Worth it indeed. Photo: Volkswagen

Recently I put together an article about the VW W8 Passat, a car so needlessly complicated and expensive to operate I was sure it was the most infamously unreliable Volkswagen in modern history. Then the V10 Touareg showed up and blew my mentions into smithereens.

The VW Touareg V10 TDI was, simply, one of the coolest cars ever made. Like, ever. Volkswagen superboss Ferdinand Piëch was in the midst of his obsessive goal to make the best cars in the history of the world, an era that gave us the 250 MPH Bugatti Veyron, the 260 mpg Volkswagen XL1, the W12 Phaeton and maybe-possibly-nearly the W12 supercar.

The 2002 Touareg itself was a wild engineering project for blue-collar Volkswagen. It wasn’t exactly a sales hit because it was painfully more expensive than other full-size SUVs, and it was expensive because it was too luxurious inside and too meticulously engineered for its own good.

That’s a lot of car. Photo Credit: Volkswagen

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And then Volkswagen stuffed a 10-cylinder twin-turbo 5.0-liter diesel engine into the front of the thing, an engine larger than some minor principalities that comprised pre-1871 Germany. In short, Volkswagen made the already complicated Touareg even more complicated. Any sane person ran screaming from the dealership.

However, the siren song of diesel was strong at the time.

“What do you mean I missed my last service interval?” Photo: Volkswagen

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We only briefly got the V10 Touareg here in America starting in 2004, taking a break for emissions compliance (foreboding!) then returning again for 2006. Remember that this was when hybrid cars were picking up into the mainstream with the Prius. By contrast, diesel’s promise of an economical, largely foreign kind of engine tech with tons and tons of torque appealed to lots of American weirdos.

Underneath lies pain. Photo: Volkswagen

Dieselgate wasn’t a thing yet, and the specs of the 5,800-lb V10 Touareg pulled at our heartstrings like a tractor beam:

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  • 309 horsepower
  • 553 lb⋅ft of torque at 2,000 RPM
  • 15 mpg city / 20 highway
  • tow rated at 7,700 lbs
  • actually able to tow a Boeing 747 (that’s not a spec but it felt like one)

Most Americans thought of diesels existing in two sorts of realms at that time: Either tiny, huffing economy engines in the fronts of wheezy VW Rabbits or slowly chugging boats around being sooty Chevy Suburbans. Volkswagen Group was betting big on diesel in this period, with their Audi Le Mans winners going diesel in ‘05. It was a chance for some prestige for the German carmaker, going at the fuel economy question sideways. This Touareg was a first: Ahugely powerful, clean, luxurious diesel. It was a wildly expensive one, too.

The price was around $70,000, about 30 grand more than the cheapest Touareg available, as AutoBlog noted in a 2008 review. The cost turned away all but the most obsessive Euro-types here in the States, people who could have afforded any and all repairs.

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Then these Touaregs joined the used market, like silent bank account killers.

Volkswagen, you know, the luxury carmaker. Photo: Volkswagen

How destructive are these things to your bank account? Please read what happened to Jalopnik reader JoeFromPA, who wrote up what it was like to own a V10 Touareg for a year:

As a former owner, allow me to remind you of the basics:

- 5.0 liter v10 twin turbo diesel

- Electronically controlled air suspension with SIX INCHES of adjustable height with “x-tra offroad mode”

- Electronically controlled center AND rear diff lockers

- 4 zone climate control

- 2 full-time batteries - one responsible for accessories, one responsible for starting, but BOTH sharing responsibilities if the other failed (more on that)

....

Let me share some of the joys of owning one for exactly one year:

1. One turbo failed. This required dropping the entire drivetrain out of the bottom of the vehicle. ~30 hours and special equipment and a ~$1400 turbo later, it didn’t work right. And that was the dealer master mechanic “fixing” it. I won’t get into things like the dealer breaking and then re-installing the broken driveshaft, as I blame that on the dealer.

2. One battery failed. The one under the driver seat. The driver seat that requires a 17mm triple square socket to remove. Because one battery failed, a complex and untraceable decision-making process was performed by the vehicle and it decided it wouldn’t start with either battery but it WOULD continue to allow battery drain from various accessories. I had to replace both batteries ($250/per battery at walmart rates believe it or not). One battery was under that seat, the other required 18 10mm bolts to be removed. EIGHTEEN.

I actually bought an aftermarket warranty that paid for $7k worth of work conducted in that one year of ownership. I then sold it - firesale style - and it had drivetrain issues.

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The main issue, as JoeFromPA notes, is that the whole SUV is so tightly packaged, so finely engineered that much of the vehicle has to come apart for repairs. This is no small task:

I believe alternator, turbos, thermostat/cooling system work.... you have to drop the motor. And when I say drop the motor, I mean drop the drivetrain. And when I say drop the drivetrain, I mean use a special lift and tools that can handle the weight of an aluminum-block 5.0 liter diesel engine and transmissions.

Seriously, parts were scarce but the main thing that made me sell it is no one could work on it and even the knowledge base online was scarce. It was terrifying to own as a DD because you literally could have a part fail with no warning and struggle to source parts and a reliable mechanic to do the work within weeks.

That’s what happened to me—a turbo failed and it was two weeks and me running around to get it “fixed” and they still broke the driveshaft.

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Yes, you read that right: a special lift, as reader Benni996 (who also claims to have owned a V10 TDI) reiterated in the same thread:

I was waiting to pipe in the same. The W8 is a camry (ok, maybe more like a 10 year old former rental car Malibu) compared to the V10 TDI. I still own one and just in the last 6 months it’s cost me $4280 (failed center drive shaft bearing, failed glow plug and had all 10 replaced).

I had to laugh at the ‘do you own an engine hoist’ on the ‘Should I buy a Passat flowchart’. Engine hoist, ha! You would be so lucky with a V10. The VW dealers all had to install special split fork lifts just to service Touareg V10's! As you pointed out the entire body has be separated from the drivetrain/chassis to do any engine or transmission work. I also had a failed turbo. That was also covered under an extended warranty that paid out somewhere around $10k before it expired. I only paid $1500 for it and it was bumper to bumper, $0 deductible, 3 years from purchase date. I was on a loss mitigation spreadsheet somewhere....

...Now that it’s out of warranty I have my own loss mitigation spreadsheet...

It’s not hard to find a V10 Touareg for sale in America for between eight and 16 grand depending on condition, though they get snapped up fast by superfans.

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Apt photo shoot location. Photo: Volkswagen

I myself would advise you buy something a little easier to live with instead, like an Eagle Summit that’s filled with live snakes, or a 1990s Ferrari.