2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI review: 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

Wayne Cunningham

Wayne Cunningham

Managing Editor / Roadshow

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.

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2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

The Good

The 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI's diesel engine provides better mileage than its gasoline equivalent, and lots of power for towing or off-roading. Off-road capability is enhanced with a locking differential. Advanced driver aid technologies such as adaptive cruise control and blind-spot detection are available, along with a Dynaudio audio system.

The Bad

The navigation system made bizarre route recommendations, and its slow processor made destination input frustrating.

The Bottom Line

The 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI makes for a practical and stylish diesel SUV option, but its cabin tech only partially passes muster.

We've seen dramatically good mileage in diesel cars, such as the BMW 335d and the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, but the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI doesn't meet the possibly unrealistic expectations given to us by these other cars. This SUV shows diesel's ridiculously high torque, while delivering the kind of acceleration and general drivability we've come to expect from gasoline-powered cars. But we wanted to see fuel economy in at least the high 20s.

Besides the diesel engine, the Volkwagen Touareg TDI is the same as its gasoline-powered siblings. The cabin incorporates a luxury that puts the Touareg almost into Audi territory. This Touareg TDI also came equipped with Volkswagen's new navigation system, a hard-drive-based unit we first saw in the Volkswagen CC sedan. Unfortunately, the more time we spent with this navigation system, the more we grew to hate it. For other cabin tech, the Touareg TDI gets a special audio port that can interface with iPods, other MP3 players, and USB drives, very similar to the Audi Music Interface.

The Touareg TDI that arrived in our garage came equipped with the navigation system and iPod integration, but lacked other available tech features. Volkswagen offers a Bluetooth phone system option, although that's a feature we think should be standard on all cars by now. There is also an interesting array of driver aid equipment, including adaptive cruise control and blind-spot detection. For off-roading, the Touareg TDI can also be had with an adjustable air suspension. Its standard equipment includes all-wheel-drive with low range and locking controls for the differentials.

The blue I in TDI represents the AdBlue technology used to break up nitrogen-oxide emissions.

Equipped with the standard suspension, our car sat moderately high with 8.3 inches of ground clearance. Its curved body lines give it a European look, unlike the boxy, truck-like SUVs from U.S. automakers. The white paint was only marred by a green D sticker on the fuel filler lid, a reminder not to put gasoline in the tank. On the back of the car, Volkswagen colored the I in the TDI logo blue, designating the AdBlue emissions clean-up technology, which uses urea to break up nitrogen oxide from the engine into nitrogen and oxygen. The urea tank needs to be refilled every 6,000 to 10,000 miles.

From the driver's seat, a redline of 4,300rpm on the tachometer also gives a clue that the Touareg TDI is a diesel. But you wouldn't know it from the sound of the engine. The well-insulated cabin of the Touareg TDI keeps the clatter of the diesel engine to a minimum. For slow to moderate starts, the car feels eager to move, showing no turbo lag or diesel hesitation. Although the turbocharged 3-liter diesel engine only makes 221 horsepower, its 406 pound-feet of torque gets all four wheels turning quickly. At 8.5 seconds to 60 mph, the Touareg TDI is no speed demon, but it will keep up with most cars on the road.

Around town, the Touareg TDI proved very drivable, maneuverable enough to negotiate obstacles, and parking assisted by sonar and a rear-view camera. Trying out a few sprints, the car starts off with leisurely acceleration, but the big torque figure means the power doesn't diminish at higher speeds. That attribute of diesel pays off on the freeway, too, where the Touareg TDI performs passing maneuvers at 65 or 70 mph with ease.

The tachometer redlines at about 4,300 rpm, a trait of diesel's lower engine speeds.

But we also noticed that the tachometer sticks around 2,000rpm at freeway speeds, about halfway to redline. A better overdrive gear from the six-speed automatic could lower the engine speed, but will probably result in a sacrifice of power. The weight of the Touareg and this high engine speed while cruising lessens the car's fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. During our week with the car we averaged 20.6 mpg. That's a big jump from the 13.4 mpg we averaged with a gasoline-powered V-8 Touareg, but our experiences in diesel cars have given us unrealistic expectations for SUV diesels.

The Touareg TDI's six-speed automatic has sport and manual modes along with the standard drive mode. In an SUV of this bulk, we weren't inclined to use sport or manual mode much beyond our typical testing. This car isn't made for cornering, its high center of gravity contributing to plenty of lean when the inertial forces start pulling it to the side. The standard suspension is designed for comfort, not sport, although the optional air suspension will hunker down an extra inch as speed increases.

Besides the fuel economy, we also had high expectations for the navigation system, as Volkswagen's previous system is dismal. But right from the moment we tried programming in some destinations, we found the system strangely slow to respond. Usually, a hard-drive-based navigation system means fast response times, but Volkswagen must have cheapened out on the processor. The system's touch-screen interface proved easy to use, with an onscreen keyboard allowing direct input for destinations. However, entering destinations using the map was made frustrating by the slow processor, as the map cursor moves too slowly.

You can move the cursor around on the map to select destinations, but it is infuriatingly slow.

In an inexplicable move, Volkswagen makes four maps available for viewing on the system: 2D, 3D, Topographic, and Traffic. Other automakers fold in the traffic data with the 2D map and the topographic contours with the 3D map. We're not sure why Volkswagen thinks we would want to look at the 2D map without traffic. And though we love having traffic reporting on a navigation system, in the Touareg TDI this feature doesn't provide automatic routing around traffic problems.

The system has a couple of plusses to its route guidance, such as text-to-speech, where it reads out the name of the next street on which to turn. It also has a lane suggestion feature, something rare on these types of navigation systems. As you approach a junction or off-ramp on a freeway, a small graphic shows the best lanes to use. But we also found some bizarre route suggestions with this system. For example, when approaching a freeway junction we wanted to use, it told us to take an off-ramp to surface streets, then take the next on-ramp to the other freeway. After we ignored that bit of guidance, it told us to use the junction to make the move to the next freeway, the more sensible move.

The audio system lets you copy tracks from MP3 CDs to the car's hard drive.

As the navigation system uses a hard drive, Volkswagen makes room available on it for music storage. We managed to copy a folder of MP3 files from a CD to the hard drive. As is typical with these systems, about 10GB is available for music. The in-dash CD player is single disc, but an optional six-disc changer is available, although it mounts in the cargo area of the Touareg TDI, not a particularly convenient solution. As part of iPod integration, there is a port in the glove box with four cables that can be plugged into it, ending in an iPod plug, a female USB port, a Mini-USB port, and a 1/8 inch port for an audio jack. The iPod integration works well, showing the library on the car's LCD, with music selectable by artist, album, and genre. The stereo also has satellite radio.

An impressive Dynaudio audio system is available for the Touareg TDI, but we had the system that comes with the navigation package. This system uses 11 speakers, including a center channel, and an eight-channel amp. It's not the most refined system, but it has enough power to give music some punch. The 11 speakers allow for an expansive sound, although clarity isn't up there with top-end systems. Overall, the audio seemed decently above average.

With a low range and locking modes for its differentials, the Touareg TDI can go off-road.

The Touareg TDI had some off-road credentials to prove, so we took it over a small course with a few rough hills. The suspension handled the differing surface heights well, keeping the car on a fairly even keel as it dropped and raised the wheels to negotiate pits, bumps, and ridges. The all-wheel-drive system did its thing as we took a steep ascent, making up for wheels that lost traction by driving the other wheels. It also did a nice job on a steep descent, keeping traction all around.

In sum
The new navigation system in the 2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI was not as big of an improvement over the previous system as we would have hoped. Its features make it equivalent to competitors' systems, but performance really lags. Fortunately, the music system and the availability of adaptive cruise control and blind-spot detection keep its cabin tech rating from really dropping down. As for performance tech, although we want to see better economy from a diesel, we really like this car's drivability. The big torque figure and turbo charging help the Touareg TDI keep up with gasoline-engined cars. Its off-road gear also gives it a bump for performance tech. Finally, the design rating is helped by a good interface for its cabin gadgets, as we usually like the direct input afforded by a touch screen, and the overall shape of the car. The Touareg has distinct body styling that makes it instantly identifiable.

Spec box

Model2009 Volkswagen Touareg
TrimV6 TDI
PowertrainTurbocharged 3-liter V-6 diesel engine
EPA fuel economy17 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy20.6 mpg
NavigationOptional hard drive-based system with traffic
Bluetooth phone supportOptional
Disc playerSingle in-dash CD with MP3 compatibility, optional six disc changer in cargo area
MP3 player supportiPod integration
Other digital audioSatellite radio, USB drive, mini-USB devices, auxiliary input
Audio system11 speaker with 8 channel amp, optional Dynaudio
Driver aidsAdaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, rear view camera with trajectory lines
Base price$42,800
Price as tested$46,150

2009 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 7Performance tech 8Design 8


See full specs Trim levels V6 TDIAvailable Engine DieselBody style SUV