Generally speaking, I am not an SUV guy. I appreciate that you can sit up high, and frankly, I’ve found myself contemplating getting one more than once just so I have a fighting chance of seeing around the rolling billboard of an SUV or minivan that invariably manages to get in front of me every single stinking day that I commute. That said, I am most definitely a diesel guy. Ever since I got off a Pan Am 747 in Hong Kong in 1977 and was met with the incessant sound and smell of diesel motors, I’ve been a fan. Yup, I’m the weirdo that likes the noise AND the smell. It’s a thing, but it’s my thing.
When I was a teenager, my parents bought a Mercedes diesel – formerly the property of Benny Goodman, the late King of Swing – but that’s a different story. I learned to drive on that car, and really came to love the pull of a diesel motor. Where gas-engined cars (especially from the late-70s through the mid-80s) ran out of steam about halfway up the rev band, the diesel would just keep on pulling. While it wasn’t fast, it did feel, well, unstoppable.
If you fast forward to the relative present, diesel technology has changed by leaps and bounds, thanks largely to the Daimler engineers who figured out that direct injection diesel motors coupled with efficient turbochargers could produce gasoline-engined performance while still retaining diesel efficiency. That’s why Europe is literally peppered with efficient and fast diesel cars. We Americans keep holding out for cleaner performance – EPAnazis flaming even the new diesels for releasing far too much particulate into the atmosphere. Hey, something’s going to kill you eventually, and I’d rather get a little soot and 50mpg with performance than HCs and 20mpg, but whatever. Truth be told, I think it’s big oil’s way of ensuring they get the most out of every barrel – diesel to Europe, gas to America.
But again I digress. Americans have had a few glimpses into the modern possibilities that high-compression oil burners have to offer: the Mercedes CDI and Bluetec motors and the VW 1.9 TDI that has found its way into several vehicles over the past 12 or so years for starters. One diesel bright spot for the US market, however, was the Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI – like this example for sale here on Craigslist in Aspen, Colorado for $18,000.
These days, you can get your Touareg with a somewhat run-of-the-mill V6 TDI, which is still impressive in its own right, but going back a few years, from 2004-2008 (but not 2005, due to emissions issues), you could get five liters and ten cylinders of mean, torquey diesel oomph. And that’s precisely what it was: 5.0 liters, V10, 309hp, and a whopping 553 lb-ft of torque. You could pull Cleveland with that much power, if you were so inclined. What’s more, it was good for 17mpg city and 24mpg highway, 0-60 in about 6.5 seconds, and a top speed nearing 150mph. Show me ANY production gasoline motor producing this much power that can deliver those numbers, much less an SUV.
I thought not.
My TTS compatriot has some experience with VWs, and these trucks, and tells me a couple of interesting things about them: first, that they deliver on the promise. Second, they are real trucks, and not some car-based crossover or other Camry-based monstrosity. And third, that it is amazing that the V10 Touareg ever made it to production. This car comes off as an engineering exercise. To paraphrase Jonathan, “it’s a vehicle that you build because you can, and to show that yours is that much bigger than theirs – and by the way, they probably understated the power output figures.” I believe it. As the owner of a Mercedes W140 with a V12 motor, the potential running and maintenance costs of the V10 Touareg even frighten me. Still, I remember being on a road trip a few years ago and watching one of these guys barreling up I-95. He was unstoppable, and I couldn’t catch him. It wasn’t the off-the-line performance, but rather the 50-80 window where he just flew away. He made a pretty cool noise and a little smoke at the same time, too.
Jeremy Clarkson, in a Top Gear test of the V10 Touareg, basically said it pulled like a freight train but handled like crap – that the comfort setting on the suspension was too wallowy and the sport setting was like driving on a washboard. Not for nothing, they also showed it pulling what looked like a giant sequoia with Clarkson riding on it. To me, unless it rides like a Range Rover whose air suspension has crapped-out, the enticement of all that diesel goodness outweighs the cons of being a little sloppy and front-heavy from a handling perspective. Add the copious creature comforts like navigation, heated/orthopedic seats, yadda, yadda, and you know? I could be convinced that there are SUVs out there even for die-hard car guys like me… And who like to pretend they drive big rigs. There aren’t a lot of these out there, and even fewer in good condition. Find one while you can.