The first-generation VW Touareg is an epic machine. Some say that it — along with other impressive engineering feats like the Bugatti Veyron supercar, Audi A2 fuel-sipper and VW Phaeton luxury sedan — was part of Ferdinand Piëch’s onslaught of automotive “moonshots” meant to show the world that VW Was The King of automobile tech. The Touareg is included in this elite class because the SUV was ridiculously well-equipped and offered real off-road chops thanks to locking differentials, tons of ground clearance and short overhangs. Add a stick shift to the equation and you’ve got a true enthusiast’s SUV. One that I want badly.
Every now and then, I realize that this world is filled with amazing manual-transmission automobiles that don’t get nearly enough credit in the enthusiast community. Take my diesel manual Chrysler Voyager, for example. Would I ever buy an automatic, gasoline Voyager? No way in hell. Most of you probably wouldn’t either, because that sounds almost sinfully boring. But add a stick and a bunch of low-end torque and all of a sudden my enthusiast’s heart starts to flutter for the little K-car-based box-on-wheels. With that powertrain, it’s a great van, and I bet most readers didn’t even know such a machine existed.
That’s what brings me here to you today. This is the first installment of a new series that I’m tentatively naming Cars That You Didn’t Know Came With A Manual Transmission. Does the world need such a series? Absolutely not. But it deserves one, I think.
First up is going to be a vehicle that’s already an enthusiast’s car: The first-generation VW Touareg.
If you’re not familiar with the Touareg, you may wonder what I’m talking about. Sure, it looks like a big crossover, but believe me, this thing truly is a legit enthusiast’s car, an off-roader’s dream machine. And if that off-roader values comfort and doesn’t have Range Rover money (or a desire to deal with Range Rover problems (though used luxury VWs have their own issues), then it becomes more than just a dream machine. It becomes mechanical perfection.
I’ve sung the praises of the first-gen Touareg on numerous occasions, so to avoid repeating myself, I’ll keep this brief: The Touareg was a luxury SUV that offered tons of cool interior gadgetry (see video above) and genuine off-road features like a mechanically locking rear differential, nearly a foot of ground clearance and approach and departure angles of 33 degrees. If you have any doubts about the Bratislava, Slovakia-built German SUV’s off-road beast’s capabilities, just look at TFL Car’s videos below:
With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the Touareg that’s currently living rent-free in my head, occupying far too much space, which I’m hoping to free up by writing this article. I am, of course, referring to the diesel manual variant, which wasn’t offered in the U.S.
But I’m in Germany right now, and, upon surfing the local Craigslist equivalent, Mobile.de, I’ve realized that I’m surrounded by oil-burning, three-pedal-equipped off-road Volkswagen SUVs. And the temptation is strong. Seriously, just check out this one with the factory spare tire carrier (which is extremely rare, and requires significant work to retrofit to a Touareg that wasn’t originally equipped with the option):
The Touareg offered some epic engines in its first generation, which is the one you want not just because it looks best, but because it’s the most capable off-road. There were two VR6 six-cylinder gasoline options, a V8 gas option, a giant W12 gas option, a V10 diesel, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder diesel and a 3.0-liter V6 diesel.
Obviously, the V10 diesel, with its 553 lb-ft of torque, tends to get all the love, but unfortunately, that motor could not be had with a coveted manual transmission. The 2.5-liter and 3.0-liter engines could, and because There’s No Replacement for Displacement (and also cylinder-coating issues with the R5 2.5-liter engine), I’m going to crown the 3.0-liter manual the engine you want. (Autocar’s buyer’s guide agrees, for what that’s worth.)
With the V6 compression-ignition engine, you get over 220 horsepower and 368 lb-ft of torque, all of which can be sent through a six-speed manual transmission. Just look at how glorious this is — a luxury off-road SUV with a stick shift:
Unfortunately, the ~$15,000 Touareg with the factory spare tire carrier doesn’t come with air suspension, which, as an off-road enthusiast, I would definitely want. Also, you’ll notice that this is the 2006-10 “post-facelift” model, which isn’t as pretty as the very first Touareg to grace this planet. That’s OK, because the slightly-uglier model does have the advantage of offering the V6 diesel, while models before 2007 only got a stick with the 2.5-liter diesel.
The Touareg above, for sale in Munich for around $8,000, almost has it all: The V6 diesel, the six-speed manual, air suspension and an absolutely gorgeous brown interior:
Unfortunately, there’s no rear locker or spare tire carrier, but I bet there’s a holy grail cheap German off-road SUV out there somewhere: V6 diesel Touareg with a manual, a factory spare tire carrier, air suspension and a locking rear diff. This coveted machine will use its enormous ground clearance and rear locker to bounce all over my brain stem and cortex as the off-roader inevitably continues to occupy my mind rent-free in tonight’s dreams.