Adolph Hitler commissioned Ferdinand Porsche in 1934 to construct a small, inexpensive vehicle. It was a dubious start, but the original beetle-shaped Volkswagen debuted two years later.
Volkswagen has obviously enjoyed a longer existence than Hitler. The German manufacturer has remained successful mostly through the production of economical vehicles that appeal to the masses.
Despite the reputation for building reasonably priced automobiles, Volkswagen in recent years has strayed from its original formula. Consider the Touareg. It’s a sport utility vehicle that shares a lot with the upscale Porsche Cayenne and also shares qualities with a distant cousin, the Audi Q7.
The Touareg and the Cayenne were co-developed by Volkswagen and Porsche, and their shared chassis are built at the same plant. Although sometimes identified as the same SUV, the Cayenne has its own engine and is assembled in a different plant.
The Cayenne also costs more, but the Touareg is not cheap. It strays from the typical VW price structure with a nearly $40,000 price for the V6 version. And the 2008 Touareg 2, with a 4.2-liter, V8 and 350 horsepower, runs $48,200 without extras. Car buyers expect to pay heavy for any Porsche, but they may cringe if the same amount is required for a Volkswagen.
The Touareg 2 is billed as the sequel. And like most sequels, no one is raving about it. It’s essentially a refurbishing of the original Touareg, introduced in 2004 to fair reviews. The 2008 Touareg 2 has 22 changes from the 2007 model, yet the major difference are some styling touches and a few added safety features.
Disregarding criticism, the Touareg 2 has some impressive characteristics. The black exterior helped give my test model a bold look that went well with its plush interior. The Touareg also offers a smooth, stable ride that makes the vehicle agile for its size.
According to reputation, the Touareg 2 performs even better off road. It reportedly can handle deep ruts and steep grades, and it can hold ts own against well-established competitors Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser.
However, with gas prices continuing to rise and more car buyers preferring a family friendly crossover model, the Touareg 2 has arrived at a inappropriate time. Volkswagen’s original SUV is expensive and has a heavy curb weight that hinders fuel economy (12-17 mpg in the V8 model). The Touareg also has a smaller backseat than its rivals and no third-row seating.
Anticipating the switch to more economy models, VW has already unveiled the 2009 Tiguan, a smaller model slotted between a mid-size and compact SUV.
The Touareg 2 is equipped with four-wheel drive, stability control, anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, hill descent, adjustable air suspension and incline roll-back control. Towing capacity is 7,700 pounds.
FAST FACTS: 2008 Volkswagen Touareg
Power — 4.2-liter, V8, 350 horsepower; Mileage estimates — 12 mpg (city), 17 mpg (highway); Standard features include — four-wheel drive, adjustable air suspension, stability control, anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, traction control, heated seats, 12-way power driver seat, center console, split-folding rear seat, rear privacy glass, fog lights, wood trim interior, leather upholstery; Warranty — Powertrain 5 years/60,000 miles; Bumper-to-bumper 4 years/50,000; Corrosion 12 years/unlimited miles; Free roadside assistance 4 years/50,000 miles.