We drove the most misunderstood SUV in America and were surprised by how much we liked it
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• The VW Touareg is an aging design that is on the way out in the US, but after 15 years, it's still a great choice.
• Our reviewers usually never agree so completely about a vehicle.
• Some consumers might take issue with price and fuel economy, but they would be hard-pressed to find another SUV that does everything so well.
In 2017, Business Insider's Transportation team is on track to review more vehicles than ever before. In most, cases, before we publish a review, we debate a car's merits - and we don't hold back on whether we loved or hated a vehicle. (Both Senior Reporter Ben Zhang and I drive just about every car that comes through for a look.)
One car, in particular, led to a real knock-down-drag-out battle of words: the Lexus CT200h. Ben detested this upscale Prius; I own a Prius and genuinely adore the car, so I was a sucker for a fancier, sportier version.
Ben and I agreed to disagree, mainly because we knew something would come along we'd be in absolute agreement on. For the record, even with the vehicles we really, really like, we rarely agree 100%. But what can you do?
The no-debate car was actually something of a surprise: the 2017 Volkswagen Touareg Sport.
Named for a nomadic desert people, the Touareg has been around since the early 2000s and shares a platform with other VW Group vehicles, notably the Porsche Cayenne, possibly the finest SUV ever crafted by human hands on planet Earth.
But the Touareg isn't long for these shores; VW is discontinuing the model in the US and will likely replace it with an as-yet-unnamed five-seat SUV based on the new top dog Atlas SUV.
So our week with the Touareg was the last chance we'd have to drive a completely current version of the vehicle.
What luck for us, as Ben and I basically couldn't find a single thing to argue about, which is highly unusual. Honestly, we didn't even try. The 2017 Touareg is about the best way to spend fifty grand (our tester was $50,405) one can find these days while feeling no remorse or envy whatsoever.
We put the Slovakian-made Touareg through the usual paces: Ben took it on a highway cruise of decent length, and I committed it to suburban-dad duty for a few days - but I also drove my family all the way out to the east end of Long Island. Not my entire family. Just four of us: me, my lovely wife, and our two handsome and talented young sons. The Touareg was so pleasant that I didn't even yell at them once. Which I would have remembered because they would have yelled back and told me to stop yelling at them.
The Touareg, in a nutshell, is roomy, comfortable, and with a 280-horsepower V6 under the hood and an eight-speed gearbox handling the changes through a roughly eight-second 0-60 mph time, abundantly capable no matter where you take it. We couldn't test out the all-wheel-drive system, but it's reputed to be dandy for the typical foul-weather challenges most owners will throw at it.
Ah, the V6. We've been up to our crankshafts in turbocharged motors of late as automakers try to get six- and eight-banger performance out of more fuel-efficient, smaller engines. So it's downright joyous to sit behind an old-school German V6, mash the accelerator, and have its pour on its power in a delightfully linear manner. Vroom! No turbo-lag, no turbo-steer, no turbo-whine. Just six pots and some gas and some spark and off we go. The eight-speed doesn't even feel as if it wants to get to the upper gears too fast. And if you think the 0-60 mph time is slow, remember that the Touareg can tow almost 8,000 lbs.
If the Touareg has a weak spot, it's the infotainment system, which is kind of old-timey compared with what you might get on, say, VW Group stablemate Audi with Virtual Cockpit (our Infotainment System of the Year for 2016) or Porsche, whose infotainment suite is being happily upgraded. But the Touareg's infotainment isn't flawed or dysfunctional; it handled everything from audio to navigation very well, it just just doesn't do it as snazzily as some others, and despite its dated feel, it still probably just as good as what Toyota is offering.
Our Touareg tester was in the Sport with Technology trim, and all that means is that the SUV was jammed with tech, safety, and driver assist features. Stuff like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, emergency braking, parking assist, and lane-keep assist are becoming pretty standard on luxury cars, but VW exists between the luxury realm and the mass-market, so we weren't surprised to find all the goodies in the Touareg.
The serious business of an SUV is of course transporting people and gear, and to that end, the Touareg doesn't disappoint. We're not dealing with a huge, boxy SUV here - the Touareg's styling has always been quite Euro-sleek and minimalist - but the vehicle is relatively capacious and it laughed off the modest cargo demands I placed on it. Our Touareg came with a Canyon Gray Metallic paint job and a Black Anthracite leather interior, and the overall effect was one of stately self-confidence. Not a flashy SUV, to be sure. But one whose design has matured nicely.
"What about fuel economy with that V6?" you might ask. Well, it's what you'd expect: 23 mpg highway/17 city/19 combined.
And finally, you might be wondering why we didn't balk at the price. Isn't it a little steep for the segment? Maybe, but then again, VW's pricing strategy has always been to defy the mass-market and pitch itself as a near-luxury brand in the US. And there's so little to complain about with the Touareg that the extra thousands could be construed as peace-of-mind money.
Obviously, it's too bad that such a wonderful SUV is on the way out. But at least we were able to send it off with uniform admiration.
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