The Touareg offers a comfortable ride and spirited performance—something we all can understand. Its 3.6-liter V-6 makes 280 hp and is mated to an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. The Touareg is large, comfortable, and solid—plus it’s equally at home both on and off the pavement. A standard touchscreen infotainment display is functional but dated; the optional adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking, however, are well engineered and effective.
When the Touareg joined Volkswagen’s U.S. lineup in 2004, it was positioned as a tech-filled, subtly luxurious SUV more closely aligned with pedigreed offerings from BMW and Mercedes-Benz than with pedestrian entries from Jeep, Ford, Chevrolet, and Honda. More than a decade later—a period during which the Touareg has seen only one full redesign (for 2011) and a light cosmetic update last year—the democratization of deluxe trimmings and advanced safety and entertainment technologies to every corner of the market has chipped away at the Touareg’s edge over its mainstream competitors.
First, the Good
Working from the outside in, the Touareg is still a seriously good-looking piece, with its big wheels wrapped in fat, tall-profile tires and pushed out to the corners where the fenders gently bulge around them. Last year’s updates to the nose and tail, mostly consisting of LED headlight and taillight accents, are surprisingly effective at making the five-year-old design appear current. So, too, does the lush interior, with panel fits that are impeccable.
The dashboard and the majority of the door-panel surfaces are made up of a squishy, leather-grained rubber material into which the designers set swaths of wood and exquisitely thin shards of metal. Close your eyes and feel around the cabin, and your fingers read “Audi.”
A refined, comfortable suspension and low noise levels back up the luxurious surroundings, as does the ultra-stiff-feeling body structure. Overall, the Touareg drives much like a tall, obese Volkswagen Golf, and we happen to like that premium-feeling hatchback enough to name it one of our 10Best Cars. The packaging is spot-on, too, with plenty of rear-seat room and a huge, 32-cubic-foot cargo hold. Back-seat passengers can even slide the rear bench fore and aft several inches or adjust the backrest angle to their liking. For those keen on towing, the Touareg can lug 7716 pounds, a commendable figure given its six-cylinder power. (The previously available 3.0-liter V-6 diesel is on hiatus thanks to VW’s emissions-cheating scandal, while the pricey hybrid option was dropped this year.)
And Yet . . .
Nothing we like about the 2016 Touareg is any different from what we liked about older versions, the SUV’s various updates having failed to tangibly elevate the original Touareg’s spirit. That’s a problem, given how the competition from non-luxury two- and three-row SUVs has gotten stiffer. It’s an even bigger problem that the Touareg’s base price is effectively $50,615 for the Sport with Technology model (the entry-level Sport, priced at $43,615, is available only via special order), or nearly $20,000 more than it takes to slide behind the wheel of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Edge, or Nissan Murano.
Worse still, the Volkswagen has a few glaring age-related flaws. While most modern V-6s spank out horsepower figures that start with the number three, the Touareg’s 3.6-liter six musters only 280 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque. The six, which VW refers to as a VR6, features an unusual 10.6-degree cylinder-bank angle, an orientation far enough from the more common (and better-balanced) 60-degree arrangement to produce tremors easily felt through the floor, steering wheel, and pedals at any engine speed. It is a symphonic vibration, subtly reminding you in a diesel-like way that, yes, the engine is running, but it feels unbecoming in a vehicle this expensive.