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.
For audio quality, our Touareg had optional Dynaudio speakers, a component of the system we enjoyed so much in the Volvo XC70. But while we liked the clarity of the audio from the speakers, the audio system in the Touareg didn't seem to have much of an amp to back it up. The sound didn't come through with much strength, although it could get quite loud. Bass was particularly lacking with this audio setup.
We discussed the usefulness of the back-up camera above. The parking system also includes distance sensors that illuminate lights on the dashboard to show how close you are to an obstacle. Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't available on the Touareg 2, nor is iPod integration.
Under the hood
The 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 comes with a choice of three engines, a 3.6-liter V-6, a 4.2-liter V-8, and a massive 5-liter V-10 diesel. We had the middle option, the thirsty V-8, which uses Volkswagen's FSI direct-injection technology. This engine gives the Touareg plenty of push, providing 350 horsepower at 6,700 rpm and 324 pound-feet of torque at 3,400rpm. Volkswagen says the Touareg 2 V8 can get to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, but we assume that's using the manual mode on the shifter. When we punched the gas with the transmission in Sport mode, the car accelerated at a leisurely pace.
But while straight-line fast starts don't seem to be the Touareg 2's forte, we enjoyed its stability on winding mountain highways. Underway, the six-speed automatic transmission's Sport mode did an excellent job of downshifting before corners, then holding a low gear as we stomped the gas on the attack. The transmission also has a manual mode, but there are no paddles, only the shifter. We were quite happy with the automatic sport mode.
The car offered a lot to help us out under these circumstances, including a suspension that could be set to Sport, Comfort, or Auto. The steering is very responsive, with some predictable understeer. During one long drive up the California coast, we frequently got stuck behind slower traffic as the Touareg 2 prompted us to drive with gusto, looking for any opportunity to test out the on-road performance of its four-wheel-drive.
But we were also impressed by the Touareg 2's off-road gear. Beyond its four-wheel-drive, it also has automatic differentials that can be set to high for normal road driving, low for light off-road, or you can lock either just the center or both the center and the rear, keeping torque at all wheels. Not only that, but you can use the air suspension to set the Touareg 2 for a low or high ride height, the high setting intended for better clearance. The controls even include a button to lock the high ride height, to make sure the system doesn't suddenly decide it can lower the car down into a stream or onto a boulder.
Unfortunately, the Touareg 2's size, running gear, and powerful V-8 come at a heavy price. Fuel economy for the Touareg 2 is rated by the EPA at 12 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. Ouch! During our time with the car, mixing driving between the city and highway, we achieved 13.4 mpg, pretty much in the range tested by the EPA. For emissions, the Touareg 2 is nothing to write home about, getting rated as a LEV II, the minimum rating acceptable, by the California Air Resources Board.
Our 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V8 FSI came with a base price of $48,320. We added the air suspension at $2,750, rear differential lock at $700, the $3,350 Technologie package, which includes the navigation system and the disc changer, and the $3,400 Lux package, bringing in the Dynaudio speaker system and a smart key. Our total, with the $680 destination charge, came up to a whopping $59,200.
In our ratings, the Touareg 2 scores low for cabin tech, being only partially redeemed by the Dynaudio speakers and the cool back-up camera. It does markedly better in performance tech, giving us a ride we liked and apparently serious off-road capability, but takes a hit in this department for low gas mileage. Volkswagen has a new navigation system on the way, which we've seen at a few auto shows, the addition of which to the Touareg would improve matters greatly. For the price of the Touareg, you get pretty close to a BMW X5, although that car doesn't seem as capable off-road, unlike the less expensive Land Rover LR3, which makes a worthy alternative to the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2.