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Review: 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2

by Mark Elias

Now in its second generation, the Volkswagen Touareg 2 is doing its best to distance itself from the other products in the niche of mid-luxury SUVs. Volkswagen as a luxury brand? Following the questionable sales results of their Phaeton luxo-cruiser, the company returns to the fray with a stout vehicle that attempts to push away from the mid-price cruisers to go upmarket with their offerings.



Backstory

A veteran of the Dakar rally, although as a purpose-built race vehicle, the Touareg's off-road prowess was jointly developed by Volkswagen and Porsche. (Porsche's version would go on to be known as the Cayenne). Refined and redesigned, it is an improved (and capable) version featuring more power, safety and comfort than its predecessor. Available with a 3.6-liter VR6 FSI, a 4.2-liter V8, or a 5.9-liter V10 TDI Diesel, out report concentrates on the VR6 V6 engine. The Touareg's competitive set includes the Mercedes-Benz ML, BMW X3, Porsche Cayenne, Lexus RX350, and Toyota Highlander.

Aesthetics (3.5/5)

A 2.5 box design, the Touareg 2 carries over relatively unchanged from the A-pillar rearward. Actually the newer front end appears rather handsome compared to the older version. A chrome surround shapes out the grillwork, and brings it more inline with the rest of the Volkswagen line. Polished trim pieces bi-sect the front air intakes below the bumper. The front and rear feature an aluminum color skid plate-style trim panel, also recently seen in the new Mercedes ML-Bluetec SUV. Rear taillights have a crisp sharper look with intense strength through the use of LEDs inside the tinted light housings.

Although the Touareg's siblings, the Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne, both ride on the same Volkswagen platform, we think they were the two sisters that got to the good looks closet first.

Cabin (4/5)

The Touareg 2 features great seats covered with a pebbly-grained leather, whose pattern is echoed throughout the cabin, from the dashboard to the armrests and so on. The seats offer great adjustability for good driving positions for nearly every shape. The steering wheel is typical VW conservative; a four-spoke affair with redundant controls. The wood trim through the cockpit offers nice accents to make the T2 more "upmarket." So, too, the dual-stack cubby hole under the armrest.

Convenience features include map pockets on the doors, and a single powerport in the front seat area, another in the rear of the center console, two in the "way back" (cargo area) along with a bonus: a 115 volt AC plug for computers, and so on. Top it all off with an auto-open and closing back door. That's the good side. The bad side is this: VW has a fascination with buttons. Unfortunately, that carries over into the cockpit of the Touareg 2. The center stack is a mess"¦a jumble of buttons with words and glyphs to describe functions. If you're a technophile, then look no further, your chariot has arrived.

Technology (4/5)

Volkswagen's Touareg 2 features some innovative technologies that run the gamut from creature comforts to safety concerns and everything else in between. Start first with a " smart key" system. Seen in cars ranging from the Toyota Camry to the Mercedes SL, they are ubiquitous in the auto world. Not on every car, but available in nearly every vehicle line.

The audio set can rock out with the optional Dynaudio 10-speaker sound system, featuring a 10-channel amplifier and 620 watts of power optimized for the Touareg's interior.
Volkswagen's ABS offers a modified anti-lock braking system that reduces braking distances up to 20-percent, especially on surfaces with loose gravel. Coupled with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Engine Braking Assist (EBA), and Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA), it's like tossing the anchor from the Queen Mary behind you.

Black box magic happens to be at play in the new Touareg 2. In the form of a rollover sensor system, it notes the T2's turning angle and speed and matches them to stored info in the "black box." If a split-second analysis predicts a rollover, the same sensors cause deployment of side and head/trunk airbags to reduce injury.

Performance (4/5)

Our test Touareg was powered by a 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter, 24-valve, V6. Torqued-up to 265 lb-ft, it offered just sufficient power for stoplight drag-a-ways. Using a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, mated to the 4Xmotion AWD (Volkswagen's version of the Quattro drivetrain), allowed for sure but sometimes sluggish startups. Stand on it and it goes. But you do have to stand on it! This would be expected considering that the T2 tips the scales at a very un-lady-like 5,086-lbs. Handling was surprisingly good through our South Florida "test loop," displaying less than the expected amount of body roll. We especially liked the steering feel, which offered immediate response when needed. We also liked the growl emanating from the 3.6-liter engine.
Volkswagen has done a very good job in the NVH department, minimizing road noise despite the on and off road 17-inch wheels and tires on our sample. Speaking of 17-inchers, an inflatable temporary spare sits underfloor in the rear cargo area.

Bottom Line

The 2008 Touareg 2 V6 FSI displays German cache in a sharp handling compact SUV package. Priced as equipped at $46,300.00, it's not an everyday purchase, but if you need to arrive in style, but don't have the scratch for a Porsche Cayenne, your ride is waiting! A word of caution: While its 14-mpg city /19-mpg hwy, mileage is not the best, nor the worst in class, but with prices approaching $4-dollars per gallon, buyers may be thinking twice about taking the T2 out for a frivolous drive.

Words and photos by Mark Elias

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