Germany's VW introduced the roomy Touareg sport utility vehicle for the 2004 model year in the United States. But not until calendar 2009 did the Touareg become available with a fuel-thrifty diesel V-6.
The result: A 2009 Touareg SUV that can travel more than 600 miles on a single tank of fuel and cleanse the air of nitrogen oxides as it travels. It also has so much torque it can throw driver and passengers back into their seats at acceleration, and it feels solid and stable on roads and off.
In addition, the Touareg earned five out of five stars in frontal and side crash testing by the federal government.
Best of all, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the Touareg V-6 TDI is only $3,500 more than that for a base Touareg with lower-mileage, gasoline V-6. Specifically, the 225-horsepower V-6 TDI — for turbocharged diesel injection — starts at $43,550.
The base retail price makes it the lowest-priced German diesel-powered SUV in the United States.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML-Class SUV with 210-horsepower, turbocharged diesel V-6 starts at $49,475, while the 2009 BMW X5 with 265-horsepower, turbocharged diesel starts at 52,025.
The major European car companies have been bringing their diesel engines to the U.S. in the past couple of years following the introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel here in 2006 and after the development of cleaner diesel engines that can be sold in all 50 states.
Some earlier diesel models could not be sold in California and several Northeastern states because they did not meet strict emissions standards.
The 2009 Touareg V-6 TDI has no such limitations and quickly shows why even a good-sized SUV capable of towing more than 7,700 pounds can be fun to drive and less demanding of fuel.
Mated to a smooth operating, six-speed automatic transmission, the new engine has impressive low-end torque. A full 407 foot-pounds of torque, or "oomph," is available at a low engine rpm range of between 1,750 and 2,750. This means there's great acceleration in all driving conditions.
The test SUV had such a forceful feel that I made sure to hang on to the steering wheel with both hands when I slammed down the accelerator for quick getaways. There was such a sense of power, I wanted to be alert at the wheel.
This kind of torque — 407 foot-pounds — isn't normally found in a compact, 3-liter engine. Indeed, it takes 6.2 liters of displacement in the gasoline V-8 of a Cadillac Escalade to generate 417 foot-pounds. And this torque doesn't all come on until 4,300 rpm.
The Touareg SUV's government fuel economy rating of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway doesn't sound great.
But considering the power that's produced by this engine and the 5,000-pound-plus weight of the Touareg, it's evident diesel fuel is being efficiently used. On my combined city/highway test drive, the test vehicle logged 20 mpg while I freely enjoyed the gutsy acceleration.
The interior is well-crafted and functional. Fit and finish were excellent in the tester, and the hard plastic dashboard was so well done that it might have been mistaken for a leather cover.
Everyone sits high above the pavement so views out of the vehicle are quite good, save for the back end. Thank goodness the test vehicle had optional technology package that adds a rearview camera and parking assist. Otherwise, there was no way for me to see from the driver's seat what was going on back there.
Also be aware that the side pillars at the edges of the windshield are large and can block views of pedestrians and, in some cases, cars as the driver is making left hand turns.
Despite being more than 15 feet long and heavy and solid feeling, the test Touareg didn't wallow or pitch in its driving motions. I found myself bracing for substantial body lean, but its road manners were expertly engineered. There was no pronounced body lean and the vehicle otherwise kept its poise.
There was nary any wind noise and just a bit of road noise. I didn't hear much of the diesel engine, either. Only when I rolled down a window did I hear the characteristic diesel sounds.
Cargo space is flat but up high from the pavement. Luggage space is 31 cubic feet behind the seats and expands to 71 cubic feet with the seats folded down.
Both front and rear passengers get comfortably firm seats. Rear legroom measures 35.6 inches.
VW is so proud of its diesel V-6 TDI engine that it's not unusual for dealerships to have signs highlighting the "Clean Diesel" Technology. This refers primarily to reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions coming out of the tailpipe and is accomplished by a special catalytic converter system using a solution called AdBlue to neutralize the nitrogen oxides.
The system requires a 4.5-gallon AdBlue tank that's under the spare tire and must be refilled at dealerships to maintain low nitrous oxide emissions. This is not required of gasoline engines.
Note that AdBlue addresses nitrogen oxides, not diesel particulates, which remain a concern for environmentalists.
Additionally, the Touareg managed only a "poor" reliability rating at Consumer Reports magazine.
Some consumers may recall an earlier Touareg had a diesel engine, but it was a V-10 and didn't offer the fuel economy of the V-6 TDI.