Upon winning Motor Trend's 2004 Sport/Utility of the Year, the Volkswagen Touareg received an immediate invitation to become one of our long-term test vehicles. The 'ute arrived with just over 800 miles on the trip odometer, so we needed to tack on a few more to finish the break-in process. Entries in the logbook piled up fast: "The Touareg feels rich, from the delicious growl of its 310-horse, 40-valve V-8 to the gorgeous interior materials, fit and finish, and overall solidity." Other comments centered on the attention to interior detail and superior feel of the various materials. However, one senior tester did complain about the size of the switches (and lettering) for the HVAC and various controls--much too small.

As the Touareg already comes handsomely equipped in base form, we added only one option--but it was a big one. The Premium Plus package ($7600) includes a 375-watt, 12-channel, 11-speaker audio system with CD and navigation, Bi-Xenon headlamps (with washers), four-corner air suspension, smooth leather seating surfaces, roof rack, and the convenience package (driver-door entry system, seat memory, and telescoping steering wheel). The Blue Silver paint, Kristal gray leather interior, and six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic all came at no charge. Our final total, including $615 in destination charges, was $50,855. Before you choke on that price, understand there is a V-6 version offered at $36,000 (the base model).

Don't let the good looks and potent V-8 fool you into thinking that our 'Egg is strictly a one-dimensional, on-road machine; this long-termer is built to handle off-road adventures as well. Our 4x4 came equipped with a center differential lock, engine braking assist, hydraulic brake assist, anti-slip rearend, and a separate air compressor, handy for filling tires. In fact, not long after we took possession of the vehicle, staff photographers headed for the hills for some testing, and the VW impressed several onlookers by scaling a chewed-out hillclimb with very little wheelspin.

In addition, our Touareg was a support vehicle for our 2005 Sport/Utility of the Year. We loaded it down with photo gear, test-crew munchies, and three coolers full of drinks. The Touareg kept the wagon train moving (and fed) without a hiccup. We did need to add a quart of oil on our trip, but according to the owner's manual, this is considered normal during the first few thousand miles. We'll have more to report as we put another 10,000 miles on the vehicle before our next installment.