Several decades—we won’t mention how many—we drove a college friend’s Volkswagen Beetle of sufficient vintage that it had a reserve tank instead of a fuel gauge, an engine with less power than it’s meager supply when new, a heater with only a vague memory of warmth, and a transmission with no reverse.
My, how have times changed.
The 2008 Volkswagen Touareg V8 we recently tested bore no more resemblance to that sad example of impecunious student transport than the circular VW badge on the nose of each. The relative condition, of course, matters largely on the life lived, and despite its prior experience at the hands of other automotive journalists, our test Touareg was much closer to its original status.
Still again, the Beetle, certainly of mid-‘50s vintage—someone tell us when the Beetle finally got a fuel gauge—was Spartan inside where the Touareg was luxurious. It was wheezingly weak where the Touareg was V-8 powerful, and the old Beetle capable of mounting no more than towering speed bumps where the Touareg we had in our hands could conquer the massive granite outcroppings of Moab. For those who must be fully Moab capable, we recommend the optional air suspension. Our Touareg was not so equipped but we weren’t Utah bound.
Volkswagen is calling the 2008 Touareg the “Touareg 2,” emphasizing its second generation status of VW’s “big” SUV. Technically—as in what’s on the vehicle registration—it’s till just Touareg. As the second generation there’s been a general updating of the front and rear fascias, from front bumper and grille to the rear spoiler and revised taillamps. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference without the two generations side-by-side, so one shouldn’t count on neighbors noticing it’s a new Touareg in the driveway unless, of course, it’s a different color. And that is perhaps possible because VW did massage the 2008 Touareg’s color palate as well.
The interior comes from the same textbook as the highly-regarded Audi lineup, and much of the smaller switchgear is shared between the two makes. Indeed, both VW and Audi have the switches and such illuminated in red while the Touareg carries on with the VW gauges lit up in blue. It’s distinctive and we like it. The Beetle of our memory panel light had no functional dash lights, not that it mattered as speed was simply theoretical.
The Touareg’s quality goes beyond the colors of the controls, however. My college friend’s Beetle had seats and a white plastic steering wheel. The Touareg V8 we tested had heated front seats, heated windshield washers (hmm, did the Beetle have any windshield washers at all?) and heated outside mirrors, all standard. There’s more, of course, unimaginable in the late sixties: in the cargo area there’s a 115V (“house current”) electric socket. And the Touareg has a trip computer as standard equipment. A trip computer? Where would one put the punch cards?
The Beetle’s cramped back seat was the subject of legend, lore and sometimes ribald humor. The Touareg seats five in comfort but abjures from the current fad of an imitation third row seat.
In addition to our lively 350 horsepower V-8 (A V8 in a VW! What happened to “Think Small”?), the 2008 VW Touareg is available with a 3.6-liter V-6, itself rated at 280 horsepower, and a 4.9-liter V-10 twin turbo diesel with 310 horsepower and, more importantly, 553 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm. Simply put, diesel launches like an elephant tailgated by a rhinoceros. If you get our drift. My friend’s Beetle accelerated like it had been stepped on by a rhino.
We don’t know what fuel mileage our friend’s Beetle could achieve. Road & Track tested a Beetle in 1956 and recorded an overall mileage of 30.5 mpg. Said VW, considering condition, probably didn’t do that well. Our test Touareg V8 is EPA rated at 12/17 mpg city/highway but we actually managed 19 mpg at highway speeds on the straight and level. Around town we recorded 13 miles per gallon.
The 1956 Volkswagen Beetle had an East Coast list price of $1,495, though our friend likely paid no more for his well worn wonder from Wolfsburg than it costs to fill our test Touareg’s 26.4 gallon tank. The test 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V8 FSI had a list price of $48,320. The luxury package (keyless start, four-zone climate control and heated rear seats) added a whopping $3,400. The Technologie [sic] Package (navigation, back-up camera, trunk-mounted CD changer and auxiliary audio jack—which should be standard) adds a hefty $3,350. Volkswagen charges $680 destination. The total price of our test Touareg was $55,750. Or what a really nice house would have cost in the sixties.
Perhaps comparing the 2008 Volkswagen Touareg 2 V-8 to an old-before-its-time lost-in-the-sixties Volkswagen Beetle is like comparing fresh apples (or maybe cantaloupe, considering size) to grapes past their sell-by date, and that may not be particularly fair. But that’s only if one is judged directly against the other. But as a measure of how Volkswagen has changed, nothing could be more appropriate. It is indeed an ever changing world, and Volkswagen is better for it and so are we.