Last December, Volkswagen's first-ever SUV was honored as Motor Trend's 2004 Sport/Utility of the Year, without benefit of its top-gun powerplant. Available in Europe for some months now, VW's potent V-10 turbodiesel comes to Canada and to 45 of these United States this summer. Lucky buyers get an SUV that, at a rated capacity of 7716 pounds, will tow more than a Hummer H2, while getting nearly twice the fuel mileage at an EPA-rated 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway.

As diesels go, the VW V-10 is a sweetheart, quiet (especially with the windows up, thanks to triple door seals) as any premium offering should be. The intercooled twin turbochargers spool up quickly, rendering turbo lag non-existent. Instant response and mountains of torque are available with a tap of the electronically controlled throttle. With 553 pound-feet of grunt at an easy 2000 rpm, the Touareg's 5.0-liter turbodiesel generates more torque than the Dodge Viper's 8.0-liter V-10.

Though it sounds like something from Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat," Volkswagen's new Pumpe Duese technology (pronounced "pump-a-dooz-a") takes its turbodiesel engines to a new high in performance and efficiency. The system injects fuel directly into each cylinder at very high pressure (around 30,000 psi), and the resulting extra-fine atomization of the mixture is designed to give a more complete combustion burn. That rich surge of torque just above fast idle helps move this 5825-pound midsize SUV with no fuss, and one smoke-free look in the rearview mirror confirms that this diesel creates no muss, either. The big V-10 is exceptionally smooth, thanks to even cylinder spacing, offset crankpins, and a counter-rotating balance shaft. An aluminum block and heads help reduce mass while a cast-iron bearing tunnel and plasma-coated cylinder walls add toughness.

Hooked to the standard six-speed Tiptronic transmission, VW claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 7.5 seconds for the V-10. The Tiptronic gearbox adds manual-gear selectability, helpful when negotiating steep grades and hilly sections of highway.

Volkswagen's 4XMotion permanent four-wheel drive features a two-speed transfer case with a 2.66:1 low-range reduction for serious off-roading. The system controls the percentage of torque transfer between the front and rear wheels based on available traction at any given wheel.