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2004 Crossover Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Volkswagen Touareg
2004 Volkswagen Touareg

Want a burst of speed to merge into relentless traffic? Want pure power, on 130 MPH speed-rated tires, to surge forward with unfettered fun? Want some knobs and gauges and other gizmos, bathed in a warm, red glow, to play with? Volkswagen's pricey, award-winning, yet oddly-named Touareg has it all.

Here's a pampering, mudworthy, roar-down-the-road vehicle surpassing the description "crossover" -- or maybe helping define it. Although this five-seater has rigid "self-supporting" construction instead of the truck base of many competitors, it can easily bump shoulders with the best on truly tortuous off-road tracks, especially in "sport" suspension mode, or even with stuff in tow.

That's where gizmos come in. Touch the console-mounted button and those ample sideview mirrors with trendy turn indicator lights flap in and out like an icebound duck trying to escape from a frozen pond. That's great for forging through a thicket or easing into tight parking spots. A word of caution here. Until familiarity sets in, an errant touch of the mirror adjustment while driving can leave you blind on both sides.

Besides a center-mounted, multi-disc nav system, VW has centered a little information box between gauges just below the vision line when driving so it's easy to glance through the steering wheel to check. At the touch of a toggle, it details time, mileage, instant "tyre" pressure, and more, or the road it thinks you are on. Touareg, with permanent four-wheel drive, is powered by a 3.2 liter, 220 HP V-6 or 4.2 liter, 310 HP V-8. Sport wheels range from 17-inch to optional-19 inch, with custom cut lugnuts apparently to quell theft. Standard independent suspension guarantees superb handling, and button adjustments fix the differential for varied terrain.

On the "why not" list of extras: A cigarette lighter turned flashlight to aid the lost on a lonely road, and (believe it) an air conditioned glove box.