Touareg may be slightly awkward to pronounce and a little tricky to spell, but there's nothing unclear about the messages the 2012 turbo-diesel version of Volkswagen's luxury mid-size SUV transmits.
Whether received visually, audibly, via your internal accelerometers, the g-meters in your gluteus maximus muscles or the tactile touch of your fingers on the steering wheel, the Touareg's transmissions are just about all on a positive wavelength.
The redesigned Touareg TDI Clean Diesel, recently named the Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, has a techie-tough look up front with horizontally barred grille and air intake openings but its sheet metal flows back from there in more subtle, but still strong, lines.
Audibly? Well, okay, this isn't so much a positive as not a negative. Diesel engines, by their high compression nature, are prone to a clattery rattle at idle, which has been subdued to a still noticeable, but not so much, level in the Touareg's V-6. It's perhaps a little noisier (made more noticeable by a notably quiet cabin) and subjectively less smooth than its gasoline-fuelled counterpart while being driven around as well, but again, not by much. And after a while, you don't notice any more.
The Touareg's diesel engine displaces just 3.0 litres but thanks to turbo-boost produces 225 hp, which is more than enough when backed by 406 lb-ft of torque, which is available from just 1,750 rpm, and delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission to a full-time all-wheel-drive system. Plant the pedal to the floor mat and you'll be at 100 km/h in 8.4 seconds and passing exposure between 80 km/h and 120 km/h is a safe 7.3 seconds. And with eight to choose from, there's a gear for every driving occasion, which means the Touareg always accelerates strongly when you want it, too. Torque, although hard to define, is a wonderful thing and also allows the Touareg to loaf along at highway speeds with the tach needle below 2,000 rpm.
The Touareg diesel is planet- and wallet-friendly, too, with fuel burn ratings of 11.2 litres/100 km city and 6.8 highway. Ratings for the gasoline-fuelled 3.6-litre V-6 are 12.3 city/8.8 highway.
A week of highway, rural and some around-town usage resulted in an average of 8.9 litres/100 km, and at a highway cruise it was consuming 8.1. Diesel fuel's price when it was refilled at week's end was 130.9 a litre. Natural Resources Canada's economy guide estimates annual fuel costs of $2,116, or $345 less than the gas V-6-engined model.
This high-tech diesel also has commendably low emissions. At least from the tailpipe. Smelly fuel from the diesel pump hose drooled out before I could insert the nozzle, splashing on the bodywork. Do-it-yourself refuelling is still one of the, admittedly minor, downsides of diesel power. On the other hand, you don't have to do it so often.
The not as tall but a little longer and wider Touareg doesn't generate sports sedan levels of cornering force, but this 2-1/2-ton machine tries to feel like one. The steering provides a direct connection to the front wheels, which, along with those at the back, are suspended by taut springing tamed by damping rates that provide control and a ride that is muscular but not bullying.
It follows back road curves with a pleasing fluidity and tracks straight and true, with excellent steering on-centre feel, on the highway. Brake pedal response is immediate and the braking distance comparable to others in its class.
An overall sense of driving enjoyment and security is generated in part by the combined effect of these dynamic qualities, which are backstopped by electronic driving aids. But also by an overall feel of heft and substance. And an interior that, typical of German vehicles, doesn't coddle you but rather provides an environment that is understatedly stylish, functional and well-equipped.
The leather seats are supportive with pronounced rib bolsters and the steering wheel large, thick-rimmed and shaped to encourage three-and-nine hand positioning. Instruments are large and round with thin silver bezels and the piano-black and aluminum-trimmed centre stack contains a large navi screen and easy to figure out and operate controls.
Equipment on the entry-trim level TDI Comfortline tested included leather-trimmed power driver and passenger seats, a more than decent audio system and Bluetooth connectivity, dual zone climate control, a trip computer, navigation, rain-sensing wipers and a power tailgate.
The only jarring note is the clumsy key-fob-thingy you have to insert into a slot in the dash to fire up the engine. A diesel aside here – on a cold morning you'll note a minor pause while the electronics figure out what's required to wake up the engine.
Rear-seat passengers don't travel second class either, if there are no more than two of them, in a roomy compartment and a 60/40-split seatback provides access to 906 litres of cargo space, or when folded opens up 1,812 litres.
If you can look past the big VW in its grille, Volkswagen's Touareg is a match for any of its more recognizably badged as up-market rivals.
The bottom line? Based on past experience, either diesel or gasoline Touaregs will serve admirably, but the TDI's big-torque-drivability, towing ability and extended range are pluses. At a cost, of course, the TDI Comfortline starts at $53,575 with the gas version (that doesn't come with a power tailgate) priced at $48,875.
2012 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel
Type: Luxury SUV
Base Price: $53,575; as tested, $55,040
Engine: 3.0-litre, DOHC, V-6 turbo-diesel
Horsepower/torque: 225 hp/406 lb-ft.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.2 city/6.8 highway; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti FX, Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz M-Class
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