2020 VW Touareg V8 TDI: In Europe, the Diesel Continues to Evolve

Jens Meiners
Photo credit: Volkswagen

From Car and Driver

What is the most outrageous SUV in the world? You can base your answer on a number of criteria: power, top speed, price, the presence of a Mansory badge. But we'd like to make the case that any such list should always include a diesel. From their low-end grunt to their efficiency, a great diesel can elevate an SUV to greatness.

Over the past two decades and before the emissions scandal, Volkswagen produced a few legendary diesels. The first-gen VW Touareg offered a 310-hp V-10 turbo-diesel leviathan with 553 lb-ft of torque that was conceived and developed at the behest of Ferdinand Piëch to simultaneously elevate the diesel engine and the VW brand. An arms race within the Volkswagen-Audi group eventually led to an Audi Q7 with a V-12 turbo-diesel, a now-legendary luxury SUV with 500 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque.

Photo credit: Volkswagen

In the United States, Volkswagen discontinued the expensive and two-row Touareg in favor of the three-row Atlas, an SUV designed for the American market that shares its platform with the Passat and the Jetta. It's VW's equivalent to the Camry-based and best-selling Toyota Highlander. But in Germany, VW still makes the Touareg, and there's a new one with a 416-hp V-8 TDI engine.

Big-Time Torque

Code-named EA898, this twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 is fitted not just in the VW Touareg; it's also in the European-market Audi SQ7, SQ8, and the Bentley Bentayga. There it's rated at 435 horsepower and comes with an additional electric supercharger to boost initial response. This motor-driven compressor, however, in our experience isn't wholly necessary. Unlike the current 3.0-liter V-6 TDI, this V-8 TDI provides a practically lag-free response even without the additional booster, thanks to a sophisticated two-stage turbo design.

Photo credit: Volkswagen

The 416 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque, available from just above idle speed, are channeled to all four wheels through an eight-speed, torque-converter automatic transmission. The performance is vicious. According to VW's measurements, the 60-mph mark is reached in less than five seconds, and the power rush doesn't end until an electronically limited 155 mph. VW tells us that an ungoverned Touareg V8 TDI would achieve precisely 167.6 mph, a Germanically accurate number that we have no reason to doubt.

While VW still has a long way to go to prove itself after its cheating scandal, we can say that the V-8 diesel does return excellent fuel economy for a 2.6-ton SUV. In the European cycle, it is rated at 31.8 mpg, and the trip computer informs us that it's a reachable number. If you insist on stretching its legs on unlimited sections of the autobahn, like we did, that figure drops closer to 20 mpg. Try this in a gasoline-powered SUV, including hybridized ones, however, and it's easy to get half that mileage. In fact, the low consumption of the Touareg V8 TDI is nothing short of sensational.

Photo credit: Volkswagen

Good manners also set the Touareg diesel apart from its gas-fed compatriots. The V8 TDI is nearly silent and ultrasmooth, far beyond six-cylinder diesels and in marked contrast to V-8 gasoline SUVs, which are often deliberately designed to emit sound.

Capable and High-Tech

The original VW Touareg was available with a low-range transfer case. The current model was envisioned with such a system as well, but it was aborted relatively early in the development process due to a low take rate. It would have made it a bit more off-road friendly, but the regular layout works well enough.

With the air suspension that is included in the V8 TDI, ground clearance can be increased by an extra 2.8 inches with the push of a button. Should you be more serious about going off-road, we recommend the software-based off-road-package (it adds gravel and sand settings for the all-wheel-drive system, along with additional cooling and underbody protection); the electronically decoupled anti-roll bars, which suppress body roll on the road and are automatically decoupled off-road; and the rear-wheel steering system that increases stability at high velocity and maneuverability in the city and off the road at low speeds.

Photo credit: Volkswagen

Supremely quiet, fast, and sure-footed, the Touareg V8 TDI's premium qualities can be felt in its interior as well, especially when the Innovision cockpit is ordered. The effect of the 15.0-inch center screen and 12-inch digital cluster is impressive—it was intended for the stillborn second-generation Phaeton as well—but the operating logic takes some getting used to, and the graphics could be a bit less garish. We love the optional audio system by Dynaudio, one of the best sound systems on the market. It transforms the interior of the Touareg into a concert hall and provides a unique selling point for the connoisseur.

Big-Time Price

If the spirit of Ferdinand Piëch had prevailed, we believe VW would offer an Alcantara headliner and individual rear seats, and the exterior design would be slightly more tasteful. Incidentally, we hear that the chrome-laden front end was designed specifically with the Chinese market in mind, but even customers in the Far East are not thrilled with the overly garish appearance.

Photo credit: Volkswagen

Starting at the equivalent of just under $83,000 in its German home market, including a 19-percent VAT, the Volkswagen Touareg V8 TDI crests six figures once it is fitted with the most desirable options (which include incredibly powerful matrix LED headlights). It would never find much traction in the U.S. market, but it drives and feels like the price it wears. This is, hands down, one of the best diesel SUVs we have ever driven. And that makes it one of the most outrageous.

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