REVIEW DATE: 23 Jan 2008
Buyers who really want their Volkswagen Touareg in mean and moody mode had better specify Altitude trim. Steve Walker reports.
It's called the Altitude but, if the Volkswagen marketing department are listening, the Attitude may have been more appropriate. Certainly, the price is fairly lofty at around £2,800 over and above the mid-range SE Touareg models but this collection of cosmetic enhancements adds a bold, aggressive edge to the vehicle that should appeal strongly to a certain section of the market.
The Touareg has never been the most in-your-face of the big 4x4s. Look at the imposing slab-like front end architecture of a Range Rover or the squirrel swallowing air-intakes on the Porsche Cayenne and you'll probably concur. Volkswagen's offering has always appeared a little more reserved, more family-friendly, more Volkswagen than its ostentatious rivals. With the Altitude, this changes to a certain extent. Buyers who like to keep a low profile in their £40,000 SUV won't be interested but those after a leather-clad, four-wheel-drive status symbol should be falling over themselves to apply. Only the VW branding should prevent it rivalling the likes of BMW's X5 and the Audi Q7 in the visual impact stakes.
The Altitude package includes a styling kit that features aggressive front and rear bumpers, spoilers and side skirts. Visually, this ensemble lowers the vehicle down to hug the tarmac with a more purposeful stance. It slashes ground clearance and so will seriously hinder offroad performance while increasing the Touareg's urban wow-factor by a corresponding amount. At the back, the bumper is punctuated by twin stainless steel exhaust tailpipes and the snarling wheelarches are filled to capacity by 19" Siena alloys. Go for the mighty V10 TDI diesel offering and those 19" rims are replaced with humongous 20" Casablanca versions. These have been specially designed to ensure that everyone is looking at you.Kid.
".this is one imperious-looking 4x4. "
Heavily tinted, heat insulating glass from the B pillar backwards completes the Altitude effect. It all tallies well with the latest Touareg styling revisions including the Volkswagen H-shaped front grille and the revised rear light clusters. The pack is only available in selected paint colours but you can specify it with any of the Touareg's engine options. This puts prices in the £36,080 to £58,000 bracket, so they ain't cheap but this is one imperious-looking 4x4.
There's just one petrol engine in the Touareg Altitude range, the 3.6-litre V6 FSI unit. Developing 280bhp, this is a little more socially-acceptable than the hulking great V8 that was offered earlier on in the Touareg's life, it also generates far lower emissions and drinks a good deal less fuel. You can expect to average over 20mpg and the 0-60mph sprint is timed at 8.7s. Not a bad showing.
From the moment it came on the scene, it has always been the Touareg's top diesel engine that makes headlines. No, scrub that, perhaps this diesel should be called The Diesel Engine. It's a monster. The 313bhp 5.0-litre V10 TDI turbodiesel offered in the Altitude generates 542lb/ft of torque. What does that mean in the real world? A V8 turbodiesel Range Rover develops 472lb/ft, whilst a diesel BMW X5 manages 369. Pitiful! Lamborghini Murcielago - a limp wristed 479lb/ft. A Ferrari Enzo hawks up 484lb/ft. The Touareg V10 TDI is a true leviathan amongst cars. If half a leviathan is more than enough, Volkswagen also offer a 2.5-litre TDI engine in the Touareg that's effectively one half of the mighty V10 diesel unit and comes with a manual transmission as standard. Apart from that, there's a more modern 3.0-litre TDI diesel. This engine seems like a happy compromise between the two other oil-burners, it has 223bhp and 369lb/ft of torque.
On the road, the Touareg can't quite better the class-leading BMW X5. It comes close, though, and is a little tauter than a Range Rover and a touch keener than a Mercedes M-class. The Volkswagen has slightly more lateral roll in corners and there's that bit more side to side 'wobbly head syndrome' that BMW has worked so hard to exorcise. The V10 TDI is monstrously muscular, despatching the sprint to 60mph in 7.6 seconds yet will return an average of 23mpg - a decent return for a car that tips the scales at around 2,500kg. The V6 and V8 petrol models are both respectably quick although neither can match the diesel's punch or parsimony.
It's off road that the Touareg plays its trump card, especially when equipped with air suspension. Permanent four wheel drive and a low ratio gearbox are taken for granted, but factor in selectable front and rear differential locks, hill start and descent assist and very short front and rear overhangs and the Touareg becomes an awesomely capable tool. There's also ABSPlus, a system which can cut braking distances by as much as 20 per cent on muddy surfaces. With low range engaged, the Touareg can drag itself up a 45-degree slope with 35 degrees of sideways lean. The V10's torque is always a bonus, but the light weight of the V6 engines makes them particularly nimble on downhill stretches.
Luxury 4x4 buying decisions tend to be heavily influenced by the prestige attached to the badge on the front of the car. Volkswagen have a first rate product in the Touareg but, with the best will in the world, it's going to struggle against the Porsche, Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Range Rover offerings, purely on grounds of perceived cachet. While it can't miraculously reinvent the VW brand image, the Altitude trim helps by beefing up the Touareg's visual impact substantially. Cruise through the city streets in a V10 TDI Touareg Altitude and you can rest assured that it's going to be just about the meanest-looking thing out there.
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