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VW Touareg 2.5 TDi

Broadcast date : 25th April 2004

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the Volkswagen Touareg sports utility vehicle has been the most significant new model launch so far in 2004.

Volkswagen's entry into the four-wheel-drive SUV market was pre-empted by the appearance of the Porsche Cayenne late last year, a vehicle developed concurrently with the Touareg.

The Porsche off-roader is naturally more powerful and it is specced for high-speed autobahn use. And it has to be said, the Cayenne is a little bit glitzy in appearance.

The Touareg is if anything understated. Rather like a Golf on steroids, with no fancy metal mouldings or badging to make it a stand-out.

And yet stand out it does. During our time with Touareg we were amazed at its recognition factor, and the admiring glances it attracted.

It seems the word is out that this is one special sports-utility.

Whereas most of the early publicity surrounding the Touareg has gone to the V10 diesel model, we were not unhappy to kick off with the base-model R5 2.5 TDi. There is also a 4,2-litre V8 petrol version which we are keen to sample.

As the model designation implies, the R5 is a five-cylinder diesel and comes with a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox.

Our vehicle was the manual, with nicely-spaced gear ratios to accommodate the rather short power spread of the diesel motor.

One of the rather limiting factors of a small-capacity diesel engine is that you are constantly changing gears. And this was the case with the R5 Tdi. Power from the five-cylinder 2,5-litre is rated at one hundred and twenty eight kilowatts, and 400 Newton metres, and while it is adequate, it is no firebrand.

A two-point-five litre diesel may be potent in a sedan, but in an SUV weighing just over two thousand, four hundred kilograms, it is going to work for its living

Neverthless Volkswagen claim a respectable 12,4 second nought to one hundred sprint time and top speed of just over one-eighty for the manual model.

And with the six-speed 'box and plenty of torque, you can maintain a respectable pace. However, on undulating roads you will be stirring that gear lever.

Happily the gear lever has a wonderful solid feel, and with the good feedback through the steering wheel adds up to a very secure on-road ride.

And it has all the latest techno aids to get you out of trouble like traction control, anti-lock braking, and corner-assist braking which brakes individual wheels to correct a skid.

In fact the whole vehicle exhibits no-nonsense solidity. However we did notice a few build-quality glitches, like a loose beading on the door surround and on the ill-fitting cubbyhole.

As for the rest of the interior, it is quite down-the-line, with no ingenious seating configurations like many of its competitors. However it is fully equipped with six-CD sound, navigation, climate control, telephone installation and the like.

So much for the road. Is the Touareg just another soft-roader, best suited to the speed bumps of Durban North?

Out on a real four-wheel drive trail were were astonished at just how accomplished the Touareg is.

Key to this is its all wheel drive, low ratio tranfer gearbox, central and rear differential locking, and its variable ride height air suspension.

We were disconcerted to have to use the combination foot-parking brake on inclines. This means having to first apply the brake with your left foot, wind up some engine torque by revving the engine and slowly releasing the clutch pedal, and then releasing the brake with your right hand.

Volkswagen reports a hill start assistance mechanism on the automatic model. However, as any driver of a Mercedes manual model will tell you, you really need it on a manual version with this dual system.

What was wrong with the good old fashioned, progressive hand brake?

Our fuel consumption varied between 10,8 litres per 100 km and 14 litres per hundred kilometres, good for a heavy four-by-four. In fact our overall consumption, which included off-road driving was 11,8 litres per hundred kilometres, which we thought was excellent.

What amazed us about the Touareg was its combination of on-road sharpness and stability and real off-road prowess. Steep rocky slopes are handled with aplomb thanks to the low-ratio option which is normally found in much more purpose-built off-roaders.

Competitors? You'd have to include the very accomplished Toyota Prado, which doesn't have quite the on-road finesse, and the Volvo XC90 and BMW X5, which again are more on-road inclined.

In fact, the Touareg sets news levels of versatility in this class. Here’s an SUV that behaves like a car on road and a pucker four-by-four off the beaten track. In our book it is a winner.

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