Test Drive Tuesday review: Volkswagen Race Touareg
The Volkswagen Race Touareg was created in 2009 to compete in the grueling Baja 1000, a 600 miles long Mexican off-road race. If the names of Volkswagen and Baja together ring a bell, it’s because you’re thinking about the Baja Bugs. Based on the VW Bug, these little things made the most of the grid of that race and were still gathering overall wins in the mid 1980s. But since this air-cooled era, VW never won the classic.
Realizing the marketing impact of the race in America, VW decided to make a come-back in 2009. And what a come-back that was. The Touareg was the first diesel-powered car to compete in the top class of the rally, and it did something outstanding: it actually finished the race.
Now, I’m usually no good at off-road racing. I can’t manage the lack of grip and the apparent chaos of the reactions induced by massive suspension travel.
All of that was before this TdT.
I believe it has all to do with the suspension. You see, the Touareg does have a lot of suspension travel. As a matter of fact, I believe it could go over pretty much anything – I even tried to go up the cliff at Tropical Island. But all that movement, all that unruly weight transfer is amazingly well mastered here. It feels much more refined than the buggy, and so much more controllable. It feels like you actually can drive the car where you want it to, like you want it to. To give you an example, on maybe 10 races at Tropical Island, I only fell once off the cliff. And for me, that’s something.
It has an impressive amount of grip, too. Granted, it’s not all that fast, but we’ll come to that in a minute. But it is, once again, predictable. Mid-corner I can relate to my racetrack experience on what I should do to exit the corner in the most efficient and fast way possible. Brake a bit here, flick the steering there, and hop, job done. And that’s incredibly fun. Feeling like you actually know what you’re doing, being in control of the car’s reactions, understanding what you have to do to improve your lap times, it’s all massively enjoyable. And I never quite got that feeling off-road before.
One of the key-feature of VW’s engagement in the Baja was the diesel engine. This one is a V12 that comes straight from the Audi LMP1 cars. It makes 550bhp, and most importantly, produces 625 lb.ft of torque. All of that very low in the rev-range. And despite being a diesel, it doesn’t sound all that bad, if you like the turbo-whistle kind of stuff. It seems the world is still to make a bad sounding V12.
You might at this point wonder why I said that this car is slow. It’s mostly because of the gearbox. It’s been set to tackle the most unpleasant roads there are, to master any obstacle that would show in its path, so the gears are very short and made to exploit every ounce of the massive torque. Yes it will still do 0 to 60mph in 6.5 seconds, which isn’t all that bad, but then it kinda stops accelerating. But the important thing is that it will do that anywhere. You can even have fun on asphalt, as I did when I attempted the obligatory hot lap of Watkins Glen. The straight is a long, long cruise though.
This car is just great. It’s great fun, and really easy to use, even for the off-road noob like me. And you’ve got to love this go-anywhere feeling. Even racing it just feels cool, you’ve got this impression that you’re just going on an epic adventure with friends. Even if you’re not the dust-eating kind of driver, give it a try in this. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Here is the link to the Test Drive Tuesday Leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF