Volkswagen Touareg (First Generation) Owner’s Review

Welcome back to another Garage Dreams “owner’s review” where our team gives you real-world, long-term reviews of various cars we own (or have owned).

Recently instalments include:

  • 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport
  • 5th generation Subaru Legacy
  • Fiat Stilo Abarth

In today’s review, I’m going to give you a rundown on the first generation Volkswagen Touareg.

This is a car we’ve covered in fairly extensive detail in the past in both our Volkswagen Touareg buyer’s guide, and then also an article on various reliability issues I’ve had with my Touareg (which I’ll go into more detail about later in this article).

However, in this first generation VW Touareg owner’s review, I want to look beyond the reliability/maintenance side and give you a bit more of a breakdown of what I like and dislike about this car.

As per my other reviews, this is not a “technical” review like you might see in many car magazines or websites – I’m not going to bother re-iterating all the tech specs and features of the car, all of which can be found in many places. What I am going to do is give you my honest appraisal of the good and the bad of the first generation Touareg, with a view to inform whether or not you should buy one if the opportunity arises.

About My Car

Here are the salient facts:

  • 2006 Volkswagen Touareg
  • “Base spec”
  • 3.2 V6 (similar engine to the Golf R32)
  • Steel suspension, not air suspension
  • Leather interior
  • ~130,000kms at time of purchase, now at nearly 160,000km

I bought the car for just under $8000 NZD back in mid 2020, as at the time we had a growing dog (who then stopped growing suddenly – I could have just got away with a hatchback) and I wanted a car that could transport the dog plus other outdoors gear like bikes and skis.

I won’t bore you any more with the backstory of my VW Touareg ownership. Instead, let’s look at the good, bad and ugly of my ownership experience.

What I Like

Good Value For Money

In my view, the first generation Touareg represents excellent value for money for the savvy buyer. In fact, this is what I like most about the car.

Provided you find a good example, you can get a luxurious, safe, capable and highly practical truck for a knockdown price. These cars were crazy expensive new, and have depreciated like you wouldn’t believe. This presents an excellent buying opportunity when you consider the amount of “car per dollar” that you can get.

Here in New Zealand, you can buy a good Touareg for anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 the price of a Toyota Land Cruiser of a similar vintage. Although the Touareg will probably cost a bit more in maintenance and repairs, the value proposition is still strong. Touaregs go for less money than old 90s Japanese 4x4s like the Nissan Safari/Patrol or Toyota Hilux Surf (I believe this is the “4Runner” to Americans) which are agricultural old workhorses with little in the way of creature comforts.

Realistically, I don’t think you can buy a better used 4×4 for the money.

Practical & Comfortable

The Touareg is practical (my only real complaint being that rear leg room isn’t the best, although it’s adequate) and supremely comfortable. I’ve had four adults with plenty of luggage with no problems whatsoever.

Even on the bog-standard steel suspension, it soaks up bumps and road imperfections nicely. I can only imagine that air suspension rides even better.

The added luxury features like heated seats, cruise control and proper climate control (as opposed to basic AC that you’d find on more agricultural 4x4s) all make for a nice driving experience.

Provided you don’t mind paying for the fuel, this is a truck in which you can just soak up the miles in comfort and luxury.

Nice To Drive On The Road

Having owned and/or driven numerous 1990s and early 2000s Japanese 4x4s, what still impresses me with my 16 year old Touareg is just how well it drives on the road.

Ok it’s big and heavy and it isn’t exactly a Golf GTI on the bends, but it drives so much better than a Land Cruiser Prado, Safari, Bighorn or anything of that nature. The handling and roadholding is better, the body doesn’t roll so much, it’s easier to cruise and pass on the motorway … the driving experience is leagues ahead.

Considering I have the basic “poverty pack” car and it’s great to drive, the higher spec models like the V8 petrol/diesel, or even the bonkers-mad V10 diesel would no doubt be even better. Of course the higher spec and even more complex Touaregs carry even greater potential for problems, but if you are brave and/or lucky, then you can enjoy a driving experience on the road that is light years ahead of many popular 4x4s.

Very Capable Off Road

The other great thing about the first generation Touareg is that it is genuinely good off road.

You get a proper 4×4 system, good ground clearance (I believe air suspension models can even be raised a bit higher if needed) high and low ratio, and even various diff locking options depending on exactly which model you have.

While the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne are more “soft roaders”, the Touareg has got the chops to get you just about anywhere you’d want to go. If you’re into skiing, outdoors pursuits or even recreational 4x4ing, the Touareg could be an awesome buy for you.

I’m yet to take my Touareg anywhere it couldn’t handle.

What I Dislike

The 3.2 V6 Isn’t Enough

The worst thing about my particular Touareg (reliability aside) is the engine.

The 3.2 V6 sounds good and is enough when cruising or taking things at a leisurely pace, but it struggles a bit on hills or when towing.

Having variously used old 90s Japanese diesel 4x4s in the past, like the Nissan Safari and Isuzu Trooper/Bighorn, the 3.2 V6 actually feels spritely in comparison. But this is meant to be a luxurious, sporty 4×4 with real off-road capability.

I would strongly recommend you avoid the 3.2 and go for the 3.6 V6 (the base engine on facelifted cars) or the 4.2 V8, or one of the diesel options.

Fuel Economy Is Abysmal

In combined urban/open road driving, the Touareg averages no better than 15 litres of premium petrol per 100kms driven. It costs well over $200 NZD to fill from empty (at one point it was over $300, when petrol prices were at their absolute peak).

It doesn’t really matter how you drive this car, it just hoovers through the dinosaur juice.

Now this isn’t a problem if you aren’t using it much – now I’ve got the Swift Sport (which is insanely economical) and my eBike, the Touareg is really an occasional use vehicle. It’s also not so bad if you just cruise on the motorway or open road.

But if you are buying one as a daily driver, you best have a lot of shares in Shell or BP.

Reliability And Maintenance Problems

This is the elephant in the room.

I won’t re-tread all of the same ground that I covered in my deep dive into the Touareg’s myriad reliability issues (you can read that there) but basically it’s had its fair share of problems.

Within six months of purchase, the car had around half its purchase price sunk into it in either warranty/dealer repairs or out-of-pocket costs on my part. Once again, read my deeper dig into this for more information and a full breakdown of everything that went wrong.

The Touareg is a big, heavy, complex vehicle that was expensive when new. It’s going to cost you more to run than a Toyota Yaris.

If you’re handy with cars, there is a wealth of information online about how to do routine maintenance and repairs yourself. Parts are not typically that expensive either, particularly from somewhere like FCP Euro (Amazon also seems to have a lot of parts for reasonable money). The other strategy I’d recommend, if you’re less mechanically-savvy, is to find a good independent who can work on the car. Our family likes to use the services of a local ex-Ukrainian mechanic, who informs us that Touaregs were ten-a-penny in his home country and is therefore very accustomed to working on them and fixing them.

1st Generation VW Touareg Review Conclusion – Should You Buy One?

As per the other reviews I’ve done, my focus is on outlining the good and the bad about a car with the ultimate question being whether or not I’d actually buy the same car again.

For me, the ultimate measure of a car – or any product, for that matter – is whether you’d spend your money on it again given the chance.

So would I buy another first generation Touareg?

Yes, I would. Despite the reliability issues of my car, I would still buy another one. The Touareg is a great 4×4 that combines true off-road capability with comfort, style and luxury. It’s the best buy IMO out of its VAG stablemates (Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7) and when you consider price, a good Touareg is a better deal than many desirable 4x4s like the Toyota Landcruiser. It’s nearly as good – if not just as good – off road, but miles better on the road.

However, if I were to buy another one I’d do two things:

  • Firstly, I’d skip the 3.2 V6. I’d either go for the 4.2 V8 (ideally) or possibly consider the post-facelift 3.6 V6. The 3.2 is adequate – the car has a better turn of pace than you’d think – but you can feel it struggle on hills and when towing. The fuel economy of these things is so horrific that you may as well go the whole hog and get the V8. In fact, I’ve got a permanent TradeMe watch set up for any petrol V8 1st gen Touaregs being listed in my area … I really want one.
  • Secondly, I’d spend a bit more in the first place and buy a better cared for example. Truth be told, I suspect the previous owner of the Touareg disposed of it because it had started to cost them too much in maintenance. Per my VW Touareg reliability article, a lot went wrong with this car in a fairly short space of time. However, after all the work has been done, it does seem to be quite well sorted now (apart from the headlight retention brackets). If I had the opportunity to have a do-over, I’d just look for an example with better service history and condition and avoid the hassle of having to sort the repairs. If you are thinking of buying one, then make sure you read our first generation Touareg buyer’s guide for more information on what to look out for. I should add this was written after I purchased the vehicle!

All things being considered, the Touareg is a great 4×4/truck. These cars were complex and expensive when new, so you can’t expect a trouble-free ownership experience. However, if you buy judiciously (or are willing to invest time, effort and money into bringing one up to standard) then you’ll enjoy one of the best vehicles of its type for the money. Just make sure that you learn from my mistakes!

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