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These Were the Coolest Versions of the Volkswagen Touareg

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author photo by Chris O'Neill November 2017

It was recently announced that the Volkswagen Touareg is being discontinued in the U.S. market after the 2017 model year. The Touareg has been a slow seller here for years now, and Volkswagen has finally introduced the long-awaited 7-passenger Atlas, leaving the Touareg in an awkward place at the top of the American VW lineup.

Born in 2001 as a result of then-CEO Ferdinand Piech's desire to show VW's engineering prowess to the world, the Volkswagen Touareg was largely misunderstood during its time on sale in the U.S. As Volkswagen is viewed as an economy brand in the United States, the Touareg was often compared to the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner and even the ubiquitous Ford Explorer. In reality, though, it was one of the first luxury SUVs on the market -- and it warranted comparison with the BMW X5 and Mercedes M-Class, not to mention the Porsche Cayenne, with which it shared a production line. Altogether, the Touareg was an engineering marvel, offering features and capability unmatched throughout its segment -- and hindered only by its questionable reliability.

As I worked at Volkswagen of America during the Touareg's heyday, I got plenty of experience with it. Here's a look back at three of the most unique and exciting variants offered in the United States, plus two more that can only be found abroad.

Touareg V6 TDI (First Generation)

Touareg V6 TDI (First Generation)

Out of every Touareg on this list, this one is the most common, at least in stock form. In addition to the true low-range transfer case offered on all first-gen Touaregs, it was optioned with adjustable air suspension and locking center and rear differentials. That meant it was highly capable off-road, even though it had a unibody design and fully independent suspension. This example in particular was used as a workhorse and tow vehicle by VW of America -- and it was equipped with wheels from the VW accessories catalog, all-terrain tires, a bull bar, a roof basket with rear-facing flood lights, and seven forward-facing xenon auxiliary lights -- altogether a great package for encouraging Maryland-plated Priuses to get out of the left lane.

Touareg V10 TDI (2004; 2006)

Touareg V10 TDI (2004; 2006)

Combine a diesel-powered dump truck with a luxury SUV, and you've got the Touareg V10 TDI. Sold in the U.S. on and off for a limited time due to difficulties meeting emissions standards, the Touareg V10 TDI was a monster. Thanks to its 553 lb-ft of torque, it was rated to tow 7,700lbs -- and it managed to pull a Boeing 747 (Google it). I had the pleasure of driving the example pictured above, which was featured in the 2010 movie Repo Men. We used it to jumpstart corporate fleet cars with dead batteries that were littered around the parking lot. Stomping the gas brought on such a force that it felt like the pavement was rippling beneath you as the vehicle pulled away. It remains one of my favorite vehicles of all time.

Touareg Hybrid (2010-2014)

Touareg Hybrid (2010-2014)

I can't recall the last time I saw one of these on the road. Our department VP drove one, though, and I had the pleasure of taking it in for routine maintenance a few times. It utilized the same supercharged 3.0-liter V6 found in the Audi S4 and S5 of the same era. Coupled with electric motors, it put out a healthy 380 horsepower and 428 lb-ft or torque, enough to propel it to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Factor in a price north of $60,000, though, and the Touareg Hybrid was a tough sell. Still, it felt fast, it towed 7,700lbs and it was capable of 21 miles per gallon.

  R50 (Non-U.S.; 2007-2010)

R50 (Non-U.S.; 2007-2010)

While the U.S. market saw only the Golf-based R32 for ultimate Volkswagen performance, European markets also got a Passat-based R36 and a Touareg-based R50. The R50 featured a 5.0-liter diesel V10, which put out 345 horsepower and a whopping 627 lb-ft of torque. Despite this, zero to 60 still took 6.7 seconds. Nonetheless, the existence of this vehicle gives me hope for Volkswagen excitement.

Touareg W12 (Non-U.S.; 2005-2010)

Touareg W12 (Non-U.S.; 2005-2010)

Determined not to leave well-enough alone, VW stuffed its 12-cylinder engine into the first-generation Touareg. Originally intended to be a limited-production model, the Touareg W12's sales ended up lasting for five years, with many examples headed to the Middle East. The Touareg W12 made 444 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, good for a zero-to-60 time of 5.8 seconds. I have to think that the Touareg W12's main selling point was the "W12" badge on the back, and the bragging rights that came with it.

Chris O'Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.

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These Were the Coolest Versions of the Volkswagen Touareg - Autotrader