Last year's engine upgrades made the Touareg better than ever, and this year's refresh improves it further. However, its many drawbacks make it tough to recommend the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 over more family-friendly crossovers that offer more features for the money.
Slapping a "2" on the end of a title is typically the signifier of a full-fledged sequel, but the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 is more like a re-edited director's cut DVD. Despite the name, VW's first SUV is by and large the same solid vehicle that was sold last year, sporting revised styling and some additional features like standard parking assist and a power liftgate. That's basically the equivalent to new DVD packaging and a couple of director's commentaries.
Although the Touareg 2 is certainly not an all-new model, the good news is that Touareg "1" was still a pretty solid sport-utility vehicle. Volkswagen took an old-school approach to SUV design when it introduced the Touareg in 2004, making sure that its first sport-utility would be as capable of tackling the Dakar Rally as it would be tackling a family trip to Rally's. Like most newer SUVs, it is a car-based crossover (which shares its platform with Porsche's Cayenne) that handles well on-road and features a comfortable, composed ride. The Touareg is set apart, though, by its elevated ground clearance, serious four-wheel-drive system and adjustable air suspension that make it equal to strong off-roaders like the Land Rover LR3. If traveling off the beaten path is a frequent venture, test-driving the Touareg is a must.
Most Americans keep their SUVs on the beaten path, however, utilizing them to haul around children and stuff. For those utilitarian duties, the Touareg 2 suffers against other luxury crossovers. Its second-row seat is on the small side and there is no third-row option. Its cargo area is also smaller than those of some compact crossovers. Meanwhile, all of that off-road hardware contributes to a hefty curb weight, which translates into below-average fuel economy and the tendency to feel cumbersome. The Touareg 2 happens to be one of just four SUVs sold in the United States with an available diesel-fueled engine, though the MSRP of the Touareg 2 V10 TDI model is uncomfortably high.
In general, pricing for the Touareg 2 is certainly a concern. This model was one of the vehicles VW originally intended to help push the brand's image into the luxury realm -- a mission that has met with less-than-successful results. This is subsequently a true luxury SUV with a very nice interior, highlighted by quality materials and an attractive design. Yet when comparably equipped, the Touareg 2 is pricier than other luxury crossovers like the Lexus RX 350, Infiniti FX35 and Acura MDX. It matches up price-wise against the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, but we're not sure if Volkswagen has the prestige to play in that league. And judging by Touareg 1's mediocre sales, neither are American SUV buyers.
Still, the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 remains an attractive, well-built and luxurious crossover SUV that can tackle just about any terrain its driver wants to embark upon.