Volkswagen

2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2

In the automotive world, if a vehicle can’t adapt to a changing market, it dies. That threat looms over SUVs and is a fate the Touareg wants to avoid. Enter the Touareg 2. Volkswagen’s revisions to the fifth-year model aren’t all apparent to the eye, and most fall under one heading – refinement. It retains many of the same dimensions – wheelbase, length/width/height, track widths, and interior volume – plus identical off-road capability and towing capacity, but this evolution has several new and improved features.

The Touareg 2 (that “2” only shows up in VW literature, not in badging) has reshaped headlights, grille, and bumper, new, larger side mirrors, and updated taillights and exhaust tips. Careful revisions also were made in the cabin-a new instrument panel, 12-wayadjustable driver’s seat, and new stereo interface with LCD screen, plus options like keyless access and four-zone climate control.

Mechanical updates were made months before the Touareg 2 went on sale. Volkswagen integrated direct injection (FSI) into the 2007 model’s engine lineup, improving fuel economy while increasing power. Midyear, a 280-horse FSI 3.6 V-6 replaced the 240-horsepower, 3.2-liter, and the FSI 4.2-liter V-8 became available later in 2007, both return virtually unchanged for 2008. The torque-happy (553 pound-foot!) V-10 twin-turbo diesel is back, but 2008 TDI models are legal in only 43 states. However, those seven lonely states can rejoice: By the middle of the 2009 model year, the V-10 TDI will be replaced with a 50-state-legal 3.0-liter turbodiesel that uses urea injection, a system VW claims will be as easy to replenish as the windshield-washer fluid. Front and rear suspension systems are essentially the same, as are the four-wheel discs. ESP now adds active rollover protection, ESP dry-braking (removes water from brake pads for shorter stops on wet surfaces), and ABSPlus for better braking on loose surfaces.

We drove the Touareg 2 on twisting roads and wide-open highways and off-road, where terrain varied from soft dirt to off-camber slick rock. Our topline tester was equipped with the 4.2 V-8, four-corner air suspension, and towing and off-road options for a total of $59,020. The new V-8 is smoother and more refined, with more pep off the line. It has a subtle growl when passing slow movers, but the transmission lags before downshifts at freeway speeds. The ride is compliant yet provides plenty of road feel, and the fairly responsive steering feels artificial at low speed. The cabin is quieter, suggesting a healthy addition of sound-deadening throughout. That, plus the firm yet comfortable resculpted seats and restyled layout, makes the interior more luxurious. Off-road, the Touareg continues to impress, tackling obstacles most owners of $60,000 SUVs will never even see.

The Touareg’s in a tough spot-gas prices have scared off some buyers, and many who do look at full-size SUVs want three rows. Yet these updates, along with the added fuel efficiency of FSI and an upcoming affordable diesel, could be enough to keep this VW from going the way of the carrier pigeon.