We had high hopes for the Volkswagen Touareg when it arrived here. After all, this all-terrain machine was co-developed alongside the Porsche Cayenne, leaving no doubt VW was serious about becoming a major player in the SUV market. The results were impressive, so much so that we awarded VW's first effort in this category with our 2004 Sport/Utility of the Year and a few months later took one into our long-term test fleet for scrupulous evaluation.

At launch, the Touareg was offered with two gas engines and one diesel V-10 (emission requirements have since canceled the super torquey diesel option). It's available with a low-range transfer case, locking differentials, and driver-adjustable air suspension to adjust ground clearance. All this plus attractive styling, premium interior materials, and a sizeable cargo area quickly put the Touareg on the top of many SUV-crazed shopper's lists.

The real-life practicality of any moderate-size SUV means it doesn't spend much time sitting idle in our parking structure, and the same held true for our Touareg. Lots of commuting and weekend errand running easily revealed its strong points and a few weaker ones. Just about everyone who drove it complained about the abrupt throttle tip-in and that the transmission hung onto a gear too long when upshifting. Hesitations during downshifts were common, and the electronic assist brakes proved difficult to modulate. An intrusive all-wheel-drive system, unrefined drive-by-wire system, and non-linear brakes further made it difficult to drive smoothly around town, in spite of the big 'ute's 310 horsepower and 5300-pound curb weight.

We're also baffled as to why the nav system doesn't display street names on the screen. The map is colorful and features helpful graphics, but the lack of street names makes it difficult to use for getting around unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Once up to cruising speeds, however, the hiccups disappeared, and the Touareg became responsive and smooth. The V-8 has plenty of firepower to spare. Highway miles click off with ease, and the Touareg feels stable and solid at near triple-digit speeds. The interior is a comfortable place for five, and road noise is minimal.

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.

The Touareg's on-road grip is impressive for an SUV of this size and capability, but that roadholding comes at a price, as we learned when the tires on our Touareg needed replacing at 14,000 miles.

Volkswagen deserves applause for delivering an SUV that can just as easily climb a slippery rocky slope as it can make record time to and from the outlet malls, looking good inside and out while doing it. As with most heavy trucks this size, agility and gas mileage aren't strong points. On the whole, though, this was a good, hard-working year for VW's first-ever sport/utility, and we're certain the second generation will address our issues.

From The Logbook

In stop-and-go driving, the combo of an abrupt throttle and transmission that often seems uncertain what gear to select make for hiccup-filled progress. You have to work hard to impress passengers with your professional smoothness.
- Arthur St. Antoine

The level of luxury from material colors and textures to the wood and metal accents to the excellent stereo system are a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, the navigation system is a letdown; how about some street names?
- Allyson Harwood

It's difficult not to think there's too much complication engineered into this SUV--hinged rear seats, swivel-hinge console storage, tubeless big-rim spare, difficult nav system, and unrefined electronic throttle.
- Mark Williams

She's a peach on the highway at about 90 mph. The V-8 makes a well-toned, distinctive German growl when at wide-open throttle, and the throttle blips when in Sport Mode--all smile inducing.
- Brian Vance

The Touareg's rear latch release is downright maddening. One time it opens, the next time it doesn't. One time you have to depress it once, another time twice. You also can open it with the key fob, but that method doesn't always work, either. The bottom line is you're always fumbling to get access to the rear.
- John Kiewicz

2004 Volkswagen Touareg V8
Powertrain/Chassis
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Engine type 90° V-8, aluminum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 254.6 cu in / 4172cc
Compression ratio 11.0:1
Power (SAE net) 310 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 302 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 14.7:1
Turns lock-to-lock 2.9
Brakes, f;r 13.0-in vented disc 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 18 x 8.0-in cast alum
Tires 255/55R18 109V Continental 4X4 Contact
Dimensions
Wheelbase 112.4 in
Track, f/r 65.2 / 65.7 in
Length x width x height 187.2 x 75.9 x 68.0 - 71.1 in
Ground clearance 6.3 - 11.8 in
Turning circle 38.1 ft
Curb weight 5322 lb
Weight dist, f/r 52 / 48 %
Towing capacity 7716 lb
Seating capacity 5
Headroom, f/r 38.7 / 38.3 in
Legroom, f/r 41.3 / 35.6 in
Shoulder room, f/r 57.7 / 57.4 in
Cargo vol behind f/r 71.0 / 31.0 cu ft
Test Data
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.5 sec
0-40 4.0
0-50 5.7
0-60 7.8
0-70 10.1
0-80 13.2
0-90 17.0
0-100 21.4
Quarter mile 15.7 sec @ 88.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 129 ft
600-ft slalom 60.5 mph avg
MT figure-eight 28.1 sec @ 0.59 g avg
Lateral acceleration 0.76 g avg
Top gear revs @ 60 mph 2250 rpm
Consumer Info
Base price $43,255
Price as tested $50,855
Stability/traction control Yes / yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Fuel capacity 26.4 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 14 / 18 mpg
MT fuel economy 13.8 mpg
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded

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