SALT LAKE CITY, UT — Here's a recipe for disaster in the auto industry: Introduce an all-new product in a segment you've never played in. Make sure it's got a name nobody can pronounce.
Just don't tell Volkswagen of America that's a mistake. The company is giddy about its first-ever cross/utility vehicle, the Touareg (Tour-regg).
First, let's clear up the name. It loosely means “free folk” and is derived from a nomadic tribe in the Sahara desert. It's still unpronounceable.
Once you get past that, VW's new CUV is a noteworthy vehicle, beginning with the basic engineering done in conjunction with Porsche AG, which developed its Cayenne CUV off the same platform.
The Touareg is priced significantly below its Porsche sibling, with the base V-6 version starting at $34,900 and the V-8 at $40,700. Porsche's V-8 Cayenne S starts at $56,665, a $15,965 premium over the Touareg.
The ride and handling is demonstrably better than most truck-based SUVs, although it would be a stretch to say the Touareg handles like a Passat or Jetta.
The Touareg's standard 3.2L SOHC V-6 produces 220 hp at 5,400 to 6,400 rpm, with a maximum torque of 225 lb.-ft. (305 Nm) at 3,200 rpm.
But the V-6 is stressed to move the 5,086-lb. (2,307-kg) Touareg uphill, or from a dead stop.
On the design side, the Touareg takes some of its front-end styling cues from the Passat and Phaeton luxury sedan and transforms them into a more aggressive style. The body lines follow VW tradition, while the rear fascia features jeweled taillamps that blend into the rear shoulders. The Touareg is palpably more pleasant on the eye than the Cayenne.
Inside, VW isn't messing around. Sitting in the lush cockpit, the perception is more luxury sedan than SUV. In fact, VW borrowed many of the interior cues from its high-dollar Phaeton sedan. The entire layout has an air of restrained class.
One noticeable attribute of the Touareg's interior: quiet.
Where Touareg really surprises is off-road, going head-to-head with the most capable SUVs. The Touareg offers an optional air-suspension system that increases ground clearance 1.8 ins. (5 cm) higher than the Hummer H2, VW claims.
It seems the Touareg will be the CUV others will emulate. It doesn't hurt to have been developed alongside a Porsche.