On the road, as with any diesel-powered vehicle, you immediately notice the low-end torque and the short rev range. Motivating the midsize bruiser is a 3.0-liter V-6 producing 225 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, and the pulling power comes early. Climbing the Rocky Mountains means dealing with steep gradients and air-thinning elevations, and while our urban California-raised bodies needed time to acclimate, the Touareg TDI didn't. Matched to the six-speed automatic transmission and 4Motion four-wheel drive, our tester cruised up the slopes and inclines with ease, reaching summits as high as 10,600 feet before descending toward Denver.

As the TDI diesel scoffed at the high-altitude challenge, the cabin's occupants explored their surroundings. The interior has all the hallmarks of a luxury SUV, from the affluent-sounding Latte Macchiatto/St. Tropez leather interior to the wood trim and recessed ash tray and lighter. Everything is powered, standard, and the intuitive cruise-control system proved a welcome companion on especially long stretches of deserted roadway. The smooth, wood center console has all the properly placed controls: push-button start, side mirror adjuster, gearing range, six-way ride height, and three-setting suspension damping dials. It's all there.

When you're trapped for 16 hours on the road, you start noticing foibles in your makeshift office, just before the human senses begin to drift listlessly. Clear away the empty snack packs and drained hydration bottles and you see there is a dearth of usable storage up front. The lone open pockets lie atop the dashboard, constantly exposed to the open sun and not in the most convenient location for reaching in haste. The doors' side map pockets went unused for the duration of the excursion, and the retractable cup holders in the center armrest of the rear seat allow condensation to drip all over the leather. The rear seats proved to be mildly uncomfortable and a bit too stiff and vertical for the long haul -- lying flat across the bench proved a more appealing alternative at times. Amusingly, the standard key ignition remains functional, peacefully coexisting with the keyless start button.