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The 2004 VW Touareg V10 TDI -- Proof that "VW Diesel" Wasn't Always a Derogatory Term

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On: Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 12:33PM | By: Andrew W Davis

The 2004 VW Touareg V10 TDI -- Proof that "VW Diesel" Wasn't Always a Derogatory Term

The Touareg: the VW Group midsize SUV for those too poor to afford an Audi Q7 or Porsche Cayenne. Or that's what most people think. And God forbid you mention your Touareg has a diesel. Most people will keep standing there just long enough to drop their gaze to see if you're wearing socks with your Birkenstocks and invent a sick family member/pet/head-of-state they have to visit—like right now—before they sprint away from you.

But you know the truth: regardless of what they think, your particular diesel Touareg is no fuel-sipping putt-putt machine; yours has the raw grunt right off the showroom floor to tow a 747. As in the massive, 160 ton airliner. And that—I'm pretty sure—makes you better than them, in the same way owning a Bugatti Veyron DEFINITELY does. Speaking of which...

Public corporations suck. Even if you're “in charge”, someone can always find a way to throw you out on your silk-swaddled fanny, even if they're family.

[Then again, public corporations are usually the only ones with the billions in the bank that the boss needs for their vanity projects.]

Regardless, the easiest way to lose your ID badge—other than literally forgetting where you put it, of course—is to make a nuisance of yourself regarding the decision of who should be picked to run the company when you've spent your tenure doing your best to bankrupt it.

Yup, just ask VW Group's deposed despot Ferdinand Piëch: You can shovel metric tons of cash into your company-paid-for solid-platinum money-burning furnace (aka Bugatti) or—worse—via the cardinal car-making sin of pitting your own brands against one another and still keep your job, but question “your” company's choice of leadership and *poof* you're gone.

Now we all know that Bugatti was Piëch's pet project (you did, right?), but things aren't so clear when it comes to this article's topic, the terrifying, Titan-of-towing V10 Touareg. But if Piëch's paw prints weren't all over this thing, how else can you explain it?

Say you're Volkswagen. (Yes, out loud if you wish.) You're going to build your very first American-style SUV mainly for the US market, but still want to be able to move the merchandise in other countries. And as history shows, this means you need to offer a diesel engine option because of better fuel efficiency, their use of the metric system or some such other international nonsense.

That task is something that should take you like 10 minutes: search the VW Group diesel engine catalog for a just-powerful-enough popcorn-popper that can be easily plopped into the engine bay in question and pop off to the local beer hall to spend the rest of the day downing something Oktoberfesty.

Simple, right?

It would be, but there's that one guy. You know him, the one everyone hates. There's at least one in any company with more than three employees. He uses terms like “out-of-the-box,” “blue-skying” and “paradigm shift” despite having no idea what they mean and makes new-product-pitch meetings twice as long—and a thousand times harder to sit through—than they have to be.

And the worst part is his “revolutionary” ideas are always derivative, stupid and impractical. But he's the boss’s nephew or whatever so you have to put up with it. Meeting after meeting, you doodle his face with all manner of horrible things happening to it until your fantasy world is rocked to its core: a “new product idea” leaves his lips which is SO stupid that you second-, third- and fourth-guess that you even heard it.

But one glance around the table at the faces of your similarly-incredulous coworkers confirms that you did. And suddenly you realize that now's your chance to strike and get dork-boy fired because even his staunchest protector can't justify keeping that much dumb around, relative or no.

But to make sure you can put it over the top, you gather everyone together and agree to actually try and engineer the thing, knowing the resulting boondoggle will be the final nail in this moron's corporate-employment coffin.

When finished, it's a masterpiece of the ridiculous: It's too hard to build, costs too much, adds nothing to the brand's image and—best/worst of all—will be near-unsellable because it flat has no practical reason for existing.

When the time comes to present this “creation” to the aforementioned boss you make sure he knows that it was Dumbness Patient Zero's idea from the start—and therefore his fault entirely—and can barely stifle your glee as you lay out reason after reason for this thing's being the craziest possible answer to a question that didn't even make sense to ask in the first place.

The boss—of course—loves it, and wants production started immediately. And though you tried to resist it with all of your being, in the end, the final product wasn't nearly as terrible as you thought it'd be.

[It was still as overpriced, impractical and nonsensical, just not as terrible.]

This scenario is my best guess as to the process that went into normally-sensible and staid VW's decision to install a bespoke five-liter, ten-cylinder turbodiesel engine into the Touareg.

That's right; they systematically nullified all of the reasons why you'd choose a diesel-engined VW Touareg—except supercar-levels of torque—and then built and tried to sell it anyway.

Enter the 2004 Touareg V10 TDI, the nuttiest SUV created since Lambo's LM002.

Never heard of a ten-cylinder turbodiesel VW SUV? Well, don't feel bad. If you lived in my (then) home state of California—or any of other “Clean Air Act” states—you have a good reason: they were never certified for sale there in 2004 (or many other years, for that matter) due to some tree-hugging, “We need air we can see through” bureaucratic nonsense.

[Then again, they sold so few of them, period, that anyone from any state can be excused for being unaware of their existence. Heck, when I brought up the subject with Audi representatives at their introduction event for the Q7 (the middle child betwixt Touareg and Cayenne) Diesel just a few years later, even they didn't know what the hell I was talking about. They must have looked it up, however, because I have some incredible news from them at this article's end...]

But I have a copy of my test vehicle's Monroney (window sticker), a printed VW sales brochure and my dog-eared car-test notebook—not to mention The V10's listing on Wikipedia, the Gold Standard for correct answers on the Interweb—to back me up on this, so—unlike in most conversations with my wife regarding the best way to spend our money—I can irrefutably take the high ground and prove I'm right.

[Not about actually buying a V10 Touareg—or “any more” vehicles at all, really—just that they exist. Somewhere.]

One reason for its near-mythical status is the fact that it was practically bolted to the showroom floor of any dealer unlucky enough to get stuck with one by its price: the base MSRP of a 2004 Touareg V10 TDI was $57,800, compared to the “normal” V6 model's $37,140 ask.

And while the 5.0-liter TDI absolutely spanked the 3.2-liter V6's 0-to-60 mph time by two seconds (7.2 vs. 9.2, respectively), you could buy enough speed parts for your gasoline-powered six-holer to bridge that performance gap and still have enough of the $20,660 difference to pay for enough nitrous and race gasoline to last for months.

In fact, a different V6-powered VW variant—the one that wears Porsche badges and is called the Cayenne—had an MSRP of “just” $42,900, while the V8 Cayenne “S” model—which with VW badges on it would run $42,640—stickered at $55,900.

That's right; the Porsche Cayenne S cost less than the V10 Touareg. And it was only as close as it was price-wise because VW made a ton of usually-included things extra-cost options to keep the initial buy-in price down.

And we're not talking about anything outlandish like ostrich-skin upholstery or airline-style rear seats. No, here's what they charged extra for on my test TDI despite the fact it already cost more than the Porsche (in their exact words):
“Premium Package includes Navigation System, Convenience Package, Napa Leather Trim and Wood Interior Upgrade, and CD Changer (!)”: $3,800; “4-Zone Climatronic Air Conditioning”: $1,200; “Winter Package Includes: Heated Steering Wheel, Heated Rear Seats, And Ski Bag”: $600; and “Rear Differential Lock”: $550.

Which means that after they threw in the obligatory $615 Destination Charge, my Colorado Red '04 Touareg V10 TDI's “Total Price” was a staggering $64,565, a price higher than ANY version of this vehicle sold by ANYONE save for the $90k Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

Now I'm (mostly) not unreasonable, so I can see why it didn't exactly fly out of showrooms. In 2004 alone there were some bigger, better-equipped—including with a third row, which no Touareg/Cayenne offered—choices in the media fleet, let alone the overall marketplace.

As some “for-instances,” the top-shelf Lincoln Navigator “Ultimate 4x4” tester started at $55,285, Cadillac's ultimate Escalade—the 4WD Select Edition—was just north of that at $56,405 and the more-comparably-sized Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE rang in at $56,535.

Still, if you put the thing's price out of your mind you'd find the VW TDI could mud-bust with the best of them thanks to its trick 4XMotion AWD system, fully-adjustable four-corner air suspension, that optional rear differential lock and advanced drivetrain management systems.

And if you bent something while trail-blazing, the V10 TDI was still a Touareg, so you'd end up paying VeeDub prices for parts instead of Porsche ones. Oh, and this VW could hang with its ritzier siblings ON pavement, too.

[For the first eighth-mile, anyway.]

Now that the statute of limitations on hooliganism has expired I can tell you this: If you put the Tiptronic-style automatic tranny into manually-shift mode, hold the brake pedal down hard and “brake torque” the engine for as many revs and you can get away with and then stomp the throttle flat to the floor as you hop off the “whoa” pedal, you—and I mean you, as I would never attempt such a thing, of course—could do a full-on four-wheel burnout while the traction- and stability-control systems bickered United Nations-style over who was supposed to be in charge of dealing with this hostile action and which course of action would be best to implement to address the problem.

[And—just like the UN—they end up doing far too little way too late.]

This admittedly juvenile stunt illustrates one of the primary reasons that diesels (especially turbodiesels) not only exist, but are the engine of choice for just about everything that hauls more than your kids to soccer practice: While the horsepower ratings may be low (310 in this case) the torque—the twisting force that gets things moving—is always comparably much higher (as evidenced by the V10 TDI's pavement-warping 553 lb.-ft.'s-worth).

[For comparison's sake, another V-10-powered vehicle that year—Dodge's Viper—produced a paltry 525 lb.-ft.]

This means that diesels can get heavier weights rolling quicker, though they do so at the expense of high-speed performance. That's why they're in tractor-trailers, buses, dump trucks, etc.

[But “quicker” is a relative thing, and with comparatively lightweight things like cars, the diesel's higher weight, different gearing, etc.—which makes ideal for hauling—works against it when you want to be hauling. That's why it's no surprise that—to the best of my knowledge—there's never been a diesel-powered Porsche of any kind, including the Cayenne.]

But having bags of grunt available at low speeds is what off-roading, hill-climbing, etc. is all about, which is why so many small block V8s find their way into mud-busting Jeeps and the like.

And in this arena the V10 TDI not only succeeded, it dominated: The heaviest load ever—and I mean EVER ever—towed by a passenger car was nearly 171 tons. That load was the Boeing 747 airliner I mentioned earlier, and it was hooked to—no spoilers here—a Touareg V10 TDI, itself loaded with over 15k lbs. of "ballast". But seeing as how you probably leave your 747 at home whilst going about your daily travels, I bet you're wondering how such a beast operates in more pedestrian (literally and figuratively) travels.

Well, you'll be happy to know that two of a diesel's worst qualities—being smoky and noisy—are absent in the TDI V10 Touareg. The best—good fuel economy—is present, though only just.

If you go by the EPA's numbers—which I assume are figured sans off-roading, jet-towing or burnout-doing whatsoever—it offers 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. That's not great, admittedly, but the V6 version—with just 240 hp and 229 lb.-ft.—is rated at 16 city and 21 highway, and that's with the same basic innards save the smaller (and lighter) engine.

But the biggest problem with a Touareg—regardless of power plant or model year—isn't weight-, price- or fuel economy-related; it's the fact that it wears a Volkswagen badge.

As I will further elucidate in my forthcoming Phaeton article, no matter how badly Piëch—God bless his crazy little heart—wanted to make this ultimate Fow Vay four-by viable, nothing short of buying them all himself could have gotten it done.

Still, when it comes right down to it, the V10 TDI's best case for desirability is the same thing that inspired this article in the first place: Like the Lambo LM002, it shouldn't exist. It's such a mish-mash of seemingly-incompatible ideas that you would never believe it was built if it weren't for the fact that you could own one and grin yourself to death in it (provided you could find one, that is).

The V6 and V8 Touaregs are innocuous at best and a forgettable footnote in the Porsche Cayenne story at worst. They don't do anything better than other SUVs, and they're not even born from the best give-and-take combination of qualities. You really have to want one to make a business case for buying it, whether it’s a 2004 model or a brand new one.

But if you have a business—and actually have to make cases for what you buy—what are you looking at Touaregs for? While I am perfectly happy saying that the V10 TDI Touareg is one of the Top 5 SUVs ever made, that's only because I don't have to worry about bankrupting myself fixing, feeding and watering it.

Speaking of which, now that Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin are for-sure SUV builders—and Lamborghini (again!) is at least in the “maybe” column—this über-Touareg makes a crazy kind of sense.

Unlike its prissy competition, the V10 Touareg isn't the least bit afraid of getting muddy, and it's already proven that it can tow one of the biggest airliners in the world—something the sort of person that can afford one (or a hundred) of these things might find helpful to know during the decision-making process.

After all, until we see a Bentayga towing a Boeing, the V10 Touareg stands as the undisputed king of luxury road-going airport tugs… for now.

[As I hinted at earlier, Audi has announced its plans to follow in its sub-priced sibling's super-diesel shoe prints—though not in those exact words—with its innocuously-named-yet-even-more-insane 2017 “SQ7”.

But as they are Audi and therefore cannot be upstaged by their “lesser” (yet still “parent”) brand, said SQ7 will field a 4.0-liter twin-turbo diesel V-8 engine, with an (industry-first) electrically-powered supercharger thrown in to boot!

As you might expect with all that tech—and a decade-and-a-half's-worth of additional development time—the SQ7 is much more powerful than the V10 TDI, to the tune of 435 horsepower and an Earth's-crust-warping 664 lb.-ft. of grunt.

Pricing has not been announced, but really, does it have to be? Like it was with its ancestor, if a German SUV with the pulling power of a Caterpillar D12 was on your vehicle-shopping short list, I'm pretty sure that having the money to spend is the LEAST of your problems...]

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