onroad luxury and off-road capability, you can have the best of both worlds.
In the Driver's Seat: The Lap of Luxury
The interior design stumbles a bit when it comes to the number and variety of knobs and switches, particularly the unlabeled buttonsaround the nav display. On-screen labels identify their functions, but this context-sensitive menu system results in each button being used for many different actions. A touch-screen would have helped.
One impressive safety feature was the collision sensor and rear-view camera, included as options on my tester. The former notifies with audio cues and color-coded lights when any corner of the vehicle gets too close to an obstacle, while the later gives you an unobstructed view to the rear when the transmission is thrown into reverse.
The second row seats use the LATCH system for child safety car seats, but the anchors are difficult to access, being buried deeper in the well between the seat cushions than most of the other vehicles I've tested. Second row seating is comfortable for most adults, although a tad cramped for taller passengers.
On the Road: Born to Perform
I've recently driven a 2007 Hyundai Sante Fe and a 2006 Nissan Xterra, and the Touareg ably absorbed bumps, ruts and other road irregularities more readily than either of these vehicles. To be fair, the extra $20,000 for the Touareg will get you a well-tuned air suspension ($3600) and a chassis co-developed with the Porsche Cayenne, but it's impressive nonetheless.
The 276hp 3.6 liter V6 (new for 2007) does an adequate job in most instances, and shifts happen smoothly thanks to the 6-speed tiptronic automatic transmission. The Touareg was a bit sluggish when fully-loaded, so if you're looking for more performance you can choose a more powerful V8 engine option or the impressive V10 TDI turbo diesel, which generates a stump-pulling 550+ ft-lbs. of torque. (Note: The updated V8 and V10 TDI will be available in late 2007.)
Journey's End: Rich and Beautiful
These gripes won't dissuade many people who need an SUV, and they add up to little against a fine vehicle. Although showing its age in some areas, the Touareg is still an impressive, polished and pleasant vehicle well-worth a spot on the test drive list of any luxury SUV shopper.