While Volkswagen recently moved to make two of its best-sellers — the new Jetta and Passat — more affordable by spending less on interior refinements, it's going the opposite direction with its redesigned Touareg SUV.
The Touareg's powerful base engine, standard high-tech features and comfortable ride endeared it to me.
It's a near-luxury machine — and starting around $45,000, it had better be. Because if you're shopping this class, you're likely to shop for similarly priced models from Mercedes and BMW, let alone Acura, Lincoln and Lexus. That's stiff competition.
I can't say enough about the V-6 engine powering the base Touareg. There's a turbocharged diesel TDI model — somewhat more expensive, at $47,950 — and a Touareg Hybrid, which is much more expensive at $60,565, though that price includes a host of options. I tested the gas Touareg and the hybrid, and there's no question I'd choose the standard V-6, no matter the size of my bank account.
The 280-horsepower V-6 is a smooth operator. That's due in part to an eight-speed automatic transmission, but the revs come on in a delicate fashion, and the cabin is so quiet it feels like this rather large SUV is gliding over the pavement.
It's not V-8 power, but it's as good as I've tested from a V-6 SUV, and I've driven them all, with the exception of the most recent BMW X5. Rest assured, no Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX, Acura MDX or Mercedes ML350 driver will be able to scoff at a new Touareg owner at a cocktail party. Plus, if they're fixated on nameplates, just tell them it's the same power plant you'll find under the hood of a Porsche Cayenne. That should shut them up.
Mileage, at 16/23 mpg city/highway, is par for the course for an all-wheel-drive SUV of this size.
The acceleration is nice to have, but I think I would take the Touareg's pleasing ride if I had to make such a decision. The MKX is probably closest in terms of luxury refinement and a perfectly cushioned ride, with the RX and MDX a bit on the firmer side. The Touareg is even better-controlled. It comes with 18-inch wheels, while the hybrid has 19-inch wheels standard. Nineteen- and 20-inch wheels are also available on standard and diesel Touaregs.
Braking is solid, but as in several VWs I've tested over the years, the brakes squealed a few times in low-speed efforts. That was in both the gas and hybrid versions I tested.
All-wheel drive is also standard, and during a severe snowstorm the Touareg performed exceptionally well. The previous Touareg was always touted for its off-road capabilities, which came at the expense of a pleasing on-road driving experience. Thankfully, VW has figured out most car buyers spend their time on road, not off.
The exterior gets a manlier design than the past model, highlighted by standard LED daytime running lights. I think it was those lights that made one toll-taker on my commute home tell me, "Nice car." I've driven six-figure sports cars through that same toll booth countless times and rarely garnered a second glance from the folks taking my George Washington.
Overall, the LED lights are widely used most new cars such as LED Dome Lights, LED Daytime Running Lights, and will come out with even more innovation in the future.