While the Touareg name is inspired by that of a nomadic people inhabiting North Africa, it last year received a redesign that shrugged off some of the brawny, trek-worthy look, adding more carlike details and a softer appearance overall. The grille and front end are now more like those in VW's passenger-car lineup, and a slightly wider body enforces that impression. Functionally, a slight increase in wheelbase and length helped boost interior space a bit, although the interior layout remains much the same--with a high seating position, a more upright orientation than most crossovers, and a high, wide center console.
The most important part about last year's redesign is that VW made it lighter overall, and better-detailed inside. It engineered about 450 pounds of weight loss, making it 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the former version.
There are three different powertrains offered in the 2012 Volkswagen Touareg--all with eight-speed automatic transmissions and full-time all-wheel drive. Base versions get a conventional gasoline V-6--a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower narrow-angle V-6 (VR6)--while two other versions show the way toward both more power and better gas mileage, albeit at a premium. Our favorite of the lineup is a clean-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 TDI that makes 225 horsepower but churns out enough torque (406 pound-feet) for confident towing or highway cruising, while a Hybrid model combines a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with an electric motor system, sandwiched between the engine and transmission, for a combined 380 horsepower--and an EPA rating of 20 mpg in city driving. The Hybrid system also gives a better boost than most on the highway, with its system able to smartly disengage the engine and motor for long high-speed coasting. Ride quality is quite good, but overall, the Touareg still feels a little more deliberate than some other crossovers this size; that said, towing capacity is excellent, up to 7,700 pounds.The 2012 Touareg has an interior arrangement that will feel familiar to anyone who's cross-shopped crossover vehicles--although it's a little higher and more upright than most, and it accommodates five passengers, with no third row available. Front seats are excellent, though--more luxury-class than value-class--and the adult-sized rear bench can travel more than six inches fore and aft. In all, you can very comfortably fit four for a long trip. Cargo space is quite good, and a power-folding arrangement can easily reposition to a fully flat cargo floor.
The Touareg's interior keeps with its price range, which is in base form almost priced with other luxury-brand vehicles. While it's in synch with other VW models with respect to design, it's appointed with nicely finished materials that share more in common with Audi and look and feel premium compared to what's used in entry Jettas and Passats.
Feature-wise, the Touareg has it all covered for families who want a luxury-vehicle ambiance. Leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, and memory seats are all included in the base Sport model. Executive and Hybrid models add premium audio, rear-obstacle detection, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and starting, and heated rear seats. Options include an impressive 620-watt Dynaudio premium sound system, and a navigation system with upgraded display and built-in music storage. What the Touareg is missing are the sophisticated high-tech conveniences of the luxury-brand models from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus that it's priced against at its upper end. You won't find adaptive cruise control, active-safety features, and more sophisticated infotainment interfaces. Some models do gain park distance control for 2012.