Open the driver's door, and you settle into a substantial, supportive chair with the expected higher SUV H-point and elevated view of the surrounding landscape. Yet, step-in height is no more challenging than an average minivan due to the Touareg's unit-body construction (which eliminates the space-robbing ladder frame rails) and resulting lower floor. Spread-out room is generous, but only for five. Buyers seeking seven-passenger accommodations will have to look elsewhere.

For the past decade or so, the Volkswagen Group has emerged as a benchmark among competing automakers in terms of interior layout and perceived quality. This leadership is evident in the Touareg, which enjoys an Audi-like richness in the materials, colors, textures, and presentation of the cabin environment. Even in the most basic V-6 guise, the Touareg never feels anything less than premium-grade inside. A symbiotic confluence of wood tones, aluminum, and leather trim complements switchgear that's logically arrayed and satisfying to operate. There's a lot going on here, with all the necessary mechanisms to operate the multizone climate control, audio, navigation, 4WD modes, damping and ride-height systems of a fully optioned Touareg, but the effect is engaging rather than suffocating. Volkswagen manages to hide scores of control buttons and dials in plain sight, and it does so elegantly by making them an integral part of the interior design.

A benefit of hatching from the halls of a large car company is access to deep and varied parts bins. This is reflected in the Touareg's extensive engine lineup, which includes three gas engines and one turbodiesel. Anchoring the line is a 3.2-liter V-6 similar to the unit supplied in the Phaeton luxury sedan, but it's been specially adapted for off-road use. It features a baffled sump and modified oil-pump intake to ensure sufficient oil pressure on steep inclines. Closely related to the VR6 performer we've seen in the Golf GTI and Jetta GLI, the Touareg's V-6 is a four-valve/cylinder double-overhead-cammer with a narrow cylinder bank vee-angle of just 15 degrees. Though not endowed with overwhelming performance in the 4900-pound Touareg application, the 3.2-liter V-6 is surprisingly responsive and flexible, both in town and out on the highway. The U.S.-specification Touareg's standard six-speed automatic takes a lot of credit here, too, with a half-dozen ratios mixing and matching engine rpm and road loads to good effect.

Considering how most U.S. luxury SUV buyers equip their rigs, we suspect the 4.2-liter/310-horsepower V-8 will be the most popular Touareg engine choice in the land of cheap premium unleaded. This four-cam four-valve/cylinder engine has been satisfying Audi A8 and A6 4.2 buyers for years, and it should perform admirably in the 1000-pound-heavier Touareg. There's something undeniably substantial about the sound and immediate torque of a V-8.