First Drive: 2009 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI
Sedan Economy, SUV Power -- And no Diesel Stigma
Driving an SUV is tough these days. Some people look down on them for being too big and inefficient, and with the unpredictable price of gas, these vehicles can be expensive to operate. What is an SUV buyer to do? There are two solutions. The first, buy a smaller, more efficient vehicle that won't do everything you want or need. The more appealing choice, though, is to find a big SUV with the right power, size, and luxury that does it all on less fuel.
Taking a cue (and the technology) from Europe, Volkswagen is bringing its turbodiesel Touareg to North America. In Europe, diesel-powered SUVs are the norm. With the high price of fuel, the excellent economy and range afforded by diesel power allows people to go longer between fill-ups. Plus, the high torque serves up plenty of might to move a large vehicle and whatever is lugged behind it.
The Touareg itself, revised for 2008, remains the same; what's new here is the 3.0L diesel option. This V-6 is smaller than the first diesel offered in a Touareg (the fantastic V-10 with 310 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque), but that engine was big, expensive (a V10 TDI cost nearly $70,000), heavy, and only 45-state legal. While the 50-state-legal V-6 doesn't have the same shocking torque numbers, its 407 lb-ft of torque is more than enough to pull this vehicle along. Plus, the engine's smaller packaging will make it much easier to fit into smaller vehicles, and should cost significantly less to build than the V-10. Pricing for the new 3.0L hasn't yet been announced, but when it goes on sale in spring, we expect the MSRP to fall between the gas V-6 ($39,990) and V-8 ($49,590). The same engine will also be available in the Audi Q7 in early 2009.
The TDI's 225 hp is less than the current 3.6L VR6 FSI and is only five more horses than the original 3.2L V-6. However, its peak torque, 87 lb-ft more than in the V-8, comes at a mere 1750 rpm-and you can't even get to all of the V-8's 324 lb-ft until it reaches 3500. Not only that, but the diesel's 17/25 city/highway fuel economy is the best of the three (VR6 is 14/20, V-8 is 13/18) and is comparable to the V-6 Malibu's (17/26) and the same as that of a Honda Accord V-6 manual. Unlike the Malibu or Accord, though, this VW will tow 7700 pounds.
And it's clean, too: the Touareg V6 TDI meets Tier 2, Bin 5/ULEV II standards. The diesel uses a common-rail system with piezo injectors and a new catalytic converter system. Ensuring the clean-diesel status of this vehicle, Volkswagen implemented DeNOx, which uses urea to reduce emissions by up to 90 percent. AdBlue (32% urea, 68% water) is sprayed into the exhaust gas stream before it reaches the DeNOx catalyst, where the urea converts NOx gases into nitrogen and water. The amount of AdBlue needed to be sprayed is monitored by a NOx sensor located after the DeNOx catalyst.
The AdBlue is stored in a 4.5-gal tank in the rear of the vehicle, and the refill spot is under the compact spare. Initially, the idea is that dealerships will refill the AdBlue tank during standard scheduled maintenance (a "service engine soon"-type light will appear 1500 miles before AdBlue runs out, and a tank should last 10,000 miles), but owners may be able to do it themselves in the future. A warning to procrastinators: Government mandates will not allow diesels that use urea injection to run without; when it's time to add more, don't ignore the light. Whether it's the ML, X5, Q7, Touareg, or any other diesel that uses this system, when the tank is empty, the vehicle will not restart. Period.
From the outside, the only real evidence that this is a diesel is the TDI badge. It's the same story inside. There is no special startup sequence, no gauge you have to examine; just turn the key. This engine puts out a quiet thrumming purr that is just barely louder than the gas V-6. A passenger who doesn't know it's a diesel may not realize it. The cabin is just as nicely equipped as other Touaregs-our tester had leather, nav, Sirius satellite radio, and a backup camera. A couple of sounds did intrude upon the otherwise quiet interior: There was a whistle coming off the driver-side mirror and a metallic raspiness from somewhere underneath, both of which can likely be attributed to the pre-production status of the TDIs on this drive.
Even though the TDI Touareg has less horsepower than the gas V-6 and the diesel version weighs about 110 lb more, you wouldn't know it from behind the wheel. When VW developed its European 3.0L diesel for the U.S., one of the major changes was to use a smaller turbo. This reduced horsepower, but improved spool-up and acceleration off the line. It's fairly quick leaving from a traffic light, feeling just as responsive as the gas six, but lacking the initial thrust of the V-8. Its excellent six-speed automatic, the same as in all Touaregs, provides the option of manual shifting if you want to take control. Whether going uphill or on flat roads, power delivery is so smooth and effortless it's as if you'd run out of road before the VW ran out of steam. Steering and suspension are the same as in the rest of the Touareg line. Our tester used steel springs and 17-in. wheels and tires, but four-corner air suspension and a 19-in. wheel-and-tire package will be available.
What stands out most about this diesel engine is its refinement. It's so polished, so quiet, so odor-free, it would be easy for an owner to take it for granted. It does its job beautifully, pulls nicely up hills, and provides great fuel economy, with none of the negative telltale signs people remember from diesels past. The big question, though, is when people start buying vehicles again, will this lure them away from car-based crossovers? Pricing will be critical here, but an affordable Touareg V6 TDI could do just that.
|2009 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI|
|Base price||$42,000 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine||3.0L/225-hp/407-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve t'diesel V-6|
|Curb weight||5100 lb (est)|
|Length x Width x Height||187.2 x 75.9 x 68.0 in|
|0-60 mph||8.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA City/Hwy Econ||17/25 mpg|
|CO2 Emissions||1.12 lb/mile|
|On sale In U.S.||Spring 2009|