I drove the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI over a month ago. It took that long for the honeymoon memory to wear off and allow me to write an evaluation of an SUV I was so smitten by with some semblance of impartiality. It's a great vehicle, but it's priced like god's gift to the sport utility market.
I also had extra butterflies in my stomach for the first press loaner I would invite into my life, heart, and personal driveway. I'm not ashamed to admit it was tough to say goodbye to the Touareg after I'd lived with it like it was one of my own for a few days.
I came into the city on a Friday to pick it up. "You'll always remember your first press car," Jalopnik deputy editor Travis Okulski told me, as he gazed pensively into the distance and put a hand on my shoulder while we beheld the toffee brown-on-saddle-brown Touareg humming quietly on a slushy SoHo street.
Well, actually, a very angry Chinese man brought the SUV out of a shady parking garage in exchange for $20. But I like to remember it with a little more mystique.
Here's what the 2014 Touareg TDI delivered, as per the official Truck Yeah! review format.
(Disclosure: Travis said I could have a brandy-new VW Touareg for a week if I promised to behave myself. I did, mostly.)
- Since a poop-plastered paddock will probably be the extend of most Touareg Executive's off-road adventures, I'm pleased to report it performed just fine there. Cadillac Pizzaz liked it too, and found the weather stripping quite tasty.
- Traction control does a fine job curtailing hoonage, but you can't be as careless as commercials might lead you to believe.
- Snow and mud render parking cameras useless— defrosters on these would be prime.
- I really hope I can afford something with a panoramic sunroof someday.
- Awesome infotainment setup, minus input loading times and that godawful robot voice.
A bubbly bean body never looked so good. It's very round to somebody who stares at pickup trucks all day, but the curves are in all the right places. Bright, optimistic eyes blaze your trail with LED accents, and a taillights are big enough to signal even the blindest tailgaters that you're coming to a halt. There's just enough chrome trim, and I can't believe I'm saying this but the 20" wheels look nicely proportioned with the vehicle.
Unfortunately the trailer hitch receiver is not neatly integrated, and once you notice it it's hard to ignore how much it disrupts the back of the SUV. I'm surprised they overlooked this, considering that they obviously took great care designing their exhaust tips.
One might even accuse Volkswagen of pandering to journalists, sticking a "toffee brown" painted Touareg in the press fleet. Though I'm not as wild about wood-colored cars as my associates, the Touareg wears it well.
Brace yourselves, big claim coming: for me, the inside of the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg is just about perfect. Big, circular gauges are properly lit in white-on-black text with red needles. The seats have a athletic shape and smooth texture that holds you snugly. They're firmer than what you find in American vehicles, but softer than tyrannically-tight leather of a BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
The rear seats were just as delightful. Even with a three-across bench, rear passengers in the Touareg Executive are treated to heated and reclining chairs. Plus the best view in the cabin of the 57.2x39" panoramic sunroof.
Controls felt like the were where they should be, but the only ergonomic complaint was a big one; my female passenger noted that the transmission tunnel swelling into the passenger floorwell made it difficult to position her feet and purse there comfortably. So fellas that might be looking to make this their family hauler, you better have the Mrs. test the shotgun seat for herself on the test drive.
I found the color combination of black and two different browns to be a little unpleasant, but "saddle" did look dandy on the leather.
Audio, Infotainment, Gadgets
The Dynaudio stereo is good, but I couldn't fall in love with it. Even with the equalizer tweaked out it lacked the punch I was expecting from a high-end audio system. Plus the basic bass, treble, and midrange dials are buried annoyingly deep within the infotainment system's menus.
The navigation offers flat and 3D viewing perspectives, the latter of which includes digital representations of buildings which is pretty neat, if pointless. The guidance system's coolest feature is integration with the second-screen between the speedo and tach; it feeds you "next turn" information including which lane you should be in and what services are available at exits you're about to pass. They get pretty specific— pass a Starbucks and the Touareg will literally throw their logo on your display. I also noticed Dunkin' Donuts, Chase, Holiday Inn, and a few others. You've got to wonder what kind of deal they struck with VAG to set that up; it's pretty enticing advertising.
The turn-giving voice who lives in the GPS is abrasively robotic. It always annoys me when automakers don't pay attention to this, because I find an auditory supplement hugely helpful in a navigation system especially in urban environments. The voice in my nine-year-old daily driver is pleasantly modulated, but VW's sounds like a kid's toy from the early 90's. I'd rather listen to the NYC subway bark out next-stop alerts.
This is the most refined diesel I've ever driven. Granted, that's comparing it to commercial trucks, 70's Mercs, and heavy duty pickups. But I was impressed with how quiet and unoffensive to my olfactory senses the TDI was. VW's 3.0 turbo diesel V6 packs 240 HP, and 406 ft-lbs of torque making light work of merging and plowing driveways with your front bumper. Burning ultra-low sulfur diesel, as required by the manual, it hardly rumbles enough to be discernible from a gasoline engine.
Fuel economy is impressive too, the Touareg can haul a lot of humans and gear for something that gets almost 30 MPG on the highway. I ended up turning out just over 22 MPG over almost 500 miles of what I would describe as a lot of cruising with a few moments of aggressive driving and hooning.
The 8-Speed is a damn impressive piece of kit. Super-smooth shifting in D, but I unlocked a whole new world of fun when I found the "S" mode just a click back from Drive. No paddle shifters, but reasonably responsive action when you scroll through gears with the stick manually.
Plenty of stopping power and smart management down hills in "Off Road" mode with the hill-descent feature active. Of course that's only for sub-20 MPH crawls in slippery stuff.
In conjunction with new tires, the four power-assisted 13" discs brought the Touareg to a halt very abruptly on pavement, loose rocks, or wet and slimy dirt.
Ride & Handling
I found the suspension tight enough for a responsive on-road experience, if a little bit harsh in the bumps. Volkswagen obviously knows most of these SUVs will spend their lives on-road, and have set them up accordingly. I don't have a problem with that.
Telescopic dampeners and an anti-roll bar keep the Touareg flat, and 4Motion full-time AWD with its Torsen center differential distributes power appropriately before you even know it's working.
The traction control system is good, but it isn't idiot proof. Under 20 MPH the hill-decent control does a great job of managing your speed down slippery slopes, but above that you're pretty much on your own and the back end is surprisingly easy to break loose. Just ask my neighbor's mailbox.
Hauling, Towing, Cargo Management
The Touareg I tested had the optional tow package, which features a Class III receiver and 7,700 pounds of towing capacity. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on a trailer to test it. But based on how the TDI felt with nothing hooked up, I think it would have moved boats under 25 feet and and two-horse trailers without complaint.
Anyway, the last Touareg was known to teach trucks a thing or two about towing:
Doges had no trouble climbing in; two medium-sized mutts were comfortable together but they didn't leave much room for luggage. A harp, however, proved too large for the Touareg even with the rear seats folded down which makes for 64 cubic feet of cargo volume. Speaking of which, knocking the seats down happens with the push of a button in the back, as does the opening and closing of the rear hatch. Both seemed superfluous to me but after a bit of usage I really got to liking them.
The cargo-concealing shade is supposed to snap up and down to allow for easy access to the 31 cubic-foot behind-seat stowage area without having to mess with the cover, but I found it to keep snapping open when I didn't want it to.
Off-Road & Maneuverability
Fording depth is pretty impressive, and so is grip even in rough stuff. I was able to power through slick mud, over wet rocks, and frozen rivers effortlessly. It was actually pretty hard to break loose for mud slingin' photo ops. Check out the full Touareg off-pavement shakedown for more in-dirt details.
The SUV has cameras for days, and a 360º top-down view that you can engage manually any time through the infotainment. It pops on automatically with the backup camera when you move into reverse.
Alas, we've finally arrived at the one niggling aspect of the 2014 Touareg TDI that kept it away from a Truck Ja! stamp. A gasoline-powered Touareg starts at $44,570, with the cheapest TDI model coming in at $51,610. The range-topping Executive we tested: $61,760. An Audi Q7 Prestige TDI, their highest trim, is only $4,000 more. Or of course you could have two used Range Rovers for that money.
Granted, the options in Audi's catalogue are significantly steeper than those in VW's (the Bang & Olufsen stereo upgrade $6,300) and your cost to feed even one Range Rover would eat up your initial savings pretty quick. But I still think crossing the $60,000-line is an aggressive ask.
The Volkswagen also has the advantage of being significantly more subtle than a Q7, Range Rover, or obviously a Cayenne.
I really enjoyed living with this SUV for a week. It was a pleasure to drive, pretty to look at, and the interior was straight out of my dream journal. It's a great vehicle if you can afford it, but don't want the flash of its Audi and Porsche cousins. But even then, you might be best served scanning the market for a slightly-used one.
Specifications As Tested
2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Executive
Engine: 3.0 TDI V6. 240hp @ 4,000 RPM, 406 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000 RPM
Transmission: ZF 8 speed automatic with 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive and Torsen center differential
Fuel Economy: 20 City/23 Combined/29 Highway (EPA) — 22.1 MPG over 473 miles, city, highway, town, and hooning (Observed)
Cargo Volume: 32.1 cubic ft, 64 cubic ft with seats folded
Curb Weight: 4,974 lbs
GVWR: 6,305 lbs
Payload: 1,155 lbs
Towing Capacity (with Towing Package): 7,716 lbs
Approach Angle: 26º
Departure Angle: 26º
Breakover Angle: 21º