Off-roading in a Volkswagen

2004, Volkswagen, Touareg

Okay, John let's take it home. It's another $35,000 SUV for the luxury market. Another ho-hum story having to talk about Volkswagen breaking away from its traditional heritage to its transition to luxury cars with luxury prices, or better yet, what the word Touareg means. Then they took us to the Hell's Revenge trail near Moab, Utah.

Did you know a DC-9 weighs a bit more than 77,000 pounds? This only becomes important when the DC-9 we are on cuts the corner of the Moab airport to close and gets caught in the sand. The airplane pilot is trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. We're thinking this is part of Volkswagen's great scheme. That they're going to have us all hook our 7,700 lb. towing capacity Touareg's to the DC-9's gearing legs and pull the DC-9 out of the sand. Wouldn't that have been a great picture? Unfortunately, it wasn't part of the grand plan and the airplane pilot stayed in the cockpit till we all got out.

The TOUR-egg, or tur-eg, is the first true sport-utility vehicle ever to bear the Volkswagen badge. It's a rather funny situation. Volkswagen and Porsche were in partnership to create a high-performance SUV. The controversial Cayenne and the nomadically named Volkswagen were made on the same assembly line in Bratislava, Slovakia. Volkswagen accepted money from the government while Porsche made a semi big deal over the fact that they wouldn'take any grants. Instead, they had the Cayenne built in the house that was built with government grants that were accepted by Volkswagen. Just to be clear, I never accepted money from my Father - my Mother always gave it to me.

The on-road vehicle is in the luxury section of the SUV marketing aisle. It takes its styling cues from the upcoming VW Phaeton luxury sedan. The BMW 3.0 X5 and Acura MDX have about the same horsepower, while the torque for the Volkswagen is right between the MDX and the X5 at [email protected],000-5,000rpm. The six-cylinder Touareg 3.2 starts at $34,900, while the V8-powered Touareg, taken from the Audi A8L, 4.2 lists at $40,700, an additional $5,800. Other options include a navigation system, 19-inch wheels, four-zone climate controls, an air suspension system, a locking rear differential and a power-adjustable steering wheel. Add all the preferred options and you'likely climb over the $50,000 barrier.

The on-road vehicle is in the luxury section of the SUV marketing aisle. It takes its styling cues from the upcoming VW Phaeton luxury sedan. The BMW 3.0 X5 and Acura MDX have about the same horsepower, while the torque for the Volkswagen is right between the MDX and the X5 at [email protected],000-5,000rpm. The six-cylinder Touareg 3.2 starts at $34,900, while the V8-powered Touareg, taken from the Audi A8L, 4.2 lists at $40,700, an additional $5,800. Other options include a navigation system, 19-inch wheels, four-zone climate controls, an air suspension system, a locking rear differential and a power-adjustable steering wheel. Add all the preferred options and you'll likely climb over the $50,000 barrier.

It's hard to be impressed by a luxury SUV. There are so many on the market. People are making a big deal about this being Volkwagens priciest vehicle yet. In reality, it's one of the cheapest, well-built luxury off-roading SUVs built. It has more than enough "utility" and all-terrain traction to easily handle hells revenge or lions back in Moab, Utah. The Touareg can seat four Americans or five Europeans in style and comfort with outstanding performance on pavement, where the vast majority of SUV owners spend all their time.

The V6 Touareg comes standard with leatherette upholstery, eight-way adjustable seating, wood trim, power glass sunroof, dual-zone Climatronic temperature control with rear seat controls, six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic rain-sensor window wipers, 17-inch alloy wheels and many more items. Leather is optional. The Tiptronic mode for manual shifting is useful in some situations, but ultimately the transmission will still shift up automatically when redline is reached. I'm not sure why I liked it so much but when we were in automatic the display showed which gear we were in.

The V8 Touareg comes standard with full leather 12-way power adjustable seating, 18-inch alloy wheels, and more luxury features. Like many SUVs, the Touareg features a two-stage rear hatch with a glass window that can be raised separately. If you're short the glass hatch can be hard to reach when it's open. One can simply raise the rear door and the two reconnect. When rejoined as one unit, the hatch can then be closed as one unit.

Both feature a sophisticated permanent all-wheel-drive system with an electronic stability program (ESP), adaptive torque distribution, a set of low-range gears, a locking center differential, and automatic hill-decent control. A locking rear differential ($550) is available for both models. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with emergency brake assist are standard.

Both feature a sophisticated permanent all-wheel-drive system with an electronic stability program (ESP), adaptive torque distribution, a set of low-range gears, a locking center differential, and automatic hill-decent control. A locking rear differential ($550) is available for both models. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with emergency brake assist are standard.

The air suspension includes Continuous Damping Control (CDC) which uses wheel sensors to monitor road conditions and the driver's reaction to them. The suspension lowers at high speeds and can be adjusted manually to three damper settings: Auto (a mid-range setting for most driving conditions), Sport (a 'hard' setting for high speeds and sharp turns on pavement) and Comfort (a 'soft' setting for a more luxury sedan-type ride).

This is not the first off-road vehicle for Volkswagen. Hey, remember the dune buggy? Okay, most of you don't, but it was a Volkswagen, and cool way before its time. Okay, the dune buggy wasn't quite the mountain-goat type SUV that the Touareg is, but it was cool. A version of Volkswagen's 4XMotion all-wheel drive system was used in the dune buggy and it is now available in the Passat and the Touareg. The 4XMOTION system uses a center differential to provide true 50:50 distribution of power between the front and rear axles. Under loads, the center differential monitors wheel slippage and transfers power - up to 100 percent, if necessary - between the axles to help it get over obstacles. One doesn't look at the Touareg and think off-roading. It is rugged yet refined, practical yet sophisticated.

Stefan, our off-road sherpa was like a new dad, grinning with pride. As soon as we got on a hill of substance Stefan had me take my foot off the gas. There's a hill holder to keep the Touareg from rolling backward on steep ascents, as well as a hill descent control to keep it from going downhill too fast. Turning the knob on the move to "cross country" engages low range, and one more click locks the center differential. The one thing to watch for is that the knob doesn't change positions. Think of a radio station. If you clicked one button it changes the station. If you turn the knob it changes the station but clicks back to the old station. Expect that to change.

Off road, the all-wheel-drive and traction-control systems automatically apportion power to the wheels with the best grip, providing better traction and requiring less skill from the driver. The 220-horsepower V6 engine is adequate to most tasks, though it sometimes feels challenged moving the Touareg's two and one-half tons up hills and passing on two-lane highways. But hey, don't forget that 7,700 towing capacity. VW rates its zero-to-60 acceleration time at 9.4 seconds. We actually found that we preferred the V6 on the off-road.

Touareg's optional Navigation System provides traditional route guidance with mapping and voice announcements. My favorite item for off-roading was the off-road navigation system with compass, altimeter, and GPS coordinates. A tracking mode leaves an electronic trail that can be used to retrace your route. A picture of the suspension tells you whether you are completely straight or off by just a few degrees. One thing that disappeared when this map came on was the ambient temperature. This is important in off-roading. A few degrees in difference can tell you how much more your tires will stick to the rocks.

If you're looking for the class of a Range Rover with the off-road capability intact, but don't want to spend the money - buy a Touareg. Both engines are competent, but decide which you want more, performance on road or stability off-road.

Oh, and the name Touareg - means free people. But then, didn't Farfehgnugen?

By Lou Ann Hammond
30/11/-0001 12:00 am

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2004 Volkswagen Touareg
2004 Volkswagen Touareg
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2004 Touareg interior
2004 Touareg off-road navigation system
2004 Touareg off-road navigation system