It's hard to believe the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg represents the 10th model year VW's upscale SUV has been on-sale in the U.S. When it was introduced globally in 2002, it was the largest, heaviest and most expensive Volkswagen-branded vehicle to date, surpassed only by the even more indulgent Phaeton luxury sedan that debuted around the same time. The Phaeton was ultimately dropped from the U.S. market, with the idea of a six-figure "people's car" being a difficult sell in the colonies. But the Touareg persisted, due in no small part to Americans' insatiable appetite for SUVs of all equipment levels and sizes, including, presumably, a nearly $60,000 Volkswagen.

The 2014 model year brings some detail changes to the Touareg, with a 15-hp bump on the TDI model to 240 hp. Peak torque remains unchanged from 2013 at 406 lb-ft. Applied to European models for the past several years, the U.S. finally gets an available R-Line treatment. Unlike Volkswagen's dedicated "R" models, such as the Golf R, "R-Line" simply designates a trim and appearance package, much like BMW's M-Sport and Mercedes-Benz's AMG styling packs (as distinct from dedicated M and AMG complete models). So there's no added horsepower infusion from the addition of the badge over regular Touareg TDIs. However, the R-Line does add a sport suspension, 20-inch "Mallory" alloy wheels, lower bumper extensions and side skirts, brushed aluminum interior accents and R-Line sill plates at the doors.

Also included on our tester was a driver's-side memory seat, outside mirrors and heated seats, but no perforated leather, and hence, no seat cooling. But our R-Line tester was hardly lacking amenities, with bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, power liftgate, power folding outside mirrors, touchscreen navigation system, keyless ignition, and dual-zone climate control.

Curiously, although it has a "keyless" ignition, there is still a fob-sized receptacle tumbler in the dashboard that will accept the remote and turns a notch clockwise, so if you want to go old-school, you can still twist and go. But if you prefer to do without that quaint anachronism, there's also a console-mounted button to start the engine.

Once you do, you're rewarded with a model of diesel refinement. Volkswagen's newest crop of diesels are near the top of the heap in terms of NVH. Just as the Jetta TDI is noticeably quieter than the Chevrolet Cruze diesel, so the 3.0-liter V-6 TDI in the Touareg edges out its contemporaries in refinement. To the trained ear, it's obvious it's a diesel when standing outside, but in terms of quantitative noise output, it's as quiet -- if not quieter -- than most gasoline engines on the market today. At idle, from inside the cabin, all you hear is a muted hum, with the characteristic diesel clatter virtually imperceptible. Under acceleration, you get a little of the expected clickety-clack, but not much. But you are rewarded with the expected generous torque. Channeled through the eight-speed automatic transmission, the TDI whisks the 5000-lb SUV from 0-60 in a brisk 6.8 seconds. That pace is a significant full second faster than the new 2014 Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. The Touareg's nearly 400-lb lighter weight likely helped the matter as well.

We averaged an observed 19.5 mpg average, but much of that driving consisted of suburban stop-and-go, and generous self-indulgence in the TDI's sweet, smooth turbodiesel torque. The TDI's EPA figures are 20 city and 29 highway, highly respectable for a 5000-lb SUV.

Behind the wheel, the Touareg has a surprisingly athletic feel, turning enthusiastically into corners, and not feeling at all cumbersome, plodding or unwilling to play a little. Its lateral acceleration figure of 0.82 puts it on the higher side of the SUV spectrum, and in the hunt with many midsize sedans.

But the Touareg is no shrinking violet when it comes to doing SUV-type work either. Like all Touaregs, the TDI has a 7716-lb towing capacity, and 1155-lb payload. However, ultimate interior room and volume is relatively modest. If you need truly stretch-out room and space and more truck-like capabilities, your needs may be better served by a GMC Yukon.

But for those that like the Touareg's understated, modern European style and engineering sophistication, there are few other options available near this price level. Certainly, the Jeep Grand Cherokee makes a compelling case for itself, especially with the newly-available EcoDiesel engine. The two models are frequently compared. But we see the Touareg appealing to a different customer than the Grand Cherokee. The Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport and other upscale SUVs are considerably more expensive, and in the case of the Audi and Porsche, mechanically very similar to the Touareg. For a balance of style, performance, value and economy in a premium SUV, the Touareg TDI is pretty much your only choice.


2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI R-Line
BASE PRICE $51,035
PRICE AS TESTED $58,525
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/240-hp/406-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5017 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 113.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 188.8 x 76.4 x 68.2 in
0-60 MPH 6.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 88.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 126 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.1 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/29 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 191/132 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.95 lb/mile