A luxurious, powerful performance SUV from Germany. Sounds like a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne, right? Not in this case. Meet the Volkswagen Touareg TDI. It has all of those attributes, but can also be called fuel efficient and a value. After a week behind the wheel, we learned why upscale vehicles from non-luxury brands are easier to live with and how diesel vehicles can be serious performance machines.
This was no ordinary Touareg, as evidenced by the lower front spoiler. This is the latest member of the Volkswagen R-Line portfolio of vehicles. On the Touareg TDI, it means 20-inch alloy wheels, an aerodynamic body, sport suspension, and R-Line badging inside and out. At $58,190, the TDI R-Line is on the more expensive end of the Touareg lineup, but it slots in at thousands under the X5 or Cayenne. And why are we comparing a VW to a BMW? The car speaks for itself.
As the TDI in the name suggests, this variant of the Touareg is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V6. It makes a respectable 240 horsepower, and an impressive 406 pound feet of torque. Power is routed to 4Motion all-wheel-drive through a 8-speed automatic transmission.
Despite the performance nature of the R-Line, there are no steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, but it is just as well. In normal driving conditions, the stout diesel engine has a nice kick when you step on the accelerator, but is restrained after that initial movement. When in Drive, pull back once on the shifter to engage Sport mode, and throttle response quickens and shift points are raised. It allows the Touareg to accelerate with haste. The computer manages the extra speeds and tricky diesel torque curve quite well, and trying to do it on your own with the tap shift function will likely not be as effective.
The major benefit of the diesel engine is improved fuel economy, which the Touareg TDI delivers. The diesel VW SUV gets 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway. That represents an increase of 3 mpg city and 6 mpg highway over the gas V6, which has far less torque. We observed 23.5 mpg in mixed city/highway driving.
One of the key components in the R-Line trim is the sport suspension, which reduces body roll in turns. This will be quite appreciated when taking on and off ramps or rounding a tight bend in town.
The Touareg features a smartly styled interior that benefits from a lack of clutter. Driver controls are plainly laid out, with essential controls as knobs, but everything else stored in the touch screen system.
More upscale SUVs feature proprietary driver control systems like BMW iDrive and Audi MMI. Rather than a simple touch screen, they have some form of joystick or directional pad that you can learn how to use with time, but they are nowhere near as intuitive as a simple touch screen. The Touareg benefits from that conventional touch screen, and the rest of the climate and audio controls are equally simple.
That is not to say the Touareg is spartan by any measure. Buyers may scoff at $58,560 (with options) for a Volkswagen, but then consider what comes standard. Leather seating, Bluetooth, rear view camera, Bi-Xenon automatic headlights, remote lift-gate, dual zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, and the aforementioned nav screen are all standard, among other creature comforts.
The Touareg benefits from its shared DNA with vehicles like Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. The Q7 rides on a stretched platform but the Cayenne and Touareg have very similar proportions.
The safety capabilities of the Touareg go far beyond the backup camera and full array of front and side impact airbags. This big VW SUV also comes with electronic stability control and a specially reinforced safety cage. An under-appreciated element of the Touareg’s design is its upright cabin. Many new cars have wide, slanted rear pillars that severely cut down on visibility. In the Touareg, the upright greenhouse and large side and rear windows make for enhanced visibility—and the driver who can see the other car coming is always more effective than the many new safety features being crammed under the hood.
The true beauty of the Touareg TDI R-Line is that you are not really sacrificing for the value it offers compared to other German SUVs. Volkswagen might be a volume brand, but the Touareg stands apart. It is the broad, muscular SUV application of VW’s simplistic designs. At one point you could call Volkswagen’s styling Apple-like, but the Touareg TDI R-Line has a military-industrial aspect that is akin to flying an F-35 joint strike fighter to soccer practice. Such a vehicle that makes this impression is hard to find, short of a Lamborghini. And you get that impression while still paying a fraction of the price.
It is hard to be understated and demonstrative at the same time, but the TDI R-Line pulls it off, and saves you at the pump at the same time.