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.

Like the Porsche Cayenne the Touareg shares its platform with, the V-10 TDI features four-wheel air-adjustable independent suspension. There are six adjustable ride heights; these range from a lowered setting, with 6.3 inches of ground clearance for high-speed operation, to a raised position with 11.8 inches of daylight underneath for clearing off-highway obstacles. Fully raised, the Touareg can ford through 22.8 inches of water. It also is capable of climbing and descending 45-degree slopes. Hill Descent and Climb Assist apply individual brakes to enhance traction and controllability under the most challenging off-road trail conditions.

Despite this off-road ability, the Touareg behaves more like a tall sport sedan than a heavy truck when it comes to gobbling up mile after mile of pavement. The pneumatic suspension delivers solid balance between ride quality and control, while standard ESP stability control and anti-lock vented disc brakes with brake assist give confidence. Continuous Damping Control has three driver-adjustable ride-stiffness settings.

Inside, an exquisite leather, wood, and aluminum-trimmed cabin sets the Touareg apart from the crowd. Featuring appointments that wouldn't be out of place in an Audi A6 or A8, the Touareg's front seats are 12-way power adjustable, heated, fully reclining, and offer lumbar support and driver-seat memory functions. An optional Winter Package adds heated rear seats as well as a ski bag and a heated steering wheel. Safety systems include dual front airbags, front-seat side airbags, and side-curtain airbags for both rows of seats. In the event of airbag deployment, the fuel and electrical supply are turned off and all doors are unlocked. Unlike many of the newer midsize SUVs that feature three rows of seats, the Touareg has accommodations just for five passengers in two rows. Cargo space behind the rear seat is 31 cubic feet, which expands to 71 cubic feet when the seat is folded down.

The appeal of the new Touareg V-10 TDI is its blending of luxury and high performance with compact-SUV fuel efficiency. That outstanding efficiency is a major reason European drivers, faced with $5/gallon fuel prices, have flocked to diesel-powered vehicles for many years. Unfortunately, buyers in California, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont will have to wait. Extra-stringent particulate-emissions limits in those states exclude even the cleanest of diesels, probably through 2006. VW is working on a new particulate-trap system that, together with low-sulfur diesel fuel that oil companies will begin refining in 2007, will enable the automaker to offer direct-injection TDI models in all states.

2004 VW Touareg V-10 TDI
General
Location of final assembly Bratislava, Germany
Body styleFour-door SUV
EPA size class Light truck
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Dual front, front-side, full side curtain
Powertrain
Engine type 90-degree V-10 turbodiesel, cast-aluminum block and heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.19 x 3.76
Displacement, ci/L 300.2/5.0
Compression ratio 18.0:1
Valve gear SOHC, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Direct injection
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 310 @ 3750
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 553 @ 2000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy17/23
Transmission type Six-speed Tiptronic
1st 4.15:1
2nd 2.37:1
3rd 1.56:1
4th 1.16:1
5th 0.86:1
6th 0.69:1
Reverse 3.39:1
Axle ratio 3.27:1
Final drive ratio 2.26:1
Low-range ratio 2.66:1
Crawl ratio(1st gear x axle gears x low range) 36.1:1
Recommended fuel Diesel No. 2
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 112.4
Length, in 187.2
Width, in 75.9
Height, in 68.0
Track, f/r, in 65.2 / 65.7
Headroom f/r, in 38.7 / 38.3
Legroom f/r, in 41.3 / 35.6
Shoulder room f/r, in 57.7 / 57.4
Total interior volume, cu ft 99.0
Cargo volume, back row up 31.0
Cargo volume, back row down 71.0
Ground clearance, min/max, in 6.3 / 11.8
Max approach/departure angle, deg 33.0 / 33.0
Base curb weight, lb 5825
Payload capacity, lb 1000
GVWR, lb 6956
GCWR, lb 14,000
Towing capacity, lb 7700
Fuel capacity, gal 26.4
Chassis
Suspension, f/r SLA independent, air springs, adjustable shocks/four-link independent, air springs, adjustable shocks
Steering type Power Servotronic
Ratio 14.7:1
Turns, lock to lock 2.9
Turning circle, ft38.1
Brakes, f/r 13.8-in vented disc/13.0-in vented disc, 4WABS
Wheels 18x8.0-in
Tires 255/55R18 V-rated all-season
0-60 mph, sec 7.5 (mfr est)
Price
Base price$58,415
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