Although many RVers are familiar with the VW Westfalia camping van, and how the old vehicle traveled all over the continent and beyond, Volkswagen has never made a tow vehicle capable of pulling more than a couple of surfboards or a Hobie Cat. No more. The new VW Touareg boasts a towing capacity of 7,716 pounds, and that figure applies with the Touareg loaded to its gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr). The Touareg is VW’s entry from the joint venture that also developed the Porsche Cayenne. All Touaregs come with a sophisticated four-wheel-drive system that offers lower gearing and better off-highway performance than the majority of SUVs.
Also included are heated power mirrors and washer nozzles, a tilt- and telescoping steering column, fog lamps, cruise control, anti-lock braking system (ABS), stability control, electronic climb and descent assists, rain-sensing wipers, real wood trim, six air bags, alloy wheels and tire-pressure monitoring, which includes the spare on some versions. The base model, which carries a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of about $35,000, uses a 3.2-liter six-cylinder in a narrow, 15-degree “V” layout, with 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. This is not a lot for a 5,000-pound truck, but the standard six-speed automatic and 4.56:1 axle ratio allow it to reach 60 mph in the same 9- to 9.5-second range as a 4.7-liter V-8 Dodge Ram 1500 or 5.4-liter Ford Expedition.
The hitch receiver is a dealer option, but all the cooling and electrical power is built-in,
including an oil-temperature gauge. Next up in price, content and power is the
five-valves-per-cylinder 4.2-liter V-8 with 310 hp, 302 lb-ft of torque and the six-speed
automatic. This model includes power folding auto-dimming exterior mirrors, power front
seats with memory, leather upholstery and options including bi-xenon headlamps, four-zone (left, right, front and rear) climate control and a heated steering wheel. Fully loaded
with air suspension and a navigation system that will find its way back to camp, the
Touareg has similar equipment and capability, yet undercuts a Range Rover by roughly
$15,000. The standard suspension is all-independent with coil springs and antiroll bars at
both ends, with 17-inch wheels on V-6s and 18-inch rollers on V-8s. The optional ($2,300)
air suspension allows variances in ride height for speed or conditions, automatic leveling,
adjustable shock damping, excellent ride and handling and up to 12 inches of ground
clearance. Regardless of engine or suspension, the Touareg comes with some of the biggest brakes on any SUV or truck offered in the United States: six-piston discs with 14-inch rotors in front, and four-piston, 13.2-inch units in back. Stopping power and
fade-resistance are impressive. Cargo area is about par for the mid-size SUV class, with
roughly 30 cubic feet of space behind the seats and 77 cubic feet with them folded down.
Because the Touareg is designed for off-road use, no seven-seat models are planned. The
structure in the Touareg is so stiff that you could park it on two opposing wheels and
still open any door or hatch and close it without slamming. By early 2004, the Touareg TDi
will arrive, and it carries a 5-liter, twin-turbocharged diesel engine with more than 300
hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. This heavy-duty pickuplike power in a lighter SUV with a
six-speed automatic will do 0- to 60-mph in a bit over 6 seconds, return fuel mileage like
a Suzuki or Honda and tow a trailer up a long grade so fast people will wonder if there’s
anything in it. The TDi will be the most expensive, and probably rarest, as this
award-winning engine is in high demand for SUVs and cars in Europe. Don’t worry if you
can’t pronounce the name, which is derived from an African tribe. Just remember that it’s
the only thing Volkswagen sells that begins with the letter T.