(First Posted 1/26/2014, now includes updates at the end) In the summer of 2012, my wife and I sold all of our cars except for our Honda Odyssey, while my mom left her Subaru Outback in my care during a summer-long trip to Alaska. Before leaving on a trip of her own, my wife told me to figure out what we would be buying when she got back.
The requirements were that it be somewhat upscale, not something that every other neighbor was driving, and if it was a little offbeat that would not be a bad thing. My wife is the kind of gal that looks longingly at every Range Rover Sport that we see stopped at the side of the freeway and assumes that the driver is just enjoying the view. While fairly tolerant of cars with “personality”, I am a little more pragmatic these days and don’t want to pay anyone money to fix stuff that really should not be breaking in the first place.
Many of you may not know that for a long time, new diesel-powered cars were forbidden fruit in California. It was not possible to buy one new, and some people were importing and selling them with hefty markups after they’d accumulated 7500 out-of-state miles, the point after which buyers are able to register one as a used vehicle.
As a result, many Californian gearheads find diesels interesting, perhaps due to the persona-non-grata image they had. Having driven some diesels in Europe, I understood the appeal of modern diesels vs. gas-powered cars (fuel economy, huge torque numbers).
After moving to Colorado however, diesels were everywhere. Most of those sold were VWs, but Mercedes were also abundant, with Audis and BMWs starting to appear as well (this is aside from the huge pickups that are all over the place). However, I found that the diesels did seem to sell for a hefty (unreasonable to my eyes) premium on the used car market that I was looking at originally.
So I switched gears and started looking at the normal gas-powered SUVs from the same manufacturers, namely the BMW X5, Mercedes ML350 and Audi Q7. However I got discouraged again when I looked at the price vs. accrued mileage equation and did not think they were any kind of value as a used vehicle.
Eventually I got to looking at the VW Touareg. Still a bit leery of VW based on my experiences with my ‘95 Jetta and my wife’s ’96 GTI (not to mention the various horror stories heard on the web), I was not sure if I should give VW another chance. When I looked at the Touareg, I was surprised to note that VW had seen fit to endow all Touaregs with a 10year/100,000mile powertrain warranty.
I was even more intrigued when I realized they were offering 0% financing on new purchases at the time, which A) made them barely more expensive than a slightly used one due to the difference in interest rates and B) made the VW much less expensive than the other contenders when financing was figured in.
The Touareg has been sold here since 2004. After making a fairly big splash at the beginning, sales volume has decreased over time. A facelifted version came in 2007 without making much of an impact and then in 2011, the next generation was unveiled and seems to be selling better. It is still very much a low-volume car, with sales of all versions rarely exceeding 1,000 units per month. In all of 2012, a total of 10,553 were sold in the U.S. and an additional 1,975 in Canada.
In the early years, VW saw fit to offer VR6 and V-8 gasoline engines, and a stonking big V-10 turbodiesel engine. In the current generation, the choices are limited to either a 3.6-liter VR6 or a 3.0liter V-6 turbodiesel. The trim levels offered with both engines are called Sport, Lux, and Executive. There is also a Hybrid version but it is very seldom seen (and costs more than any other version).
All Touaregs are assembled in Bratislava, Slovakia with engines coming from Hungary and transmissions from Japan according to my sticker. Parts content is listed as 25% German, 32% Slovak and 1% US/Canadian. I have no idea where the other 42% hail from.
Originally I thought that the TDI Sport version would be good for us. However, once my wife returned and I took her to the dealer, she saw one with a saddle brown interior and decided that was the interior she wanted. Of course the brown interior was not available in the Sport version and required a step up to the Lux version. Lux relative to Sport means that you get leather seats versus VW’s version of Vinyl (named V-Tex, kind of like MB-Tex), walnut trim as opposed to piano black and aluminum, a huge full length glass roof that opens, 19” instead of 18” alloys, and memory seats.
The base price for this trim level is $52,895, the options on ours (trailer package, mud flaps, winter mats, etc.) and destination amounted to another $1,925 for a grand total sticker of $54,920. Yes, I did find myself choking a bit at the thought of paying over fifty grand for a Volkswagen, no matter how nice. Happy wife, happy life, right?
A second issue is that the one that our dealer had was already sold and awaiting pickup. It was three days prior to the end of the month and nobody knew if VW would be extending the financing offer to the next month, so we had to move fast. We ended up looking on the VW website and charted all of the inventory in Colorado. Then we got on the phone and called everyone that had one with a brown interior.
VW offers the brown with any exterior color, of which nine were officially offered, including blue and brown along with white, black and five different silver and gray shades. My wife liked the blue and brown, the latter I did not care for, though we found out there were no more blue ones available anywhere.
We drove down to Denver to take a look at one in the white color that we both thought we’d like and realized that even though the brochure only lists one white (Campanella White) there were actually two whites in production, the other called Pure White.
That dealer had one of each and when viewed next to each other, the difference is significant. Upon seeing both, my wife now preferred the Pure White, which in this dealer’s case had a black interior. So we had to get on the phone and figure out who had which white.
In the end Elk Mountain VW in Glenwood Springs had one in stock and was willing to drive it to the halfway point to meet us and do the deal in a Starbucks but would not budge on the price as they “had a buyer that was coming in tomorrow to buy it if we did not commit to it now at the full price”. The dealer in Greeley was willing to get one from elsewhere and sell it to us for less money. After going back and forth with both of them, the Greeley dealer eventually stated that their source was now unwilling to give them the car as that source said they had found a buyer that would buy it that day.
We figured out that they were actually talking with Elk Mountain who themselves seemed to be playing us, at which point I told the Elk Mountain salesperson that the “other buyer” could have it but that I thought they were making a mistake. The Greeley dealer in the meantime found a car that was exactly what we wanted in Omaha and was willing to bring it out for us at a total price that was still less so we decided to do that.
I tell this somewhat convoluted story as it was immensely satisfying when the Elk Mountain salesperson called three days later and said they were now ready to sell us the car as the “other buyer” did not materialize. I was able to tell him that I would have loved to have done business with him, but his game backfired on him and I had committed to buying elsewhere. For all I know the car is still in his back lot. I hope so, anyway.
Okay, so let’s see what we have. A Touareg TDI in pure white with saddle brown interior, with the same engine found in the Audi Q7 TDI and now the Porsche Cayenne Diesel. In 2012 this engine was rated at 225hp at 3500rpm and 406lb/ft of torque at an astoundingly low 1750rpm, routed through an 8-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel-drive. For 2013 the engine was re-rated at 240hp but all other figures are the same. Curb weight is listed at a hair under 5000 pounds.
As far as the interior color is concerned, the brown is very appealing, consisting of two shades that complement each other. Most of the interior is a very dark brown–like dark chocolate–with other parts more of a milk chocolate color. It works very well in person, but is sometimes hard to photograph correctly. When I was at the LA Auto Show a couple of months ago, brown was a very popular interior color in many vehicles. I guess it is the next big thing.
The warranties are quite generous as well. Besides the aforementioned 10yr/100k on engine, transmission and AWD system, the car is covered from bumper to bumper for 3 years and/or 36,000 miles and comes with free servicing during that period. As a Touareg owner I also received a letter giving me a dedicated hotline at corporate to call if I ever had an issue with the vehicle or the dealer. This apparently grants me better treatment compared to other VW owners.
It appears that VW is really trying to give a superior experience to those that spend a significant amount of money, although I believe they should be giving the same superior experience to everyone. After all, that Jetta buyer may have a need for a pricier car down the road.
As of today our Touareg has just under 20,000 miles on it and we are almost ready for our second service. At the first service I noted a piece of loose trim in the back seat area that necessitated the dealer ordering a special clip that I never went back for. When I schedule this service I will ask them to have that clip ready to install. Other than that we have not had a single problem.
It drives very well. Right off the line it feels a little sluggish but once the turbo kicks in after a few feet of motion it goes like the dickens. Midrange acceleration is its strong suit. While driving on the freeway at 70mph, if you bury your foot, it just leaps forward with an urge that I have not felt since my heavily modified 1993 Audi S4. It does not seem to matter how many of the seats are filled, it just moves. The ride is fairly firm but well-controlled and it will go around corners much faster than you’d expect with very little lean.
The diesel characteristics are not really noticeable. It is fairly quiet inside and what can be heard is not unpleasant. There are never any odors, nor any clouds of smoke. The car does have a urea tank, which we have not had to refill yet. I suppose the dealer may have filled it at the first 10,000 mile service and will presumably do so again at the upcoming service. The fluid (called AdBlue) is the same as what you can pick up at any truckstop or even Walmart. It is cheap and there is a tank in the rear of the car next to the spare tire.
If it needs filling a light is supposed to come on which gives you 1500 miles of range within which a refill is required. Once empty, it will allow you to start the car two or three more times but if you push it beyond that, well, you will literally be pushing the car.
Even though it has a VW badge on it, it is equipped with practically every doo-dad that you can imagine. The most interesting of these are the swiveling headlights, which turn with the steering at speeds over 12mph, a la Citroen forty years ago. Under 12mph, the relevant side’s fog light comes on to provide more light. It works well and going through turns in the dark is significantly better with this system. All cars should have this.
Much of our driving is in town, which is not the diesel’s strong suit, and we are averaging over 22mpg overall, which is quite a bit better than the gas version achieves. Our sticker lists it as 19 City / 28 Highway with a combined rating of 22mpg so we are pretty much on the money. On the highway, we have on occasion seen it sustain 30mpg over long distances. With a 26.4 gallon fuel tank, it has a range of well over 700 miles which I got a chance to test again just before the new year.
I took my two boys on a roadtrip to Chicago just after Christmas. We filled the tank before we left and did not fill up again until Des Moines, IA which is 675 miles away. At the refill point, the trip computer still displayed a range of sixty miles. We were averaging just under 80mph but did stop several times. I had the satellite radio on the whole way and the boys were looking out their windows and watching movies on their Kindles when they got bored. The big VW was rock solid and very quiet inside.
While in Chicago I got a chance to compare it to my friend’s Mercedes ML 350 of similar vintage. My friend was very impressed with several of the VW’s features that his car did not have. In particular, the backup camera has several sets of superimposed lines that show where you will head if you go straight back. More importantly if you are turning while backing, it will show you the arc that the sides of the car will travel through, which is a huge advantage when backing into a parking spot.
He was also smitten with the fact that the driver’s seat heater will maintain its setting when the car is restarted but the passenger’s seat heater will only do so if someone is sitting in it after the restart. Those in his car have to be reset every time the car is started.
Another feature he really liked is the HVAC’s “Rest” feature. Pressing this button after stopping the engine directs the heater and blower to keep working by using the residual heat in the system until cold. Perfect for when you go to the grocery store on a cold day, for example.
As long as the engine is fully warmed up, the car will remain nice and toasty for well over half an hour while you are inside shopping. It’s kind of the opposite of the feature that some luxury cars had (have?) where a small solar panel in the sunroof will power the fan to circulate fresh (cooler) air through the car on a hot day.
While the drive out to the midwest was uneventful, the return trip was worse. Just after Iowa City we hit a snowstorm with temperatures around zero degrees Fahrenheit that left the freeway a large sheet of ice. We did not really notice it until one point when a car in the distance braked, and the VW was unable to really slow down and also began to rotate.
I immediately got off the brakes and the car straightened up at which point I got back on the brakes a lot more softly and it started to slow down a bit. I believe what happened is that I actually locked up all four tires on ice. Although the car has ABS, if all four wheels are locked at the same time, I suppose the system will figure it is stopped. The stability control supposedly is able to sense if the car is traveling at an angle not supported by the steering wheel angle and can correct for that.
Again, though, if you are on a sheet of ice, you are still limited by the tires’ available traction level. In any case, we saw dozens of wrecks and stranded cars, thankfully we avoided everything by trying to stay away from other vehicles, and it was very slow going for several hours. After an overnight stop in Kearney, NE (did you know this is exactly the midpoint between LA and Boston? Says so right on the brochure provided by our hotel!) we continued home. Weirdly, the temperature in Nebraska was in the high fifties with no snow whatsoever.
The lesson to be learned is that even with all of the available high-tech nannies and a full time AWD system, the all-season tires end up becoming the limiting factor. In my Touareg’s case they are a relatively high performance all-season (Goodyear Eagle LS2) that is great in dry or wet weather but in snow and ice, not as good as our Odyssey on a set of subpar snow tires. With a good set of snows, I think the Touareg would probably be a monster in the white stuff.
At the beginning of last year we were involved in a small accident with the VW. While waiting to turn onto our street, a Honda Accord driven by a high school student could not stop in time on the ice that was present and hit the rear corner of the car. My wife was beyond pissed but the other driver’s insurance covered everything.
While there was no sheetmetal damage, the bumper skin and a lot of the assembly underneath deformed or broke as it was designed to and one of the tailpipes was bent. I took it to a highly recommended shop in town and was astounded to learn that the damage cost almost $5,000 to repair. They did a phenomenal job on the repair and it is not possible to tell that there was any damage whatsoever.
As you may recall from my post a few weeks ago, we have a pop-up camper and are trying to decide on the best way to tow it. The Touareg in TDI form with the factory towing package is rated to tow 7,700 pounds, which is more than enough. However, as a family of five we really need a third row to keep the kids content–and myself sane–for any trip that is more than just local. So we are at a bit of a crossroads and are currently weighing our options. Getting rid of a child is not one of them.
The VW has been a great vehicle, we are very happy with it so far. Even though it is very expensive it is definitely superior to much of the competition. Compared to any domestic offerings, the fit, finish, and quality of materials is superior and compared to the Asian offerings, it just feels much more physically solid. It is fully competitive with more expensive, established German luxury manufacturers’ offerings. I’m sure it will also be equally as expensive as those other German brands when the time comes to fix something that is not under warranty or perform regular service.
Next week will bring my authorship of this Cars Of A Lifetime series to a close, but I have one more car in the garage whose story I will share. Unless, that is, I buy something else in the next week (you never know).
Update 6/24/2018: So, this is kind of weird when looking back on it but read the last sentence above again – When I wrote that I didn’t have any preconceived notions but as it turned out we traded the Touareg in exactly ELEVEN DAYS after this was published the first time. It did not quite get to 20k miles. The good news is that nothing eventful happened to it since you last read this post, at least not to our VW. VW itself, well, that’s another story as we all know. Also, if you know me, you know that the second to last sentence is in no way true anymore. We are nowhere near the end of this series. Anyway…
As things turned out, this particular Touareg would end up being one of the ones affected by the TDI fiasco (remember how I thought it seemed to be extremely frugal in its use of the Diesel Exhaust Fluid)? Yeah, that. In hindsight, from a financial perspective we should have kept it, the payoff that VW ended up offering (or being forced to offer, I suppose) was extremely generous, we would have done very well on it. But that was all in the semi-distant future. Looking back, it was pretty good overall, it was built to a standard above what other VWs seemed to have been and the materials used were better than what is offered today in the Atlas. Of course the Atlas competes in a very different space and as such it makes sense. This was a VW that really was comparable to the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class and Audi Q7 in every way but overall brand perception.
The best thing about our Touareg was probably the vastly reduced need to go to the gas station due to the lower fuel consumption mixed with a large tank. You don’t realize how much you don’t miss going until you once again have to go much more frequently and it’s a subject that still comes up more than four years later. Will we ever get another VW? Maybe, time will tell; although what is interesting is that we don’t really discuss the TDI thing much at home and our daughter is approaching driving age and she, on her own, is fairly adamant that she would prefer to drive something that is not a VW product due to what she has learned on the subject.
I understand her friends feel much the same way. Is this the idealism of youth? I’m not sure, but it’s one thing for a fifteen-year-old to not want a car (or whatever the items in question is) because it isn’t the trendy thing or not as good in her mind as something else, and something else for them to not want it due to something bad that the corporation did. I’ll be interested in seeing if she adjusts her views over time in that regard. You all will be the first to know.