At 80 km/h in sixth gear, you cruise at a lazy 1,500 rpm in the 2010 Volkswagen Touareg TDI diesel SUV. And that is precisely how a 2,435-kg SUV is able to earn a combined fuel economy rating of 10.1 litres/100 km and travel up to 1,200 km on a single tank of fuel.
This updated Touareg diesel ($49,300-$58,300) is no wimp, either. With 225 horsepower and a stump-yanking 406 lb-ft of torque (at a low 1,750 rpm), the turbodiesel here has muscles on muscles. Sure, this 3.0-litre cleaner diesel engine does not quite match the crazy torque numbers in the old 5.0-litre turbodiesel V-10 (553 lb-ft) of the original Touareg, but then the 2010 model is thousands of dollars less expensive.
The smaller diesel engine in the 2010 Touareg 2 really is an excellent motor - and it's clean enough to meet 50-state U.S. emissions rules, which makes it clean enough by far for Canada, too.
Snap the tranny into Sport mode, stomp your right foot and away you go - but with hardly any diesel clatter. Upshifts are smooth and the acceleration so strong and steady, it might take your breath away.
Okay. You're right; I'm getting a bit carried away here. I mean, this VW truck is, as I said, nearly as heavy as an ocean liner. No sports car here, folks. If you want supreme body control in hard cornering you want a VW GTI, not this truck. Tighter steering would be a bonus, too. But the Touareg is a better-than-average handler for what it is - a large and heavy SUV.
The Touareg is VW's version of the Porsche Cayenne; that is, they share the same platform or basic mechanical bits and pieces under the skin. Audi's Q7 also shares this platform. The styling is different, of course, from brand to brand.
In Canada, the Touareg lineup begins with a basic V-6 version (rated at 280 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque) that starts at $45,300. VW also sells a dressier V-6 Touareg for $54,300, but the top-of-the-line Touareg is the diesel. And this is without question a premium SUV - at least as far as luxury features and the overall design is concerned. Crash-test safety is rated at five stars (the top rating) from the U.S. Government, too.
Really, the fit and finish, the towing capacity (up to 3,500 kg), the off-road capabilities (product of the 4XMotion permanent all-wheel-drive system) and the overall look and feel of the Touareg are all first-rate.
On the other hand, pick your quality study and the results are the same - disappointing. The Touareg needs improvement. Consumer Reports gives the Touareg a black eye for reliability and J.D. Power and Associates' three-year Vehicle Dependability Study says the VW brand offers below-average quality, too. That said, ALG (Automotive Lease Guide) says Volkswagens retain their value better than all but five other mainstream brands in Canada.
Imagine where VW would be if this German brand completely cleaned up its reliability scores? VW Canada sales are already up 34.5 per cent on the year, though that is largely on the strength of the new Golf line, not the Touareg.
It is worth pointing out that, among large SUVs, the Touareg TDI is what you might call a "socially conscious" truck. This observation, of course, is sure to ignite the passions of those in the green brigade, who will leap to point out that there is no such thing as a socially conscious SUV - that socially conscious SUV is an oxymoron and anyone who uses the phrase is simply a moron.
That said, VW claims the Touareg TDI is one of the cleanest engines available on the market. The use of a costly catalytic converter that nearly eliminates NOx emissions is the secret.
A 16.9-litre refillable tank stores Ad-Blue, an aqueous urea solution, that is injected into the exhaust stream, releasing ammonia. Now 80 per cent of this solution is reduced to harmless nitrogen and water by the catalytic converter. Owners need to refill the tank every 10,000 to 16,000 km.
Next, on the fuel-efficiency front consider the Touareg's direct fuel injection system and the inherent advantages of diesel engines over gas ones. Diesels are more efficient, thus they require less fuel. What I can say unequivocally is this: our VW diesel here is most definitely not a smoking, dirty, noisy power plant. It is not finicky in cold weather. This engine is modern and it's sophisticated.
In fact, if I were buying an SUV today, I'd get a diesel. And this Touareg would be my pick. Sure, it's hefty but it's also quick and smooth and relatively quiet. One reason for all this: VW is a world leader in using a common-rail fuel injection system operating with piezo injectors. Huh? Know this: the design allows VW to optimize the combustion for smoothness.
VW Canada, by the way, claims the Touareg TDI is the most affordable clean-diesel SUV on the Canadian market. Of course, all the other clean diesels come from luxury auto makers such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, so this is a bit of a hollow claim. The fact is, the VW here is not cheap, just not as pricey as the others.
For the money you'll spend here, VW delivers the usual high-end goodies - other than manual seats in the under-$50,000 Comfortline Touareg TDI (the base model diesel).
There is a power sunroof, for instance, along with dual-zone climate control, cruise control, digital compass, multi-function trip computer, five 12-volt power outlets, dual front and rear reading lights, power door locks, windows and exterior mirrors, power sunroof, AM/FM audio system with satellite radio, single CD player and 10 speakers, heated windshield washer nozzles and Bluetooth Mobile Phone connectivity.
On the down side, some of the controls are a bit awkward to work, and the back seat needs more room if you are over six feet tall. There is lots of cargo room, however.
For the time being, as long as North American and Asian brands eschew diesels in obvious places - SUVs - VW has the (relatively) affordable diesel SUV corner to itself.
2010 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V-6 TDI Comfortline
Type: Large diesel SUV
Engine: 3.0-litre V-6 TDI diesel
Horsepower and torque: 225 hp/406 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual mode
Drive: All-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/8.0 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives (diesel): Mercedes-Benz ML, BMW X5, Audi Q7