Exciting SUV with a funny name

Volkswagen promised the name would be good. In the end, the name is easily the worst thing about an otherwise amazing sport-utility vehicle.

The Touareg (pronounced TWAH-reg) borrows its name from a nomadic Saharan tribe. VW wanted to name it the "Colorado," but that had already been trademarked by General Motors.

VW's first mainstream SUV is an attempt by the German carmaker to move upscale from its more pedestrian Golfs and Jettas.

It offers just about everything found on a Range Rover, or the Touareg's twin under the skin, the Porsche Cayenne - for about half the price of either. The mid-size SUV's base price is about $34,000 and offers some $20,000 worth of options.

Among the Touareg's specs: six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive, a five-level air suspension, low-range gears for off-road crawling, and lockable differentials to help dig out of mud and snow.

The optional air suspension allows the Touareg to drive like different cars. In "comfort" mode, the ride feels squishy to the point of wooziness. "Sport" mode pounds passengers as if they were in a race car. Leaving the suspension set to "auto" works just right. Likewise, the automatic transmission works best if left in "drive." The "sport" mode is so aggressive that the SUV seems ready for the race track. Even with the standard V6 engine, the Touareg feels fast. An optional V8 is overkill unless you plan on towing.

Certainly the Touareg is comfortable, with a giant, leather-wrapped steering wheel, firm supportive leather seats, and plenty of room inside.

But while Volkswagen has paid special attention to interior materials, other aspects are a letdown. The only easy way to change radio stations is from a small scroll wheel on the steering wheel. Its navigation system works only with CDs, not more commonly used DVDs, so it displays only one region of the country at a time. Worse, you can't play a music CD and use the navigation system at the same time unless you buy the CD-changer option and have preloaded CDs in the trunk.

The trunk also doesn't open with the key fob remote without locking the car first and then pressing the trunk release. That step only unlocks the trunk, but doesn't open it. And after a week of driving, VW's pesky quality problems showed up in a passenger door handle that didn't return to its recess.

All of this might be less frustrating if the Touareg wasn't otherwise so capable and enticing.

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