I won’t mention names.
But I will mention that they’re doing it again – right now.
On the one hand, there’s the VW Touareg TDI (diesel). On the other, its corporate cousin – the Porsche Cayenne diesel. Both are the same basic thing, have the same basic shape, are propelled by identical engines made in the same place and by the same people and thus share a common genetic lineage – insofar as a car (or crossover SUV) can be said to have or pass on genes.
But the Touareg TDI – being a VW – is priced $52,245 to start.
The Cayenne diesel – being a Porsche – is priced almost exactly ten grand more to start: $62,695.
This can be regarded either of two ways. One, the Touareg TDI is a helluva deal on a low-profile Porsche … or the Cayenne diesel is a pretty damned pricey rebadged VW.
The Touareg is VW’s mid-sized/two-row crossover SUV, corporate kin to the Porsche Cayenne.
The Porsche has been criticized for being too close to the VW – while the Touareg has been criticized for being too expensive for a VW.
On the other hand, you could buy a TDI Touareg for about $6k less than a BMW X5 diesel ($58,695 to start).
Then again, there’s the just-updated Mercedes-Benz ML250.
You might also want to cross shop the diesel-powered Audi Q5 (it’s slightly smaller; a notch up from a compact-sized SUV) and/or the Q7 (which is slightly larger, almost full-sized).
Subtle styling tweaks (LED tail-lights and Xenon HID headlights on all trims) and updated safety equipment (including Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Warning with automatic braking) constitute the bulk of the changes for 2015.
A Porsche Cayenne diesel in all but name … and price.
Segment leading towing capacity (7,700 lbs.).
Much quicker than the now much smaller-engined ML250 diesel – and gets about the same mileage.
More off-pavement capability than BMW X5 diesel (including driver-selectable off-road mode, LCD altimeter/angle of approach & departure screens).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Not as much off-road capability as the Porsche Cayenne.
BMW X5d’s mileage is better.
Benz ML250’s price is much lower.
VW (and Porsche and everyone else) have had to incorporate urea injection to maintain 50 state emissions legality; this reduces fuel efficiency – and also means having to periodically top-off with DEF (diesel exhaust fluid).
When the Touareg was launched way back in 2003, it was the only crossover SUV available with a diesel engine. The Mercedes ML and BMW X5 were gas engine-only until about 2007 and 2009, respectively – and the Audi Q5 (and Q7) did not exist at all until about 2007.
Today, the Touareg’s got competition – most notably the just-updated Mercedes GLK250 – which is powered by a four-cylinder (2.1 liter, 200 hp) turbodiesel in lieu of the V6 turbodiesel used in last year’s GLK350. However, despite its much smaller – and much less powerful – engine, the Benz is only slightly more economical (22 city, 29 highway vs. 20 city, 29 highway) than the stronger (and much quicker) VW, which packs 240 hp and gets to 60 in about 7.2 seconds vs. almost 9 seconds for the slow-motion Mercedes.
The BMW X5 diesel is quicker than all of them – which it should be, given it’s packing 255 hp. But even more impressive is its class-best mileage: 24 city, 31 highway. But, as always, speed is a question of money. The X5d’s base price ($58,695) is nearly $6,500 higher than the VW’s – which also makes the mileage differential economically irrelevant.
Interestingly – but not surprisingly – the Porsche Cayenne diesel’s 0-60 time slip and EPA stats are identical to the Touareg TDI’s. Which they should be, given the diesel engines under their respective hoods are identical, too. Ditto the standard eight-speed automatic transmissions. They’re the same boxes, made in the same place by the same people – installed in slightly different vehicles (with very different price tags).
The two vehicles’ respective maximum tow ratings differ slightly, though. The Porsche rates 7,716 pounds – vs. a “mere” 7,700 pounds for the VW.
You’ve gotta get something for your Porsche money… right?
These tow numbers, by the way, are significantly stouter than either the BMW’s (6,000 lbs.) or the Benz’s (6,600 lbs.). The latter, incidentally, has not changed – despite the smaller/less powerful engine in the ML250 (vs. last year’s ML350).
Both the VW and the Porsche (and the BMW and the Mercedes) come standard with full-time all-wheel-drive. However, the Porsche one-ups them all – as it damn well ought to – with a more sophisticated set-up that includes multiple driver-selectable off-road modes and locking center and rear differentials.
The VW has just the one off-road setting – but this is more than the BMW and Mercedes offer. The VW does have nearly eight inches of ground clearance, though – which makes it a superb snow-day vehicle. And its angles of approach and departure (26 degrees on both counts) are virtually the same as the Porsche’s (26 degrees and 24.5 degrees, respectively).
All these oil burners also burn horse piss (urea). The polite term is diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) which is marketed as Adblue. The stuff is sprayed into the exhaust stream to catalytically convert the gasses into less objectionable ones. There is a separate tank, in the cargo area, with a separate fill-hole, into which you will need to periodically pour the DEF – it comes in gallon jugs – roughly every other month or so, depending on the miles you rack up. And, don’t worry: The vehicle will tell you – via dashboard warnings – when you’re running low and when it’s time to add horse piss (er, urea).
These warnings get more belligerent the closer you let the DEF tank get to empty. And if you do let it get to empty – and decline to add the horse pee – onboard systems will gradually gimp the car until – eventually – it will not start at all, at which point you will have to have the thing flatbedded to a VW dealer for healing.
No kidding. It’s a “fail safe” built into all current diesel-powered vehicles – not just the Touareg.
Do not blame VW (or the others) for this. DEF is basically a government mandate. Necessary to make these diesel-engined vehicles legal to sell.
Which might be ok – if we were talking about a phenomenal (or even significant) reduction in the outgassing of – well – noxious gasses. But we’re not. As with all modern emissions controls, the gains are literally fractional because modern engines are already phenomenally “clean” in terms of their exhaust emissions. And not only that. By making diesels less fuel efficient, diesels burn more diesel.. which means, they produce more total exhaust gasses. Which means more total emissions. A 35 MPG diesel that produces .05 percent more particulate or other emissions is – on the whole – cleaner than a 29 MPG diesel that produces .05 percent less particulate or other emissions. But this is beyond the ken of the people making the rules.
The federal government is chasing diminishing returns – and handing off the bill to us.
End of rant.
ON THE ROAD
The TDI engine – being a turbo-diesel engine – makes stupendous torque.
406 ft-lbs. – all of it available at just 2,000 RPM. To put that in perspective, the Touareg’s standard 3.6 liter gas V6 only makes 265 ft-lbs.
Many V-8s do not produce the torque that the TDI produces (and forget about close to 30 MPG on the highway).
Floor the accelerator and the hood rises on the swell of right-now power. If this were a rear-drive vehicle, the tires would be smoking about now. Which is likely why VW – and the others – pair these torque-monster diesels with all-wheel-drive.
But you quickly learn that it’s hardly ever necessary to give the Touareg more than about half pedal – and therein lies the real reason to buy one of these things rather than a gas-engined version:
Instant – effortless – pull. Your very own team of Budweiser Clydesdales.
The TDI’s abundant – but never frantic – power de-stresses the drive. All that immediately accessible torque cuts the reaction time between your depressing of the accelerator and the actual acceleration of the vehicle. Merges – even in heavy traffic – become less about timing it, as is necessary in most gas-engined rides.
In the Touareg TDI, you just do it.
And it is not necessary to rev the engine much higher than that to reach hugely unlawful speeds. At 80, the revs. are about 1,000 RPM less than they would be in an otherwise identical but gas-engined vehicle.
And now you know the reason why diesels are so fuel-efficient on the highway. They don’t have to work as hard to get the same job done.
Speaking of which: Note that the Touareg hybrid maxxes out at just 24 MPG on the highway – 5 MPG less than the TDI Touareg. The reason is simply this: electric batteries drain fast when under constant load – as when trying to push a 5,000 pound vehicle through the wind. In a hybrid, that means the gas-engined side of the powertrain is forced to step in to pick up the slack. Hybrids are almost always fuel-inefficient at highway speeds. So if you do a lot of highway driving (and care about your MPGs) a hybrid anything should therefore not be on your shopping list.
You’ve also got legs.
On a full tank, the Touareg can travel nearly 800 miles (765.6 according to the EPA).
This should ease your mind if you have any concerns about diesel fuel availability in your area – or whatever area you’re headed to.
Your wife or girlfriend may insist on pee stops every couple of hours, but if you’re a man and you’re on your own – and have an empty 2 liter Pepsi bottle – you could easily drive from DC to New York without a single pit stop.
The Touareg is a bit shorter – and slightly wider – than the X5 and ML250 and has a shorter wheelbase (113.9 inches) than either of them (115.5 inches for the X5, 114.8 for the ML250). This makes it appear somewhat more compact than either of the other two, even though they all have about the same overall footprint.
Inside, however, the Touareg actually has noticeably more front seat legroom than its rivals: 41.4 inches vs. 40.3 for the Benz ML and 40.4 for the BMW X5. In the second row, the VW and BMW are virtually the same: 36.7 inches for the Touareg and 36.6 for the BMW. The Mercedes is the clear standout here, with a segment-best 38.4 inches of legroom.
Neither the Mercedes nor the VW offer a third row, though.
Cargo-wise, the Touareg falls in between the ML and the X5 – with 32.1 cubic feet behind its second row and 64 cubes total when the second row’s folded down – vs. 22.9 cubes with the second row up and 66 cubes with them folded down in the X5 and the ML’s segment leading 38.2 cubes with the second row standing and 80.3 when they’re folded flat.
Trim-wise, the TDI engine is bundled with additional features – including the otherwise optional Navigation package, keyless entry/ignition and a “hands-free” power tailgate actuator. This is done to help soften the blow of the $7k price bump from the base Sport trim to the TDI. It is part of VW’s marketing strategy – a strategy also practiced by BMW, Benz and Audi – to position the diesel-powered variants of their various models as “top of the line” – or at least, not “base” models.
Interestingly, the reverse is generally true in Europe – where diesel engines are marketed as economy engines (understandable, given that fuel costs $8-plus a gallon over there). They are typically offered in the base trim versions of whatever the vehicle happens to be.
Arguably, VW would be smart to offer the TDI is a less loaded trim that undersold BMW (and was more price-competitive with Benz) instead of trying to compete directly with them.
And also, inviting comparison with the Cayenne.
For some reason, the SiriusXM satellite radio in my test Touareg took forever to boot. At each start-up, the LCD screen read, “loading Sirius” for – literally – two or three minutes. During this time, you’d get audio – but it’s limited to whatever you were listening to previously, when you last drove the car. You could not change stations until the “loading Sirius” screen went away.
I am not sure what’s up with this.
Also, the Touareg – like a growing number of new vehicles – emanates its own radar signature.
Which screws with radar detectors. You will get a steady false-flag warning on K band. This makes it harder to suss out the real deal.
A thought on price – and yes, the TDI Touareg is pricey:
Possibly, you are someone who doesn’t want the higher-profile that comes with the prestige brand. The VW may crest $60k when optioned out – but it is still when all is said and done a VW. Whether fair or not, there is a “rich dick” stigma associated with the blue and white spinner (and the three-pointed star).
And we all know the joke about Porsches and porcupines… right?
Which of these vehicles is more likely to get keyed in a parking lot by a vengeful proletarian? Or more likely to get cut off in traffic, out of spite?
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’d still like to see a sub-$50k TDI Touareg. Better yet, a $42k-ish TDI Touareg. I’d bet Mercedes and BMW would not like to see such a Touareg.
Which is precisely why VW ought to build it.
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