I have to admit, SUVs are starting to grow on me. Maybe I'm getting old, maybe it's being a dad, or maybe, it isn't me at all. Over the last decade, a select few SUVs have gone from being fully enclosed trucks with a horrible ride and even worse driving dynamics to being a pretty decent substitute to a sport wagon. Testing and a quick road trip in a 2015 Volkswagen Touareg TDI hastened my conversion.
The Touareg has been blessed with good performance lineage from its beginning. The platform was, and still is, developed alongside Porsche's Cayenne, which is no slouch on or off road. The VW version is slightly more affordable and, in my opinion, has styling that ages better than Stuttgart's most polarizing model. The second generation of Touareg debuted in 2012, and the '15 model you see here is a refresh of that.
From the outside, the front and rear fasciae are the giveaways. The grille is wider and more aggressive, the headlights and taillights have received more attention, and overall, it just looks more modern. I would go so far as to call it handsome. The big family hauler is VW's most expensive model by a considerable margin, and it looks the part.
This refresh, however, is far more than just skin deep. The styling is the least significant part. For 2015, VW has added a host of safety features that I would hope someone buying in this segment would covet far more than bejeweled headlights. To start, the addition of active cruise control that utilizes dual front radar sensors also allowed the addition of Front Assist and Autonomous Emergency Braking. If the car senses a closing speed with the vehicle in front that makes it nervous, it will first give audible and visual warnings. If you don't react, the car will apply the brakes itself. In the early days of this technology, it was quite often intrusive and not very well executed. I vividly remember one instance five years ago when a car slammed on the brakes when a plastic shopping bag blew across my freeway lane. Needless to say, I got a "What are you doing!?!" from my wife sitting shotgun and something not nearly as polite from the drivers following me. After spending a couple of hundred miles driving the new Touareg, it never once brake checked following cars for airborne refuse.
VW is not just worried about its drivers punting the car in front, however. Radar sensors looking back have been added for blind spot assistance, and a single camera mounted above the rearview mirror watches for unintentional lane wandering. Obviously, none of these safety systems can be considered out of the ordinary for the class, but it would be ridiculous to complain about their addition.
The new Touareg is available in three flavors of powertrain. At the entry level, you have a 3.6L VR6 with 280 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. At the top of list, you have the hybrid. It features the sublime 3.0L supercharged V-6 found in Audi S4s and an electric motor sandwiched between engine and transmission. The gas engine is rated at 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. With the addition of electric propulsion, those numbers rise to 380 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. In the middle, you have what we tested here, the TDI. The TDI is the Goldilocks of the lineup with 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Both the hybrid and the TDI are rated at 20 mpg city by the EPA, who rates the hybrid at 24 mpg on the highway and the TDI significantly better at 29 mpg highway. The V-6 is rated 17 and 23 mpg—nothing to write home about.
I was able to drive all three briefly, but was only able to test the TDI. The hybrid is certainly the fastest, while the VR6 suffered from being driven last. All three models feed power through an eight-speed transmission. The VR6 utilizes as many gears as it can as often as it can. It likes to be driven in Sport Mode, and while adequate, it wouldn't be considered quick.
The TDI turned in an impressive 7 seconds flat to 60 mph. Not too bad for a 5,085-pound, off-road, capable, family hauler. Perhaps more impressive, however, is that it is 0.7 seconds faster than the '12 Touareg TDI we tested when the second generation debuted. It continued pulling until it hit the end of the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds at 88.1 mph. One Flux Capacitor short of time travel. The '12 would be stuck at Hill Valley mall, or require more than a quarter-mile as it's only capable of 85.3 mph in the 1320. The '15 only showed a single foot improvement in stopping distance, coming to a halt from 60 mph in 122 feet.
Our top-of-the-line, fully loaded TDI Executive came equipped with 20-inch wheels and 275/45 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires. Not exactly sport rubber, but they helped to achieve a respectable 27.1-second lap around the figure-8. More important than the time, however, is how stable and reassuring the Touareg felt when pushed. While I don't think many—OK any—are buying this SUV for its at-limits behavior, it is fun to drive every day below the limits, and it's nice to know it's capable in an emergency. Body roll is nowhere near what you might imagine from a 2 1/2-ton SUV and certainly a lot less than some rivals. The seats are surprising supportive, although the seat bottom bolsters are cut low to ease entry and exit. The seating position is great, with plenty of travel for a variety of sized occupants, and all the controls work intuitively. One thing to note is that the brake travel, feel, and resistance on the Touareg are as good as anything on the VW lot, better than hyper-assisted Passat TDI and GLI DSG.
Our tester had a sticker price of $65,610 including delivery. Keep in mind this is only a two-row SUV. If you have no off-road aspirations, you can have a nice, roomy Passat for half that. Other options include the Mercedes ML, although I'm afraid it might seem a bit base-level at that price. A BMW X5 is another good option, but again, prices will quickly exceed the VW for a comparably equipped diesel. The Touareg is a compelling case, and while it seems like a bit of a jump price-wise from other VWs, it still seems like a pretty good deal.