The Touareg's stiff, unitized body structure (good enough also to wear a Porsche badge) is key to a squeak- and rattle-free driving experience. To this substantial foundation, Volkswagen mounts an all-independent suspension worthy of any German luxury car. Base springs are steel, while an air-suspension setup is optional. Said one editor, "The Touareg is remarkably steady, solid, and calm on the highway and long mountain straights. It could be a sportwagon to rival the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes S-Class sedans on the autobahn." Another added, "Great handling stick without exacting a ride penalty." On Motor Trend's 600-foot slalom, the air-suspension-equipped Touareg V8 zigged and zagged through the cones at a respectable 59.4 mph, better than two-thirds of the SUVs in this year's competition.

The most outstanding aspect of the Touareg's pneumatic suspension is its adjustability. Shock damping can be adjusted with the turn of a knob on the center console. Ride height is equally easy to adjust, with five settings available--from 6.3 inches of ground clearance for acquiring or discharging passengers or cargo, 8.7 inches during standard 'burb trawling, and 7.5 inches for low-profile high-speed aerodynamics, to 9.4 or 11.8 inches for clearing off-road obstacles. Raved one editor, "Adjustable suspension ought to be offered in every upmarket SUV. It makes the vehicle a multiple-personality driver."

Without any adjustments, the Touareg can effectively mimic a luxury sedan. Opening the door is akin to entering a reading room at a gentlemen's lodge. The seats are firm and supportive. Rich-looking leather (standard on the V8 model) and real walnut trim are complemented by dashes of aluminum. The detailing is impeccable. Materials, fit, and finish are the richest yet seen in a Volkswagen. Numerous compartments for cell-phones, garage-door openers, sunglasses, and the like abound. Cupholders in the front console use spring-loaded fingers to keep beverages secured. Dual-zone climate control is standard; optional is a four-zone system that adds temperature, flow, and directional control for rear-seat passengers. Turn on the lights at night, and the dash, console, and door panels come alive with a galaxy of red light from backlit switchgear, bathed in places by soothing blue hues. VW's design quality is the envy of the industry, and it shows in the Touareg.

Speaking of quality, we're aware that some Volkswagen products have received below-average reviews in long-term reliability studies (from the J.D. Power three-year survey, in particular). But from where we're standing, it appears VW has pulled out all the stops to make the Touareg a quality product. (We're adding a Touareg to our long-term test fleet and will be reporting on its durability.)

Our staff unanimously praised the artful design and high quality of the Touareg's interior. When you think about it, the Touareg is a natural development from the company that brought us the Microbus and the mud-puddle-hopping Thing.