- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

BARCELONA Once, long ago, we would never have thought it possible that a Volkswagen would cost more than $50,000.
But it's reality now. VW is not only going to market the Phaeton, its luxury sedan, but also a new sport utility called Touareg. Most Europeans are familiar with this name that indicates a tribe of nomads in the African Sahara Desert. Volkswagen chose it for its first SUV, which is built alongside the Porsche Cayenne on the same platform.
The two versions differ by a unique nose and tail end and they also use different power plants and interiors, but technically they are identical twins. The VW Touareg comes to the European markets first with a 222-horsepower V-6 and a 313-horsepower V-10 (twin) turbo diesel. Later a V-8 and a 2.5 diesel will be added to the model range.
In spring the Touareg will arrive in the United States with the V-6 and the V-8, whereas Volkswagen is still studying the possibility of taking the V-10 diesel across the ocean in 2004. VW plans to build 65,000 Touaregs and sell about 30,000 in the North American market. The Touareg has to compete with luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz ML-Class and Range Rover.
All versions are equipped with 4XMotion four-wheel drive. This system transmits the engine power to the transfer gearbox (that comes standard with off-road reduction), the front and rear axle differential to the drive shafts. The electronically activated locking central differential is standard and a rear-axle differential lock is an extra option. The advanced system splits torque 50-50 between front and rear axles, but can shift up to 100 per cent to either axle. A switch on the center console actives the differential locks.
The V-10 has standard air suspension (optional on the V-6) and has four modes. It can raise the vehicle for off-road use up to a maximum ground clearance of 11.8 inches; in "auto" the suspension adjusts itself depending on the vehicle speed from 8.5 inches at 78 mph to 7 inches at 112 mph.
The VW SUV has a wading depth of 22.8 inch and all versions of the Touareg have a towing capacity of 7,716 pounds. Of course, the Touareg has big anti-lock brakes and a brake assist.
I drove both the V-6 and the V-10 versions outside Barcelona. The torque of the turbo diesel engine is unsurpassed. It confirmed the S of Sport in this ute. There was little body roll and we drove through tight turns at speed and at ease. Off-road it demonstrates an easiness that would get a lot of people hooked on off-road driving. Even my grandmother.
But also with the V-6 the Touareg performs well both on and off the road. It was never necessary to lock differentials in the off-road course. It climbed hills and descended them effortlessly. Brake suddenly midhill and a special system prevents the car from rolling back, allowing you to drive away again as if you were standing horizontally.
The Touareg surprised and impressed me and I think Volkswagen's competitors in this segment of luxury SUV-crossovers cannot sit still and wait, because when people are prepared to pay big bucks for a Volkswagen and take the Touareg for a test drive, they might be easily convinced to buy one. Especially as the quality, finish and standard equipment of this car are as competitive as its driving capabilities.


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