Now, try to get your mind around a $50,000
Volkswagen that looks like a Ford Explorer, weighs two and a half tons, and has
gasp - a 310 horsepower V8 under its hood. Yes, it doesnt fit the picture, but here
comes the 2004 Touareg, at your service.
The Touareg, named after an African tribe, is not just any
offroader. My test model came stuffed with every imaginable indulgence, from leather seats
to 19-inch alloy wheels to a 375-watt 11-speaker audio system and plenty of other
high-tech electronic devices. Like other members of the burgeoning luxury SUV segment,
this car is less truck than it is go-anywhere superwagon.
Once you get over the initial tall SUV impression, you will find
plenty of Volkswagen styling cues. The grille resembles that on the popular Jetta and
Passat. The taillamps, too, look familiar, as does the prominent shoulder along the side.
Volkswagen logos sit in the center of the grille and the tailgate. A wide black band along
the lower sides keeps the car from looking too tall. The optional 19-inch alloy wheels
still leave plenty of room above them in the enormous wheelwells.
Although my Wheat Beige tester was the topline 4.2-liter V8 model,
you can also buy a version with a perfectly good 3.2-liter V6 that puts out 220 horsepower
and 225 lb.-ft. of torque. That engine saves a couple of hundred pounds, a couple of miles
per gallon, and drops the price a bit. The V8 gets mileage ratings of 14 city, 18 highway,
which is about normal for this kind of rig.
Both models come with a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic
sequential shifter. You can let the computer do the work, but if you want to select the
gears yourself, just slide the lever over and then push forward to shift up and pull back
to downshift. I spent about five minutes shifting and then let the excellent mechanism
handle the chores. You can pop the shifter into "sport" mode, which keeps the
car in each gear longer for better acceleration.
The interior of the Touareg is where the real luxury shines. The
eight various-sized chrome-rimmed gauges sit in the dash sit behind individual round
windows. The aluminum accents on the doors and dash surround rich wood sections. The
plastics are rich and lustrous, the carpets thick, the controls substantial. The leather
chairs are thronelike.
Luxury is manifest not only in looks but also in function. Dual-zone
climate controls are standard, as are privacy glass, 12-way power front seats, a trip
computer and compass, remote keyless entry, a self-dimming inside rearview mirror - the
list goes on and on. Theres even an air-conditioned glovebox.
In my tester, the optional navigation /sound system filled the
center console with information, but it took a while to figure it out. I still wasnt
sure of everything after a week of playing with it. I liked the little Touareg photo of
sand dunes that appears in the dash center display when you start the car.
My Touaregs optional air suspension provided a library silent
ride along Bay Area freeways and local lanes. You can set the system to adjust vehicle
height automatically, lowering for freeway travel and rising to 9.6 inches of ground
clearance for the offroad. I was loath to risk my $50,000 baby in the backcountry, but the
Touaregs road manners were certainly unimpeachable.
The 4XMOTION permanent four-wheel-drive system automatically moves
the power between the front and rear axles to account for changes in driving conditions.
In the normal "high" setting, the Electronic Drivetrain Management locks the
differentials automatically to give maximum flexibility to the traction system. There is
also a "low" setting that uses a reduction gear to enable serious offroading.
Many SUVs dont provide this much choice or flexibility.
Some things are a little odd. The key, for example, always goes in
the same way, and when you turn it, the car starts and the key springs back to the
original position. The outside door handles have little black circles on them that look
like thumb buttons but dont seem to do anything. The stereo is top notch, but the CD
changer is stuck in back behind a panel that looks like it covers a toolkit.
The Touareg introduces some eye-opening prices into Volkswagen
showrooms. The V6 model base prices at $34,900, and the V8 model starts at $40,700. With
the Premium Plus package ($7,300), 19-inch alloy wheels ($1,200), Winter Package ($600)
and rear differential lock ($550), my tester came to a princely $50,965. Sure, you could
buy almost three New Beetles for that, but it wouldnt feel this wonderful. By
Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco