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Volkswagen Touareg TDI – Click above for high-res image gallery

The way Volkswagen talks up the $42,800 Touareg V6 TDI, you'd almost think it was the ninja of SUVs: a single package with so many highly developed capabilities that its gas-engined foes are annihilated and left on the side of the road with ninja shuriken lodged in their tailgates before they even realize they've been outdone. The engine alone promises reduced fuel consumption, fewer emissions, more power, more torque, better responsiveness and quiet progress. The only questions then are: Does it deliver and will anyone buy it? We took it for a spin to find out. Follow the jump for the story.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.

The diesel Touareg is essentially unchanged from the gas Touareg, so the sole story here is the engine. Volkswagen has done a Manhattan Project on its oil burner, going over everything that could make it more appealing to customers. It's a three-horse race in the non-gasoline powerplant derby, and diesels, hybrids and electric vehicles are fighting for share. VW and Audi have thrown their bets on the filly called Oil Burner, and the next couple of years will inform us whether it can win more than 5% of the market.

To the engine, then. Sounding like something they got from the lab that created Wolverine, the compact engine block with a 90-degree V angle is made of high-strength vermicular graphite iron. Being 15% lighter than cast iron and not even 1.5 feet long, it has been fitted with aluminum alloy cylinder heads and weights 498.2 pounds.

Within that block, the common-rail fuel injection system has been thoroughly refined. Electronically-controlled piezo fuel injectors permit injection pressures of 2,000 bar (29,000 psi) and spray through eight-holed nozzles for a finer fuel mist and better, more efficient combustion. Those injectors are also lighter and have fewer moving parts, and so can move at twice the speed of previous solenoid-valve injectors. With all of that, the number of injection processes per cycle can be varied and optimized as needed.

The turbocharger, served by two intercoolers, has variable turbine geometry, with vane angles controlled by an electric servo motor. And get this: it's ribbed. The engine block has fluting to diminish vibration, and "all pathways on the engine mounts that could transmit vibrations to the interior have been eliminated." Finally, to aid engine packaging, the ancillaries and camshafts are driven by maintenance free chains mounted in back of the engine.

So, what's all that get you? A torquey little V6 that grinds out 221 hp and 407 lb-ft. That latter number comes as soon as 1,750 rpm, obviating the need for much footwork with the pedal on the right when it's time to git 'er done. 0-60 miles-per-hour is estimated at 8.5 seconds, which isn't all that bad for what is probably a 5,000-plus-pound vehicle (VW hasn't divulged its weight yet, but the Touareg V10 TDI rocked the scales at 5,800 pounds).

It's not a sprinter, obviously, although neither is it a laggard. It is the marathon – or perhaps, the ultramarathon – where this car makes its name. VW says you'll get from Kokomo to the Poconos on one tank, which is 600+ miles for those of us who have nothing to do with either locale. Strictly by the numbers, you could go 660 miles if you used every drop of diesel in the truck: the Touareg is rated at 25 miles-per-gallon on the highway, and has a 26.4-gallon tank.

In reality, you might be able to go even further. On a recent drive in the similarly-engined Audi Q7 on Audi's mileage marathon, we drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles, about 352 miles, and had a half tank left when we got home – and we weren't being kind with the footwork.

In that Q7, we never got any worse than 21 mpg and we were doing some serious speeds through some serious mountains. The Audi Q7 diesel was billed as getting 33.1 mpg on the highway, so if you're a little kinder than we were to Mr. Throttle, we're sure he and his friend Mr. Gas Mileage will be a little kinder to you.

The engine has also been designed to be kinder to the environment, thanks to its use of VW's AdBlue system. Exhaust gasses pass through a catalyst where nitrous oxide is measured, and based on that measurement an appropriate amount of AdBlue treatment is injected into a dosing module. AdBlue is 32.5% urea, and mixed with the hot exhaust it breaks down into ammonia and converts the NOx to nitrogen and water. The resultant NOx levels are reduced by about 90%.

The AdBlue tank is located under the spare tire, and is heated for cold weather climates since it freezes at 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The solution itself is non-toxic, odorless and biodegradable, and the tank holds enough for around 15,000 miles. When it needs to be refilled, that can be done during regular dealer service, and VW mentioned that places like JiffyLube will carry it.

So here we have a 50-state diesel with an earth-friendly mien. But would you want to actually drive it in any state? In real-world driving, the V6 TDI shares a number of beneficial similarities with its V10-powered (former) sibling: it is quiet, powerful and refined.

At a cruise, the engine is as quiet as church just before a service, with only the slightest hum as any aural indication that the car is actually on. It is also steady as a rock: vibrations are essentially non-existent.

The V6 is 90 hp and 146 lb-ft down on the V10, but as we piloted the two-ton-plus SUV around snaking canyon roads, it was evident that VW has done its work to make sure all available power is applied to forward motion. Even on steep uphill grades, you don't worry about losing momentum because the Touareg will pick it right back up again on demand. The ride would be best described as business casual: crisp and smart, it suits all of the sporting situations you could wish to get into in an SUV.

VW says "The 3.0 TDI produces a quiet, cultivated and harmonious sound. The hard 'knocking' and metallic rattling at partial load is history." That is true... when you're cruising. And that is what makes it all the more jarring when you get hard on the power. It's as if the sound insulation has evaporated with a flick of the accelerator. Engine noise commandeers the cabin. Under mild acceleration the noise is alright. Even under hard acceleration it isn't awful, it is simply unexpected because the contrast is so striking. We found the same thing in the V10 – get on the gas, and you can hear the horses neigh.

That was the only demerit we gave to this vehicle. The only question is whether buyers will pony up the $3,000 premium for it over the VR6 FSI. The TDI will get you more power and much better gas mileage – 3 mpg more in the city, 5 mpg more on the highway, but these days, you'll pay substantially more for diesel at the pump, and that will likely more than neutralize the extra mileage. As fine a vehicle as it is, then, is it worth it? The best answer we can give to that one right now is probably this: We'll find out.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.

Meals and accommodation for this drive were paid for by the manufacturer.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      25mpg on the highway, that is it? Come on you have to do better than that to make this at all worth it. There are already SUVs out there that can do this with regular gas.

      Even the massive Tahoe hybrid is competing option to this vehicle as the Tahoe achieves similar MPG and costs about the same price. I wonder how good the Tahoe would do with a Diesel engine and the duel mode system?.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Tahoe Hybrid '4x4' which get does not have a center differential is rated 20/20. and did GM ever put a spare wheel in that thing?
        So you probably can get 20mpg, this Touareg can probably get 30mpg (diesel)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Guys, guys, new EPA ratings take kindly to some cars, and are harsh on others. I believe that these diesels are under-rated fuel-wise. Its rated at 25 highway, but I bet you could easily beat that (depending on the situation). Many freeways are fairly straight and flat. So hit the cruise-control at 65mph, and you could easily get up to 30mpg, methinks. On a heavy and capable soft-roader (check out Porsche Cayenne off-road on youtube). Same story with VW diesels.

      Also, after warranty runs out, you can add a cold-air intake and a chip to up the HP/TQ and mileage all in one blow. And the engine should last longer (being iron block and all), as most diesels do. Think of the long term benefits (10 years driving).
      • 6 Years Ago
      If it was made at the same lab that created me, the engine would be adamantium, not iron graphite, eheheheheh.

      The mileage doesn't impresse me though, mainly for a diesel engine.
      • 6 Years Ago
      With this great combination of power, torque, and fuel economy (with a decent-looking interior for the price), who needs the V8?
      • 6 Years Ago
      quote from Dan: -
      "That said, it's 500 pounds overweight and $10,000 ovepriced which puts it up against a luxury field where 220 hp is grossly inadequate. And like most VWs they gave it a pretentious yuppie d-bag name." -

      I'll agree with you on the weight, but due to the large amount of torque, it's somewhat of a non-issue as torque is what is needed to move weight and the VW is not lacking there.

      I'm wondering though if you feel the same about the Touareg as you would about the two M-B SUV diesel models?

      Realistically, those are probably the Touareg's biggest competitors(I guess the BMW X5 can be added in as well, but it's still more car-like than the Touareg and M-B's are).

      That said, the ML320 CDI starts at about $6,000 more than the Touareg TDI($42,800 vs. $48,600) Additionally, the ML320 CDI also has a 210hp 398lb-ft 3.0L diesel V6 compared to the 221hp 407lb-ft 3.0L V6 VW TDI. The Touareg does likely outweigh the ML320 CDI but the exact figure is unknown since VW has not annouced the weight yet. I don't expect the TDI to weigh as much as the older V10 TDI, it will probably be closer to the V8 Touareg which weighs in as 5,300lbs. By comparison, the ML320 CDI weighs in at 4,974lbs.

      Looking at a recent test of the ML320 CDI by Motortrend, they did a cross-country test with the ML320 CDI and a 1960 M-B 190D which recreated a test they did in 1959.

      They averaged 27.2MPG over the course of the whole trip in the ML320 CDI. That's compared to the ML's EPA HWY figure of 24MPG. I fully expect the Touareg TDI to be able to post similar figures and I don't doubt that 30MPG hwy may be possible.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Disregard, supposed to be a reply.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Well there's the difference, its rated at 19/25, but they just said that in reality you'll be hard-pressed to get under 21/33 in this thing while hammering on it.

      I just checked, and this week, Diesel is back to $0.40 more than RUG on the national average. That tells me that its only about $0.20 more than Premium.

      Can you even put RUG in the VR6?

      Sounds to me like the cost-benefits of diesel go from inferior/superior to gas repeatedly throughout the year.

      If its a complete tie on annual fuel costs, might as well look at your needs (towing) and what you enjoy (quiet, responsiveness)

      Sometimes, the diesel will be the right choice for certain individuals.

        • 6 Years Ago
        With a 12:1 compression ratio and direct injection, I would use mid-grade at least.
      • 6 Years Ago
      While VW may have built a good diesel in the Rabbit ,I hope this one is better than the one my sons family owns . A 2005 Jetta that has cost them over 5000.00 while owning it they cant keep it running .Had to replace the clutch at a cost of 1200.00 which slouldheve beem under a recall, replaced the timing belt which is a neccessary item .Just spent 3600.00 on the engine ie clean out turbo system then found that the cam had a lobe bad which has been badsince new ie it always smoked but whey could not find the problem,now the head is leaking oil into the coolant. This was after my son serviced the car per VW scheule wiht VW approved products The salesman told them if he would do this the engine would be warranted for 40000. VW has lost a potental 100 customers. The car was bounht at COOLSPRINGS VW in Franklin,Tn Dont ever purchase a car from them
        • 6 Years Ago
        On that same note, I'm still on the original clutch on my '02 GTI at around 95K miles currently. I'm also on the original front brake pads(rears were replaced at around 75K miles. I completed the timing belt replacement(along with the water pump and other belts) at about 80K miles.

        Other than normal maintenance, I've really had no major issues with the car. I did have the coilpacks replaced under warranty and they also replaced the window regulators and neither has given me a problem since their replacement about 5-6years ago.

        I did replace the brake light switch last year. A lot of people complain about that and I think it's for no reason. It was about a $5-10 part and it took me about 10mins to replace. There are 3 screws fastening the plastic cover and then it's just unplugging the old one and plugging in the new one.

        Otherwise, it's just oil changes every 3K miles(overkill, but I do it anyhow) and that's it.
      • 6 Years Ago

      Good all round SUV. Nice blend of on-road and off-road capabilities.
      • 6 Years Ago
      My only complaint is what is with these excessive, over-sized decals? Who's bright idea was it to slap that on their companies vehicle? It goes from attention getter to overkill and instant douche status in less than a second. First GM, now VAG.

      When will the hurting stop? (Good thing they can be removed by the dealer for free)
        • 6 Years Ago
        The decals are just for the demonstration fleet. Production Touaregs sold to customers won't have them.
        • 6 Years Ago
        thank gawd
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm mostly disappointed because I've been looking to VW to provide the affordable 30mpg+, 9sec to 60mph TDI SUV we've all been waiting for. For $47-50k equipped how I like it, we just deserve...more.

      The amount of cylinders is irrelevant to me. If he have a turbocharged 4 or 5 cylinder TDI that does the job, I'm all for it too. Fingers crossed for the Tiguan to get the appropriate functional makeover. $50k is Audi or BMW territory.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Careful, there are some on AB that will defend the EPA's testing methods so much you'd think they developed them personally.

      The EPA test schedule will never truly reflect reality. Its based on the false premise that all cars are driven in the same manner.

      Modern turbodiesels never really 'feel' slow. If drivers are just doing the daily run, they won't put their right foot down as much because you still get the torque at low RPMs. And you still move with traffic.

      That is a sensation you cannot get on rollers in a lab. Ever. You push the pedal as hard as the computer tells you too because some 'research' told you thats how average person drives all cars.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Overpriced. Overweight. And unreliable.
        • 6 Years Ago
        No kidding. My father works in the industry, visited the Touareg factory in Germany; and then vowed never to buy a Touareg
        • 6 Years Ago
        Sorry, but your father lied to you, he was in Slovakia and enjoyed the woman....

        There is no German Touareg factory, it is completly build in Bratislava. Fail.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Fail Phony story, your dad should have made up something about audi, or that he liked german sausages etc
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