As we pulled the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 up a rocky slope for its photo shoot, we started thinking about taking the car through even more hostile terrain, such as out near Moab, or from San Francisco to Dakar. With the Touareg's four-wheel drive, lockable center differential, and adjustable ride height, it seems as if it can handle all obstacles, slopes, and surfaces. But we were restricted to paved roads during our time with the car, which we didn't really mind as the leather interior, comfortable ride, and modern exterior are perfectly at home in an urban environment.
Unfortunately, the urban environment also reveals one of the Touareg's major flaws, as fuel economy drops close to 10 mpg with our V-8 version. The cabin gadgets in the Touareg are also a major problem, as it has the worst factory-installed navigation unit we've seen. And, although the stereo sounds decent enough, its ridiculous configuration when the navigation system is present really doesn't improve matters.
Test the tech: Back it up
One thing we like about this new iteration of the Touareg is that it has an excellent back-up camera. This camera not only shows you what's behind the car, it provides a set of graphic overlays that show how close the car is to any obstacles and the path it will follow depending on how the wheels are turned. We last saw a similarly featured back-up camera in the 2007 Audi A6. To test that one, we drove it in reverse through a short slalom course.
For the Touareg, we came up with a couple of new back-up tests. We called the first one The Back-up Squeeze. For this test, we set up cones to simulate a very narrow alley, only a couple of inches wider than the car. Editor Wayne Cunningham and staff contributor Mike Markovich each tried to reverse through the cones by using only the back-up camera. Cunningham went first, reversing toward the cones and correcting the position of the car by using the green lines, which define the area straight behind the car, as if the wheels weren't turned. He lined it up where the green lines were between the cones and reversed through, making it by the first set of cones. The last set proved a problem, though, as the car brushed against the right rear cone. Markovich then took a turn, starting from the same spot as Cunningham and maneuvering the car backwards. Once he lined it up with the cones, he reversed, and though he did a better job than Cunningham, he still kissed the right rear cone. Both contestants were willing to conclude that the lines on the back-up camera needed some calibration.
For the next test, we set up our cones to describe a 90-degree left turn, through which both contestants would have to reverse. Cunningham started it off, choosing to attack the turn from the outside. But this tactic put the inside cone outside the field of view of the camera, forcing him to guess when he should start cutting the wheel to pull the turn. He waited too long, and backed over the outside cone. Markovich went next, choosing to hold closer to the inside cone. But he cut it too tight and ended up running over the inside curve. We concluded that turns are much trickier, as the camera only shows what's immediately behind the car. Just to prove our course was possible, Markovich made a second try, successfully negotiating the reverse turn.
For our last test, we repeated the reverse slalom course we had run with the Audi A6. Again, Cunningham went first, choosing to reverse with some speed, forcing him to make sharp turns at each cone. This tactic worked for the first three cones, but he couldn't pull the last turn and ended up running over the final cone. His raw time was 34 seconds, but we adjusted upward to 44 seconds, reflecting a 10-second penalty for hitting the cone. Markovich again followed and choose a lower speed, trying to thread the slalom closer to each cone. There was a suggestion that he scraped the third cone, but as we had no judge on that side and the cone was still standing, we let it slide. He made it through the course with no penalties, for a winning time of 38.4 seconds.
In the cabin
We felt good stepping up into the driver's seat of the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2. The cabin offers plenty of luxury amenities, making the interior feel comparable to that of its platform-mate, the Audi Q7. The sienna brown leather seats are power adjustable, complete with electric lumbar adjustment. The power windows are all one-touch up and down, while the headlights have an automatic setting. And one new feature we particularly like is the rich display between the speedometer and the tachometer, showing a compass, the trip computer, or audio information in rich detail.
But the center stack held the navigation system we've seen in other Volkswagens and have come to deplore, not just for how it works but for the weird configuration it forces on the car. The unit itself suffers from incredibly slow graphic rendering, so that when it's zoomed in all the way, the onscreen position lags behind the actual car position, making it easy to miss turns. Destination entry is also difficult--we found that trying to enter a destination on the map is nearly impossible because of the rendering problems. When entering a street address, it first asks for the street number, then the street name, followed by the city. The problem here is that if you don't know whether the thoroughfare you want is labeled as "way," "avenue," "street," or any of the other possibilities, you may not be able to find the street name in the right city. The system should ask for the city first, or give you the choice of which to enter first.
Our other problem with this navigation system is that if you choose it as an option, it does weird things to the stereo configuration in the Touareg. With navigation present, there is no CD slot in the dashboard at all. The only way to listen to CDs is to go back to the cargo area, remove one of the interior side panels, and access the six-disc, cartridge-style changer. As this changer doesn't play MP3 CDs, you will be stuck with a very limited amount of music. The stereo does include satellite radio, and we made a lot of use of the auxiliary jack in the console during our time with the car.