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The Volkswagen Touareg Is Your V10 Turbo Diesel Alternative Off-Road 4x4

Right around the time Porsche shocked the luxury world with its very first SUV—the Cayenne—its corporate parent introduced very similar a sport-utility vehicle of its own. The Volkswagen Touareg shared its platform with the Cayenne and gave the German brand its very first mid-size people mover when it was brought to the United States for the 2004 model year. Volkswagen Touareg flying through the air

It's not surprising that Volkswagen decided to get in on the SUV action, as the crossover craze was sweeping through the country and transforming the automotive landscape. What's much more shocking is that the Touareg was a legitimately rugged trail beast that shamed the vast majority of the mall crawlers that were being churned out to fill this suddenly popular niche.

VW Touareg climbing out of mud pit

Throw in an available torque-monster turbo diesel V10 engine or its truly bonkers W12 cylinder motor and suddenly you have the recipe for an ultra-rugged 4x4 that flew completely under the radar for most off-road fans.

VW Spends Billions

It's easy to dismiss the Touareg based on its unibody construction and Volkswagen's lack of reputation for building anything truck-like. The secret behind the Touareg's success is that VW poured huge sums of cash into the SUV's platform knowing that it would share it across multiple brands (including Audi and Porsche), but also because at that point in time the company was making an ill-advised push into the premium space itself.

Porsche Cayenne on Nittos

While Volkswagen never truly succeeded at convincing buyers to spend big money on full-size failures like the Phaeton sedan, it had a bit more success with the Touareg, which offered a wide range of engines and price points (topping out at just over $60k).

VW Touareg interior

The truck's interior was stuffed with luxury gear, including four zone climate control, four heated leather seats, and a heated steering wheel, which were a big deal back in 2004. More interesting for off-roaders, however, is the vehicle's hardcore running gear.

Volkswagen Touareg desert running through sand

Not only did the Touareg offer true low-range gearing for its four-wheel drive system, but it could also be specified with a locking center differential as well as a locking rear differential. Also on deck was the option of adjustable air suspension, which provided almost 12 inches of total ground clearance, giving the VW Touareg solid 28 degree approach and departure angles, as well as the ability to churn through nearly two feet of water. The vehicle's traction control system and adjustable shock absorbers also provided good stability and grip in almost every driving situation.

VW Touareg fording water

No one expected the Touareg to tackle a trail nearly as well as the first generation models did, and in some tests the Volkswagen was on par with vehicles like the Land Rover Discovery in keeping its footing. An available factory spare tire cover that hung from the tailgate was further nod to traditionalists who didn't want to dig under the vehicle if they got a flat in the mud.

Torque-Monster Truck 

That Volkswagen had built a competent 4x4 was certainly unusual, but was far from the weirdest thing about the SUV. The VW Touareg V10 TDI, which was intended to further cement the automaker as a luxury player, provided a 5.0L, twin turbo diesel V10 engine that produced 309hp and a humongous 553 lb-ft of torque.

VW V10 TDI turbo diesel engine

Matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, the VW Touareg diesel could out-tow most of the mid-size competition, while also offering the kind of instant-on twist only available to heavy-duty pickups at the time. British TV show Fifth Gear would even use a Touareg to tow a Boeing 747 as a demonstration of its brawn.

Volkswagen V10 TDI Touareg on desert road

Not wild enough for you? Volkswagen also snagged the W12 engine out of the Phaeton and dumped it between the Touareg's front fenders, where the 6.0L mill delivered 444hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Only offered outside the United States, the vehicle could hit 60 mph in less than six seconds, and was a direct product of Volkswagen's technology sharing between all of its brands (including Bentley which would make extensive use of the 12-cylinder motor).

VW Touareg on 3 wheels

Of course, given the high cost of the VW V10 TDI (which briefly left the market for the 2005 model year due to emissions regulations) most versions of the Touareg featured more modest engines. A 3.2L V6 (220hp) and a 4.2L, Audi-sourced V8 (310hp) are the most commonly found motivators, and by 2006 these engines had each received power bumps (40 and 30 horses, respectively).

VW Touareg in fuschia in the mud

For the 2008 model year the Touareg (renamed the Touareg 2) received a refresh that included a turbodiesel V6 and a 280hp, 3.6L version of the V6, and just before it left the market in 2010 it also gained an ultra-rare hybrid model.

V10 TDI Disaster

As intriguing as the Volkswagen Touareg is on the used market, there's a reason why this luxury truck has been hit so hard by depreciation. As with many of the complicated VW designs of that period the SUV is notorious for electronic gremlins and expensive replacement parts, which can make the cost of ownership high for anyone who doesn't turn their own wrench. Then there's the special case of the VW Touareg V10 TDI, which has become legendary due to its punishing lack of reliability and the difficult-to-source twin turbo diesel components that it requires.

VW Touareg leaving water off road

Still, just as the similarly-flaky Land Rover family has its hardcore devotees, so too does the Volkswagen Touareg. At least, those willing to do a little research and peel back the veneer of civilization that conceals the SUV's rock crawling cred. For the initiated and the unafraid (or those with substantial savings accounts), the V10 TDI is an alluring unicorn. For the rest of us, a V6 or V8 is a much safer bet.

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