On many occasions, the ski addicts on staff pointed the Touareg headed for the slopes at Mammoth Mountain. One editor even decided to explore an unplowed, snow-covered road only to find himself stuck 100 yards from the highway. The VW's stock tires weren't up to this icy job, and it took several hours of shoveling to put the Touareg back on the road. In fairness, however, this was more of a case of errant judgment on the driver's part.

Other off-roading opportunities included an exploration of California's Anza Borrego state park where we encountered numerous occasions to exercise the Touareg's low-range gears and locking differentials. When the trail conditions turned nasty, low range could be selected and the center and rear diffs could be locked all at the turn of a few center console-mounted knobs.

The Touareg's interior features a center stack with a sea of buttons that operate the radio, HVAC, and nav system. Although some of us felt these buttons confused rather then helped, most found them a suitable addition to one of the most stylish and trendsetting interiors in this segment. The integration of wood, metal, and premium plastics add up to the perfect example of what a luxury SUV's interior should look like. Unfortunately, some the interior plastics (particularly around the door grabs) began to lose their rubberized finish resulting in replacement under warranty.

Whereas other recent Sport/Utility of the Year winners have featured groundbreaking methods for collapsing their second-row seats, the Touareg's second row features the old-school, flip-and-fold method that at times was almost impossible to complete without breaking a serious sweat. It also requires the headrests to be removed before folding. Volkswagen could learn a thing or two from Volvo and Land Rover in this realm.