As I did last week, let me continue again on a diesel-powered trajectory, with further evidence that the newest generation of clean diesel engines are not at all what you remember from an ignoble automotive past.
And if you’re interested in a vehicle that shares its basic DNA with the sporty and expensive Porsche Cayenne SUV, but is not quite as spendy (or gauche, some might argue), the second-generation Volkswagen Touareg might be a nice alternative to consider.
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the Touareg, and a rash of aesthetic and functional refreshments have crafted a sizeable machine that doesn’t feel or drive like a behemoth. Better yet, when paired with the TDI diesel engine, a 3-liter turbocharged and direct-injected V6, you’ll have no trouble getting 29 mpg (more or less) during your flatland jaunts.
Maybe the best part of all of this is the fact that the mostly invisible diesel swap-job is now a $3,500 option, getting you a serious leg up on the 23 mpg generated by the standard gas-powered 3.6-liter V6.
It’s not dirt cheap, mind you — the most basic Touareg diesel is a little more than $51,000, and my top-of-the-line Executive model (with 20-inch wheels, a ginormous sunroof and upgraded stereo system) stickered at $62,670, all told — but it’s a far cry from the earlier days of the car, when the then-exotic V10 diesel option was at least $20,000 extra.
As with the bulk of modern diesels, you don’t get blinding, flat-out acceleration — it’s rated for only 240 HP — but the real secret is the 406 foot-pounds of torque, turning the Touareg into a freight train. You’ll pass the same cars over and over again on steep uphill slopes, irritating them beyond belief when they fly past you on the downhill stretches, but your rock-solid, low-revving blasts of uphill torque will make that all the more satisfying.
The VW diesel option is accentuated by two further developments: standard 4MOTION all-wheel drive, turning the vehicle into a venerable off-roader and all-season machine, and a new eight-speed transmission, which helps keep that high mileage figure entirely accurate.
Not unlike its Cayenne cousin, Touareg proves to be pretty handy on twisty, muddy, boulder-covered trails. There’s no fancy air suspension system or even a complicated, Jeep/Range Rover-style terrain knob; just an on- or off-road switch turns Touareg and its 20-inch wheels into a feisty, secure, hill-crawling beast.
With a name like the Executive (lower trims are Sport or Lux), we suspect the Touareg’s off-roading will be kept at a minimum, but at least you know it’s there, and all the better for winter roads, as well.
The vehicle’s second-generation makeover has given it a stylistic smoothing that makes it look a lot more like VW’s automobiles or the smaller Tiguan SUV. Some might consider those looks a little plain by industry standards — the toffee brown paint job on my test vehicle didn’t sex things up a lot — but you may also feel a deep affinity to those angles, all crisply melded together with big angular bi-xenon headlamps and exhaust ports.
Inside, again, not a show-off screamer like a Bimmer or a Cadillac; VW’s emphasis is on subtle design and functionality, mixed with real-world comfort. Those luxury queens will blind you with console buttons, but in a nearly $63,000 Touareg, I got a grand total of three controls (start/stop button, an electronic parking brake and the off-road switch) on the entire broad, glossy wood-effect center console.
You may find that simplicity a bit refreshing, and a good opportunity to enjoy the advanced features of the 8-inch navigation touchscreen, the Dynaudio sound system and its 60 GB hard drive or even the Independence Day parade-worthy half-opening, full-cabin panoramic sunroof.
I forgot to check out the hands-free rear liftgate function (like a Ford, you sweep your foot under the rear bumper and the gate rises, though an oversized keyfob also provided remote tailgate action, remote start and comprehensive door lock control.
The second-generation redo also produced more rear seat space, with sliding seats and up to 64 cubic feet of storage if you drop those seats out of the way.