Volkswagen took American motorists a bit off guard when it launched the Phaeton in 2003. While the car was stuffed with luxury and power comparable to a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, few were ready to drop $60,000 on a Volkswagen at the time.
The same year the Phaeton was introduced, Volkswagen followed the money trail and introduced its first SUV, the Touareg. Since then, VW has pulled the Phaeton luxury sedan from its North American lineup, making the Volkswagen Touareg 2 the company's flagship vehicle here in the States. To keep the Touareg fresh, Volkswagen went Hollywood on the Touareg giving it a much-needed facelift for 2008.
The updated 2008 Touareg 2 kept the wide, stocky stance and short overhangs of the original, while the passive front-end treatment was abandoned for a more contemporary-Volkswagen design. In all, the Touareg 2 now adds an impressive design to its already beaming repertoire that include a luxurious interior and stellar off-road capabilities. Up front, a pair of Bi-Xenon, scalloped headlights flank VW's signature oversized chrome grille, while the rear end gets some tinted taillights and dual, quad-tipped exhaust to enhance the sporty looks.
Even at a standstill, the Touareg has always looked like a rugged SUV that would be more comfortable getting down and dirty in a big mud puddle than tooling down the highway. With a ride height of 8.3 inches, the Touareg 2 is able to tackle most off-road scenarios it encounters yet is still low enough that getting in or out should not pose a problem for average adults. One option we have loved to play with is the ($2,750) 4-corner air suspension system that allows the driver to manually adjust the Touareg's ride height anywhere from a sleek 6.3 inches up to a rock-crawling 11.8 inches.
When it came time for the refreshing, Volkswagen left the interior alone - and for good reason. The highly detailed interior of the Touareg 2 features a high-class fit and finish. Everything from the door panels to the seating surfaces to the radio and HVAC controls were stylish, well placed and soft to the touch. The soft leather used on the Touareg's steering wheel, door trim panels, seats and armrests were only outdone by pleasant metallic control knobs that featured small rubber inlays that not only provided for better grip, but also for a better feeling during use.
From the driver's seat, the instrument cluster provided two large gauges for speedometer and tachometer flanking a small information screen, with four smaller gagues along the bottom edge of the cluster. Keyless start/stop made getting into the Touareg and starting it easy for the driver, while the 4-zone Climatronic system prevented A/C fights by providing all passengers their own individual controls. For rear passengers, the B-pillar mounted A/C vents provide better flow and optimal comfort.
With accommodations for five, the Touareg 2 can hold up to 31 cubic feet of cargo or up to 71 cubic with the rear seat folded flat. If more cargo needs to be hauled, the Touareg can carry up to 220 pounds on the roof rack or 7,716 pounds on a trailer (when properly equipped with the trailer package). To be blunt, this is no cute-ute or soft-roader.
Aside from the numerous convenient, luxurious touches, our one main gripe about the interior was the lack of a navigation system (included in a $3,350 package). On a vehicle nipping at $50,000, one would think that VW's useful navigation system could somehow find its way into the center stack. Since this Touareg was not equipped with the navigation system, we weren't able to test out the rear view back up camera, but fortunately Volkswagen equipped the Touareg 2 with its Park Distance Control system as standard equipment. With four sensors mounted on the front and rear bumpers each, small sets of indicator lights progressively illuminate inside the vehicle and an audible noise alert the driver when an object is detected in front of or behind the vehicle.
The Touareg 2, along with its close cousins the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7, offer one of the most unique and powerful engine lineups to any other SUVs. The Touareg 2 we tested came with Volkswagen's modest and mild-mannered 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter VR6, which was more than adequate in any daily driving. Still, after driving two Audi S4 offerings recently, we couldn't help but wonder how much fun the 350-horsepower V-8 would be or, even better, the diesel torque-monster that is the 5.0-liter V-10 TDI capable 310 horsepower and a whopping 553 lb-ft of torque - maybe some other day!
Despite a design and aerodynamic shape that was unmistakably Volkswagen, the new Touareg 2's un-svelte 5,086-pound curb weight gave it some un-Volkswagen-like low EPA fuel economy estimates of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. Despite such low numbers, the 2008 Touareg 2 saw fuel economy that wasn't too far off from other crossovers we've tested recently - such as the 2008 Suzuki XL7 (16/22) and the 2007 Hyundai Veracruz (17/24).
With a starting MSRP of $39,420, the Touareg 2 should please just about anyone looking for a capable, real world SUV with a no-haggle drivetrain and luxurious interior. Handsomely equipped, however, the $46,300 Touareg 2 we tested may chase more than a few VW costumers away. For those people, Volkswagen will be introducing a minivan (2009 Volkswagen Routan), station wagon (2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen) and compact crossover (2009 Volkswagen Tiguan) throughout the year.