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Test Drove the Toyota Highlander, BMW X3, VW Touareg

Carey and I test drove some cars today. By that, I mean that I test drove them. Carey watched Little One.

I drove the X3 and it was priced at about $35k with whatever options it had. The ride was stiff and it didn't offer much - I would estimate that you're paying $5k for the BMW name. It's at the very bottom of my list.

The Touareg is a base model V6 in the color I like with the Bi-Xenon lamp upgrade, the curbside assistance upgrade (I forget what they call it) and the better sound system. It's priced at about $38k right now, but the guy offered 2% above invoice for it. That puts it on the verge of being tempting. He said there were no incentives, but someone on a forum says they should be about $2k to $3k below invoice right now. It's a 2005, after all (2006s will begin arriving in November). More on this one and the Highlander later.

The Highlander is the Limited edition one - leather seats (don't care), 6-disc changer (don't care), third seat (don't care), moonroof (like the VW - nice!). The salesperson was a bit of a clod, and he was having a jolly time bashing the VW for "electrical issues" and all sorts of stuff. I didn't much care for that. The third seat is a waste and takes up cargo space. But it rode really well and has some nice features lacking on the VW (electric seat, etc.)

The salesperson also talked about Toyota resale value - he just sold a 2002 Highlander with 70,000 miles on it for $15k. Okay, but I don't know how much I care about resale value if we're driving a car for eight or nine years - most cars get down pretty low by that point, regardless of what they are. Still, it's something to consider.

The thing that bothers me about the Highlander, if I really look at it, is that I can't get a package that feels just right. With the VW they have, it comes with the stuff I want (except that stupid curbside thing). The Highlander looks like every other trucky SUV out there - it's non-descript. I love that my Aztek stands out in a crowd. Say what you want about how it looks (I don't care, and I've heard it all) - it's been a great car for me, and Carey is happy to have it.

So at this point, having not seen the Hummer H3 yet (Thursday), the X3 is out, and the race is between the Touareg and the Highlander. Thoughts? Opinions? Ideas? Suggestions? Yes, I'm already on

P.S. I'm not paying $6-8k more for a hybrid.

P.P.S. For $75 or so, I can by a "Blitzsafe" module that will allow my iPod to be controlled by the VW's stereo stuff, including the on-wheel controls. Nice!!

21 Responses to "Test Drove the Toyota Highlander, BMW X3, VW Touareg"

  1. I've had a Highlander since August 2002, and absofreaking love it. Not sure if you have a lot of snow driving there, but man is this sucker fun to drive in the snow.

    The one thing about Toyota, is they totally NAILED four wheel drive. No shifts, no toggles or levers. It's just there, and it works perfectly.

    I have the base model V6, and it feels like it's got much more power than is necessary (making jackrabbit starts at green lights fun, especially when I can blow away a little souped up riceburner! 😉

    When I was shopping for a ride, I did a lot of research, and the Highlander was the safest (at the time), and by far the best bang/buck ratio.

    One thing to look at may be the new hybrid option. With the rising price of gas, it starts to get a bit spendy to fuel the Highlander. Also, Toyota has nailed hybrid systems down, too. The Prius is an amazing car, and their system actually gives you _more_ power, especially at lower RPM.

    Anyway, my 2 cents. Feel free to email me if you have questions.

  2. The BMW X3 is definitely not in the same league as the Touareg - its competitors are the X5 and the Mercedes M-class but from what you said before, they are probably out of your price range.

    I've checked out the Porsche Cayenne before and it's a really nice car (although it's pretty expensive). The only difference to the Touareg is the exterior and interior look and the engines they offer - it's even built in the same factory as this was a joint-venture between Porsche and Volkswagen. IMHO, if you really want an SUV and can afford it, this is the way to go. It makes some sacrifices regarding its offroad abilities for better road comfort. But once you've checked out what this suspension system can do on curvy roads, you'll love it. It's no comparision to the "trucky" SUVs. I don't know if you can adjust also adjust the height or make the suspension harder or softer on the Touareg but this is really nice with the Cayenne. The automatic transmission (the "Tiptronic" developed by Porsche) with its adaptive, self-learning features is also nice.

  3. I will shoot you if you buy a hummer. It's ugly, it gets horrible gas milage and if it's anything like the H2, it's not all that practical with respect to other vehicles.

    Of the three others (X3, Toureg, Highlander), I'd go with the Toureg. It has features that one could like. A good package (and what sounds like good options to get what you want without too many extras). And best of all, it's a solid, and safe vehicle.

    As far as resale value, they are all going to be on the high end of the spectrum. They all hold their value well. That said, while toyota's do hold their value, the Highlander isn't considered to be in the top spots by any means. Camry, Corolla hold their values really well. The Highlander is just better than the average.

    2 cents. For you. From me.

  4. Almost forgot - if you're serious about towing, the Highlander is probably out. It's based on the Camry chassis, and so can't handle anything huge. The 4Runner can handle that, since it's based on the truck chassis.

  5. D'Arcy - please read my posts before responding. I value your comments, but I ain't forking over $8k for a hybrid. I've said that a few times now. And the Highlander has a lot of annoyances, including insipid looks and too much "stuff" I don't want or need (third row seating, leather, etc.). FWIW, the salesperson said the towing capacity was 4,000 lbs. Who knows?

    Vinay, do some research, man. It's as practical as any other comparable SUV out there. And "ugly" doesn't really count for much…

    Ralph, I'm not getting a Cayenne.

    The parts of your comments that weren't addressed by the brief notes above are being taken into consideration. Thanks for offering your thoughts.

  6. Erik: I know you're not getting a Cayenne, but as I said: both are pretty similar, it's a joint-venture between VW and Porsche, but _I_ only know the Cayenne from personal experience and I was talking about the similarities.

  7. Erik,

    The wife wanted an SUV so we picked up a Lexus RX330 about a year and a half ago. We're going on 35k miles and aside from the high TCO associated with Lexus service, we absolutely love the car. We paid pretty much a few percent over invoice since it was a brand new redesign and had just come out. I think we paid about $45k for it but now that the 280hp 400h hybrid is out, the RX330 probably is a little more reasonable now (maybe $40-42k). It gets about 22-24mpg. The Tourag looks nice but most people driving them have the v8's and that was more than I wanted to spend combined with less than appealing gas mileage. I'm more stingy now with gas prices getting so high and the cars requiring premium. I also look at consumer reports before looking at my options and the RX330 was rated one of the best. It doesn't have an easy way to connect an ipod, has leather, but no 3rd row of seating.

  8. Thanks for the comments, Ed. I don't need or want a V8 - a V6 is a step up, and the Touareg gets around 23 MPG (it's rated for that, anyway). $40k is definitely out of the budget. I had seen a Lexus in Florida when I lived there for $35k and I remember being impressed. I don't know if my memory is wrong or what, but they don't seem to be priced that low anymore.

  9. Hmm true. thanks for pointing it out to me (about the H3). I was going on information I'd gathered about the H2. And thanks for pointing me to the post about the H3 (it didn't show in safari rss for some reason).

    Hmm after looking up some stats on the H3, it doesn't look bad at all. In fact it's much better than I gave it credit for. I guess they did put a lot of work into it since the H2. They did a lot of work on the mileage it looks like and a good amount of work on the internal spacing of stuff. Hmm, even _I_ wouldn't mind going and test driving this.

    As far as shouldn't have any bearing on whether you buy it or not. Or more specifically, me thinking that it's ugly. That's just my opinion. If you like it, then my opinion on it's beauty shouldn't make a difference.


    Hybrids are great and what not, but until they become more affordable, it's not really worth it. They have a premium to pay to get the car. After doing some calculations (after all, I'm looking to buy a car soon as well), let me say the following. You can get a 2k tax break when you buy a hybrid. It would take me 6 years (driving 100 miles to work a day in a non-hybrid that gets 28 miles to the gallon) to spend 2k on gas. So 8 years to make my savings worthwhile, and then on top of that I have to pay even more?! another 8k? As far as saving the environment goes, that's all good and well, but at a certain point finance HAS to be considered. I can understand exactly why Erik isn't considering them. Hopefully they will become more affordable in the near future.

  10. I'm a driver, and I don't much care for Japanese cars; I greatly prefer German vehicles. I currently own a VW Jetta, and I lust over the Touareg. There's just something to owning a vehicle designed by people who drive on roads without speed limits - people who push their cars far beyond what we do here in America.

    Now, I will say that German cars are quirky. I haven't had any problems with my 2003 1.8T Jetta, but I know plenty of people who have had weird things go wrong with their German cars. That's just a choice you have to make - do you want to have fun behind the wheel, albeit with a few quirks, or do you want to have no quirks... but also no fun?

    I expect you already know about these sites, but be sure to check Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book for information on incentives.

    I don't blame you on the hybrid thing. I wouldn't pay what they want for the Touareg TDI, but in a Jetta or a Passat, where the difference is much less, I would definitely consider it. Especially since TDIs are MUCH more powerful than hybrids, AND they do realize the fuel economy, whereas hybrid economy is elusive. (This is widely reported.) Also, in a hybrid, you have batteries to deal with, and nobody knows the longevity of those batteries, and nobody has dealt with the environmental aspects of such battery disposal. Not to mention that some first responders are now refusing to rescue people from hybrids, for fear of acid burns or other battery-related problems.

    As for BMW vs VW, a friend once described German cars to me like this: they are all sausage... different flavors and sizes for different needs, but it's all the same sausage. He has a point: my Jetta has a lot in common with its upscale brethren, the Porsche Cayenne. You can see the Teutonic design in everything that comes out of Germany, from the meager VW Polo to the Porsche 911 GT3. It's all sausage.

    I'll probably go for a BMW 3-series for my next sedan.

  11. @Daniel: greetings from sausage country 😉 While I agree with you that cars from all brands have experienced some quirks lately (which is not due to their origin but rather a problem of more and more electronics and computers in modern cars). The current BMW 7-series has several 100 km of wire in it and an absolutely crazy amount of little embedded computer systems for everything you can think of. Those components are not made by the car manufacturers themselves, they are bought from 3rd parties and those systems all have their own problems.

    I wouldn't say that German cars are all the same "sausage". Take a close look at the current BMW models - those sedans were designed by an American (Chris Bangle) and IMHO the new 5-series, 7-series and the 6-series coupe look pretty American. This design is not the same BMW style they had before.

  12. Hallo, Herr Scheuer! My friend didn't mean that they're all the same, but rather that they all have the same soul... that soul that German cars, from the VW Polo to the Ruf Porsche, seem to have that no other cars have.

  13. I just heard that the H3 has some visibility problems since the cabin isn't high and forward as much compared to the other models.

    My next car may be a Subaru Outback Sedan. Their cars have a lot less head and leg room, but that's okay since I'm a short guy. I would go for their Forester or maybe that new Tribeca if I were taller or needed to tow something, but I'm not. The limited package has heated leather seats, all wheel drive, and front/side impact air bags. My parents own a Subaru Outback Sedan from 2000 and everything still looks and works like new.

    I would say don't get one if there isn't a big dealer near you, since you may never know who ends up fixing your car.

  14. Vinay - don't think of hybrids as just saving the environment. Also take into account that hybrids don't pump (as much) money to the Saudis and Co.

  15. I think that we should get a 1999 Camry! 🙂

  16. You seem like such an economically-minded sort, so I'm surprised you haven't mentioned going with a 1-year-old certified pre-owned car with maybe 12K miles or something.

    I don't know much about SUVs in general (gas prices are going way too high for that IMHO -- I would not be surprised to see >$3.00/gal next year in MA), but I have read a lot of extremely positive things about the Touareg. I'm not a European car bigot (anymore; I drive a Mazda), so I'm not taking a shot against the Toyota or H3 per se, I just don't know as much about those cars. From what I gather, the three "best" SUVs on the market are: $55K Porsche Cayenne.

    Good luck with whichever you end up with.

  17. Personally I think the Touareg sounds like the best bet. Not many other SUV's out there offer much in the way of unique styling. I'd stick with the VW.

    Hey Carey comments! 😉

  18. OK. I saw your posts on VWvortex but as a newbie in the Touareg I sometimes keep quiet. I'll tell you my situation.

    My wife had a year old Jetta wagon. I had a 97 VW GTI VR6 (boys was that a fun car). We bought the wagon because we will have kids one day and it appeared to be a good car for it. We watched my niece and nephew and the car seats made a tight fit in the Jetta. One day she said let's look at the Touareg (she saw an ad in the paper with a good price--though it was a base model and of course sold by the time the paper came out). WOW! what a car the Touareg is!!! Wow! sticker shock. I knew it was in the 30s but thought lower to mid not upper 30s. we test drove a model with Xenon, and Nav. thought it was nice but expensive still. The the dealer showed us a Dealer Demo (xenon, Nav, Park Assist, electric seats, etc.) with basically everything but Air Suspension and tow hitch -we wont need that. WOW! great vehicle but an even bigger price. long story short[er than what it could be], we talked the dealer down to below the first car's price. With the exception of filling the 26 gallon tank. I LOVE IT! traded in my GTi ifor it and though it was a fun car, this is like a luxury model car. Everyone that has been in it LOVES it. People leave feeling bad they are driving their cars and not the Touareg. The roominess is wonderful. the parking assist is great after having such a small car. I have the V6 and that is fine for me. I have met others with V8 and V10 models and they do have better pick up but I am not one that needs a rocket.

    My pick hands down is the Touareg. I have not tested the other cars but go to the car shows every year and have seen them all. The Touareg gives you a luxury SUV. It is almost the Phateon but not the price tag. VW puts more into the Touareg and Phateon for less because they have to with the VW badge. The Touareg could easily have been created under the Audi badging and been 15-15 thousand more for the exact same car.

    Hope this helps. Enjoy your Touareg and stop by the Vortex to tell everyone about it. 😉

  19. I just thought of something else I would mention. This is something that strikes me every time I visit my parents and ride in their 1999 Honda Accord.

    There seems to be a tremendous difference in build quality of German cars versus Japanese, or at least Hondas. I have driven Mercedes, and their doors ALL shut like a bank vault. My Jetta's doors aren't quite that stout, but they are a LOT tougher than the doors in my parents' Accord. My parents' Accord doors feel flimsy in comparison to the doors on my Jetta. This is comparing both the weight of the door as well as the hinge & latching mechanism.

    Now, I realise it's unfair to compare a 7-year-old Accord to a 3-year-old Jetta, but our 2001 Honda Civic was the same way. And new Hondas today are the same way. Compare the latch on a new MB or VW to the latch on a new Honda. Note how much bigger the latch is on the German car. Note the difference in how the doors shut between the two makes.

    This difference is easy to explain: remember that our friends in Germany (and Sweden, FWIW) have some of the strictest automotive safety requirements in the world. That safety design appears to carry over in the American models as well.

    Again, I recognize that we don't drive at 140mph (or higher) like they do in Germany, so these stats might not be as meaningful as I want to think they are. As I said, it's just something that strikes me every time I ride in a Honda. Every. Time.

  20. The Touareg is a phenomenal vehicle. Really, on the ice, it's unbelievable. I've had the pleasure of TRYING to get one to loose grip in some horrible conditions, and it just wouldn't. Out of the three, it shouldn't even be a question (and i've driven the other two just as often as the Touareg).

    The BMW is just for namesake, and the Toyota is a lower-end brand… the Touareg is the only one worth spending so much money on new.

  21. Hi all:
    I am interested in this conversation that you had four years ago. I am considering a Touareg and a Highlander. The VW salesman is much, much nicer and more professionnal but that shouldn't matter. I drive a lot in snow and ice and the VW salesman says the Touareg will be great even without snow tires.

    Someone told me I will need to always use premium gas in the Touareg. Is this true?

    If you all are still weighing in on these topics, I would appreciate your opinion specifically on teh 2009 Touareg versus the 2010 Highlander (not Hybrid).

    I drive 35,000 miles a year for my work and want something that feels like a car but offers the handling of an SUV when I am on dirt roads and snow since I live in the mountains of Maine.

    Thanks for your help.