1. What’s new for 2015?
Updated styling, an upgraded interior, and new driver-assist features. VW again positions this midsize five-seater against premium-class crossovers such as the Acura MDX. Indeed, Touareg is priced at the top of its competitive set and its basic engineering was adapted by SUVs from the German automaker’s Audi and Porsche brands. Gas, diesel, and hybrid versions return for ’15 with a new grille traversed by chrome horizontal bars and with new headlamps boasting standard bi-xenon lighting. New at the rear are LED taillamps and a revamped bumper and hatchlid. All wheels – 18, 19, and 20 inchers – are revised. Already among the most upscale in the class, the cabin gets revised controls, new wood and chrome trim, and white LED overhead lighting.
2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?
Nearly as much as a luxury crossover, but there’s plenty of room to negotiate and frequent factory incentives.
All models come with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. Gas models are tabbed VR6s for their six-cylinder engine and come in four grades: Sport, Sport with Technology, Luxury, and Executive. Their base-price range is $45,615-$59,610. (All base prices include the manufacturer’s destination charge; VW’s is $910.) To put that in context within the midsize-crossover class, comparable Jeep Grand Cherokees have a base-price range of $32,990-$56,285. The premium-class MDX is $45,785-$53,410.
The Touareg diesel, badged TDI, duplicates the gas lineup — sans Sport trim — and has a base-price range of $53,155-$63,110. The Hybrid comes in Executive-equivalent kit and starts at $67,906.
Never robust, Touareg sales were down 8.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015, so dealers ought to be happy to see you and anxious to move the metal. Pricing service TrueCar.com reports average transaction prices trending roughly $3,150 below manufacturer’s suggested retail for VR6 models, about $3,300 below for TDIs, and about $2,800 under for Hybrids. As of Spring 2015, VW was offering financing as low as 0.9 percent to qualified Touareg buyers.
3. When will the next big change be?
Not for a couple of years. Named for the Taureg people of North Africa, this SUV debuted for model-year 2009 and was redesigned for 2011, shedding some of the weight of the more off-road-oriented original. The ’15 updates mark a midcycle freshening for this second-generation and no notable changes are expected until 2017 when the redesigned third-gen will bow as a ’17 or ’18 model. By then, VW will also be selling a less expensive and more mainstream crossover with three rows of seats. It’ll be built in the company’s Tennessee factory while the Touareg continues its upscale ways and likely remain a product of VW’s Slovakia plant in Eastern Europe.
4. What options or trim level is best for me?
One of the two middle-range trims gets you the best blend of features and value. The Sport VR6, starting at $45,615, is far from bare-bones, with standard bi-xenon headlights, heated power front seats with driver memory, heated windshield-washer nozzles, and VW’s MDI (Media Device Interface) with Bluetooth and USB iPod connectivity.
Still, you may find it difficult to live without the extras standard on the Sport with Technology trim. It starts at $49,655 as the VR6 and $53,155 as the TDI and adds a navigation system, power liftgate, keyless entry with pushbutton start, a rearview camera, and steering-correcting lane assist.
VW’s richly grained standard vinyl upholstery does a superb imitation of leather, but for the real thing – plus an inspiringly large panoramic sunroof – look to the Luxury grade. Starting at $54,050 on the VR6 and $57,580 on the TDI, it includes all the Technology items, plus 19-inch alloys in place of 18s, leather upholstery, 12-way power front seats, the panoramic roof, and parking-distance warning. To these you can add a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, and front-collision-mitigating automatic braking as part of a $2,500 Driver Assistance Package.
We wish such Executive-level features as surround-view video and heated rear seats were available on the other models. They’re not. Other Executive exclusives — 20-inch “Montauk” wheels, fancier cabin trim, and upgraded audio – are not essential. Frankly, for $59,610 as the VR6, $63,110 as the TDI, and $67,905 as the Hybrid (where it includes the Driver Assistance Package), candidates for a Touareg Executive are better served shopping a true premium brand.
5. What engine do you recommend?
The diesel. Pricey, yes, but it’s one of this vehicle’s true unique selling points. The turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 delivers its 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque with uncanny smoothness and furnishes prompt throttle response that can press you into your seat. Plus, at a realistic 29 mpg on the highway, 765 miles between fill-ups is a fascinating possibility.
The narrow-angle six-cylinder VR6 is perfectly serviceable. But its 280 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque is unexceptional and VW recommends premium-octane gas. The Hybrid combines a supercharged V-6 and battery-electric power for a net 380 horses and 428 pound-feet of torque. It’s surprisingly quick but we find it difficult to justify its high price and it’s available only though only select VW dealers. Every Touareg has an alert eight-speed automatic transmission.
6. How is the fuel economy?
The diesel is the highlight here, but even it can’t fully overcome Touareg’s porky weight. The TDI rates 23 mpg city/highway combined. That’s just shy of the 24-mpg-combined-rating of the only other diesel in this class, the Grand Cherokee, but, brother, that torque and that range is addictive. The VR6 rates a mediocre 19 mpg combined. For all its tech, you’ll likely buy the Hybrid for its green image and low emissions, not its 21-mpg-combined rating.
7. How does the it handle?
It’s no nimble sportster but there’s a surefooted confidence to its every move. The steering is accurate and nicely weighted and 4Motion is calibrated to maintain a rear-wheel-drive-type balance unless sensors direct it to reapportion torque fore and aft to quell tire spin or otherwise promote equilibrium. It also features a driver-selected off-pavement setting that programs the powertrain for maximum traction.
The upside of Touareg’s heavier-than-average curb weight is an ingot-solid feeling of stability in any situation, on any road, in any weather condition. There’s a reason Audi and Porsche found this platform a suitable starting point for their Q7 and Cayenne, respectively (although next-generation versions of all three will use a lighter but no-less-rigid understructure).
8. Are the controls easy to use?
Not as easy as they ought to be. Every button and dial operates with precision. Clear, purposeful main gauges bookend an informative information display that, like the 8-inch dashboard screen, has crisp graphics. But VW’s navigation system isn’t as responsive to voice commands as that of top rivals. It requires a frustrating number of steps to connect a Bluetooth device or to even program radio-station presets. And relegated to the base of the dashboard’s center stack, the climate controls aren’t easily read or accessed while driving.
9. Is it comfortable?
Quite, with much credit due Touareg’s reassuring solidity. It’s evident in the vault-like shut of the doors, in the isolation from almost every untoward outside noise, and in the way the suspension works to cushion occupants from all but the nastiest road imperfections. That great ride, however, is degraded by the low-profile 20-inch wheels; you’ve been warned.
Filled with dense foam, sheathed in classy coverings, and shaped for long-distance support, the seats are a selling point in themselves. There’s Burgermeister-grade headroom and legroom all around; even the back seat’s center position is adult-hospitable for trips of reasonable duration. Nothing in the cabin feels remotely cut-rate; here’s a VW that still plays a class-above for interior materials. The body isn’t very long, which helps maneuverability and garaging but keeps cargo volume to a slightly below-par 32.1 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 64 with it folded.
10. What about safety?
The current generation of this crossover hasn’t be crash tested under the government’s 5-Star rating system. It does, however, earn top ratings for occupant protection from the influential, insurance-industry-sponsored Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That includes the IIHS’s top rating in the moderate overlap front crash test that measures the affects of two vehicles colliding front-corner to front-corner.
11. How’s the reliability and resale value?
Not so great. As the VW brand suffers more than the average number of problems reported by owners, so Touareg ranks below par for initial quality, though it’s at least average for predicted reliability. That’s the synopsis of owner surveys by consumer-research firm J.D. Power.
As for resale value, residual tracker ALG reports steeper than average depreciation. After five years, it says a 2015 Touareg VR6 Sport will retain 30 percent of its value and a VR6 Executive and Hybrid just 27 percent. The TDI is the line’s resale leader, projected at 31 percent of value over 60 months. In total cost to own over the same period, research company Intellichoice predicts a Touareg VR6 will be more expensive than average and the Hybrid far more expensive than average. It had insufficient data on the TDI to project ownership costs.
12. Is it better than the competition?
In terms of satisfying the demanding driver and the not-easily pleased passenger, yes. There’s a class-above fluidity to the way Touareg moves and a premium air about its décor and fit and finish. That’s when things go right. Fans of dependability and resale value are advised to shop the Japanese competition.