Looks can be deceiving. Such misconceptions happen quite often in the off-road world, especially with modern electronic tech infusing average-looking vehicles with superhero abilities. The Volkswagen Touareg in this video from The Fast Lane Car isn’t leaping massive rocks in a single bound just yet, but compared to the well-equipped Land Rover Discovery it's competing against, this VeeDub is downright impressive. More than that, it could actually be better than the Disco in some areas. More on that in a bit.
First off, let's review the contestants. Both vehicles in this video hail from 2004, and both take a very different approach to off-roading. The Land Rover Discovery carries the old-school banner with pride, utilising its 4.2-litre V8 and four-speed automatic transmission to the fullest. It rides on a ladder frame, uses solid axles, has a centre-locking differential, and it’s even rocking a modest aftermarket suspension lift with a good set of off-road tyres.
By comparison, the Volkswagen Touareg could be straight from a dealership. It’s bone stock, right down to its tarmac-friendly set of tyres that look about as comfortable on a rocky trail as a fighter pilot sitting in a cubicle selling insurance. Its unibody design is home to a four-wheel independent suspension setup with air ride, and it's packed with a host of electronics to manage everything from centre and rear locking differentials to traction control. The VW’s saving grace here is an adjustable ride height that, when cranked up, offers 30 mm of ground clearance.
Gallery: 2004 VW Touareg vs 2004 Land Rover Discovery
The location for this showdown was the Ironclads, a well-known off-road trail in Colorado USA about an hour outside of Denver. Its rocky terrain isn’t as extreme as some locations, but it certainly presents a challenge to any off-roader, never mind an SUV better known for conquering mall car parks.
But conquer the Ironclads this Touareg does. Despite having a clear handicap with street tyres, the VW's ground clearance and electronic systems not only kept it hanging with the Land Rover, at some points it may have been the superior machine, tackling terrain with more confidence and control. The Touareg’s stiff air ride didn’t allow for much suspension articulation, but in response, it would simply lift a wheel off the ground and keep going. And the ground clearance was enough to keep all the sensitive parts underneath free and clear of rocks. We knew the old Volkswagen has some off-road capability, but we never knew it was this good.
Of course, all that electronic wizardry can get expensive in the event of a failure, but now we’re really curious to see just where this SUV can go with a better set of tyres and some skid plates. We’re looking forward to the next adventure.