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A Peak Experience

Off Chamber

James Tate
Mar 1, 2007
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"I'll do you one better," said Volkswagen's Keith Price, when I asked for a Touareg TDI to drive to the SEMA show in Las Vegas. Now, I know who my readers are and I know I can't go any further before I justify why on God's green Earth someone who works for a magazine called Sport Compact Car would request a 5825-pound sport-ute with the kind of steering feel you'd expect in a hearse.

The Touareg in question has a stonkin' V10, with a large turbocharger dangling off each side. It eats AMGs for breakfast and it'll burp your Elise up after lunch. Besides, traffic on the road to SEMA is horrendous and I figured I could turn the handy ride height knob to 'off road' and find a quicker way if need be.

Now I have that out of the way, I'll get back to what I was saying in the first place. "One better" meant I'd be driving the Touareg that VW raced up Pikes Peak in 2006. When Price offered it to me over the phone, I had the same initial reaction you're most likely having now: "Wow, cool."

Think about it. The thing is essentially designed to go to any damn place on Earth and do it at an incredible rate of travel. But the things I hadn't bargained for became clear when Chen and I rolled into the parking lot to pick it up. It's so blue in its full-body vinyl Red Bull wrap that it could be considered fluorescent. And the parts that aren't neon blue are slathered in sponsor decals: graphics, numbers and names everywhere.

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They reach up the side windows, creating the biggest blind spots you can imagine. And they draw everyone's attention to the jackass driving the billboard. In the minds of the unknowing, you're a Red Bull delivery guy. And everyone's mad when you don't have any to give them.

If the car itself hasn't created enough of a scene, just wait until you try to get in or out of the thing. It has a full cage. Among the pipeworks are a halo bar surrounding the driver and two gigantic door bars making Dukes of Hazzard-style entries a must. The difference is, unlike the low-slung Charger of the Duke boys, the Touareg seat is three feet in the air. And I'm five-eight. People whip out camera phones when they see me getting in and out.

Since we're on the topic of height, I'll add that the Sparco racing seat has been hard-mounted to the rails-for someone who's six-two. After I'm strapped into the five-point racing harness, I find, miraculously, I can reach the pedals. Thing is, with a pinky toe's weight on the gas, the more than 500lb-ft of torque sends me flying back in the seat and my foot slides off. Consequently, a second after the truck squats on the rear tires during launch, it dives back onto the front tires, making me look like a world-class moron to those watching my attempt to show off.

On the other hand, there's one thing the truck is great for during a six-hour drive on a highway consisting purely of modified cars going to SEMA. And that's walking away from each and every curmudgeon who has dismissed, laughed or revved at the big beast. These guys are sure they're going to just drop it down a gear and shoot heroically off into the horizon, leaving me behind in my big, heavy truck. But it's me and my twin-turbocharged diesel V10 that have the last laugh as I hiss and roar away from each booming exhaust and rattling body kit.

James Tate
Associate Senior Editor

By James Tate
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