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Market misfit: poor man’s Porsche or an overpriced VW?

With a starting price of $51,000, Volkswagen seems to think the 2014 Touareg is not a mainstream SUV.

Volkswagen

Rating
9
Overall Rating
9
Overall
The Touareg is a premium SUV from a mainstream brand, though the quality studies are critical.
Looks Rating
7.5
Looks
The exterior design is very plain, very square and very inoffensive.
Interior Rating
8.5
Interior
This is the cabin of a premium rig. The materials are rich, the gizmos and gadgets are highly advanced, the seats are built of long-distance runs and there is a lot of room all around.
Ride Rating
8.5
Ride
The Touareg can tow a small house, but what’s surprising is how flat and controlled and smooth this SUV feels in all sorts of driving conditions.
Safety Rating
9
Safety
Honestly, the Touareg is safe, but it’s not a Top Safety Pick and that seems wrong for a pricy mainstream SUV.
Green Rating
6.5
Green
VW has delivered a diesel SUV with plenty of capabilities, yet the fuel economy of a mid-size car.

Everything that's good, bad, wonderful and sad about Volkswagen is right there in the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg sport-utility vehicle.

THE GOOD: It starts with the 3.0-litre turbodiesel, all 405 lb-ft of stump-pulling torque of it. Strong, powerful, quiet and as clean as a diesel gets, it features fuel economy that's better than the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel V-6 and Mercedes-Benz's ML350 BlueTEC diesel.

True, both the Jeep and the Merc have slightly more power, but not enough to notice. And in terms of refinement, VW's diesel is extremely good.

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The Touareg is also a refined rig. This shouldn't surprise anyone. It's the product of a joint development arrangement with Porsche (Cayenne) and Audi (Q7). The cabin is refined, the ride quality is smooth, the eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts with a seamless precision that feels luxurious and the chassis is robust enough to tow 3,500 kilograms.

Inside, the materials look and feel expensive. The graining of the plastics would be at home in any upmarket SUV. The infotainment system is easy to manage and the gauge cluster has big readouts, offering all manner of data, instantly accessible without reading glasses.

Seats? Comfortable and thickly padded. Room? Lots of it for you and your cargo.

THE BAD: The Touareg is not a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Among mainstream SUVs of similar size, the 2014 Toyota Highlander is. So are 2014 versions of the Acura MDX, Merc's M and even Volvo's XC90, all classified as "luxury rigs."

True, the Cayenne and Q7 are not Top Safety Picks, either, so it's no surprise to see the Touareg fall short in IIHS testing. And the margin of failure is small. The Touareg rates "Good" in all crash tests, just not good enough over all.

The biggest issue with the Touareg is that it's too much money for an SUV from a mainstream brand. The least expensive Touareg lists for nearly $51,000 and my test rig listed for $66,560 with freight and options. A loaded Highlander, which is wonderfully reliable and safe, tops out at about $45,000 for the Limited model.

VW will argue its Touareg is so complete and delightful that it's worth every penny, that it's a match not for a run-of-the-mill Toyota, but instead a Mercedes and a super-ritzy Jeep Grand Cherokee. VW will argue, off the record, that the Touareg is the poor man's Porsche, not an overpriced VW.

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Maybe. But this goes to the heart of the problems VW suffers in North America. In a nutshell, VW has an inflated sense of its own brand. North American consumers do not see VW as the near-premium brand that VW itself envisions.

But don't believe me. Listen to what Michael Horn says. He's the German executive tasked with reviving Volkswagen Group's fortunes in the United States. He's new to the job and to his credit, he's been clear about VW's problems in the U.S. and Canada. That is, VW's bosses at company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, need to change their mindset.

"We need to push more. Not here, but in Wolfsburg," Horn recently told Reuters. "It's about how to translate the American market in Wolfsburg. They need to listen to the market, the competitive situation."

Exactly. The Touareg is not a mainstream SUV, but VW is a mainstream brand. And, if you believe Consumer Reports' latest Brand Report Card, not a particularly well-regarded one. VW ranked 17th out of 23 brands in that study – below Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Mazda. Chrysler, Kia and Hyundai, too.

In Wolfsburg, the bosses think the VW brand is superior to Toyota, Kia and their ilk. But in North America, CR brand ratings suggest that VW is not making the best all-around vehicles. Indeed, in quality studies, the Touareg ranks below average.

So yes, the Touareg is everything that is good and bad about VW.

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Tech Specs

2014 Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI Highline

Type: Mid-size sport-utility vehicle

Price: $64,950

Gas engine: 3.0-litre V-6 turbodiesel

Output (horsepower/torque): 240/406 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.8 city/6.7 highway, using diesel fuel

Alternatives (diesel): 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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