Yes, it's a diesel-powered SUV, but it's also about as courageous a proposition as any car made this century. While some of our Pills are at the mild peril end of the risk spectrum - an episode of Scooby Doo, or a nice, creamy Korma - the Touareg V10 TDI is closer to watching The Shining in a storm-wracked abandoned hotel, or an extra-hot Phall with a side order of Californian Ripper chillies. When fully functional, the ten-cylindered Touareg remains an amazing car; the big challenge will always be keeping it in that state without incurring personal bankruptcy.
It's impossible to write about the V10 Touareg without considering the man who effectively willed it into existence - the late Ferdinand Piech. Having proved himself with both the Porsche 917 and Audi Quattro, Ferdinand Porsche's grandson became Volkswagen's CEO in 1993. Things weren't going well for the People's Car company at the time, with indifferent build quality and sliding sales. Piech used his scorched earth management style to improve things - once claiming "I sack anyone who makes the same mistake twice" - and was soon able to use growing revenues to start a dramatic expansion of the group with a rash of purchases, adding Skoda, Bentley and Lamborghini to the roster, and relaunching Bugatti.
Beyond his Conan-like love of crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him and hearing the lamentation of their women, Piech's real passion was always the creation of 'pinnacle' cars. The most obvious of these was the Bugatti Veyron, with a 16-cylinder engine making 1,000hp. He was also determined to prove that Volkswagen could make luxury cars, firstly ordering the creation of a W12 supercar that didn't make production, then building a range-topping saloon around the same powerplant - the Phaeton. While the W12 would work in most markets, but Europe's burgeoning obsession with diesel led to development of an equally extreme 5.0-litre V10 TDI.
This engine was an absolute monster, making 308hp and 553lb ft of torque and ensuring the V10 Phaeton was the quickest and most powerful diesel-powered car in the world at launch. But even the browbeaten product planners who had assured Piech the Phaeton would enjoy a much warmer reception than it actually found had realised the V10 would never sell in sufficient volumes to justify its expensive development. So it was decided to also offer it in the Touareg SUV that Volkswagen was building on the same platform as the first-generation Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7.
There was one teensy issue: the Touareg hadn't been designed to accommodate such a sizeable powerplant. Somehow the engineers pulled it off - Piech would doubtless have fired them if they hadn't - but the huge motor was squeezed into the available space in much the same way a sleeping bag is squashed back into its case. So equipped the V10 powered Touareg was slightly slower than its Phaeton sister, thanks to both the aerodynamic profile of a modestly streamlined outhouse, but it was still the Top Trump diesel SUV when launched, capable of 140mph flat-out.
Early reviewers of both the V10 Touareg and its (LHD-only) W12 petrol sister struggled to detect much logic behind their creation. The 5.0 TDI was both impressive and pointless, capable of gathering pace like an avalanche and (as Fifth Gear proved) towing a Boeing 747 in low range, but with no capacity for fun beyond longitudinal G-forces and unlikely speedometer readings. It sounded pretty good for an oiler, thrumming like a marine diesel under hard use and lacking the 'bottlebank in an earthquake' idle of VW's smaller direct injection TDIs. While the torquenami allowed the Touareg to cruise at three figure speeds without breaking sweat, it was never engaging to drive on twistier roads, with feel-free steering and softish air suspension.
What really complicated things was Volkswagen Group's Byzantine internal politics. Having been denied use of the V10 Audi created a more powerful and punchier version of the smaller 4.2-litre TDI, combining this with the Q7 from 2007. VW's engineers weren't prepared to surrender this hilltop without a fight, using the Touareg's mid-life facelift as an excuse to launch the turned-up Touareg R50. This got both a (slightly) sharpened chassis and a beefier engine tune, the V10 now delivering 345hp and 627lb-ft and briefly restoring bragging rights. Audi had the last word, gazumping the R50 in turn with the Q7 V12 TDI, which felt like a high point of ludicrousness even then.
The bigger problem for all versions of the Touareg V10 were high pricing and indifferent fuel economy and CO2 numbers. Limited sales undoubtedly played a part in the development of the car's toxic reputation - few technicians gained any expertise in its crop of unique problems. Because while regular versions of the early Touareg were hardly paragons of reliability, with a talent for hard-to-trace electrical malfunctions, the V10's complexity and quart-in-a-pint-pot packaging added another level of peril.
Beyond the most basic maintenance, many repairs required major surgery. Replacement of the turbos, or even hard-to-reach parts of the V10's cooling system, required the engine to be dropped from the car. Even swapping the alternator required it to be unbolted. On the DPF-equipped versions a particularly failure-prone sensor was located so that the entire transmission had to be removed to gain access to it - around 13 hours of labour. Space was so tight that one of the car's two batteries was located underneath the driver's seat, which needed to be taken out to gain access - something main dealers would charge hundreds in labour for. You get the idea.
The upshot is a club that is cheap to join but - unless you are very handy with the spanners - seriously expensive to stay a member of. Less loved examples of early V10s will sometimes turn up for as little as £5000, where they provide thrills for those adrenaline junkies who regard free climbing as a bit tame. Our Pill is the much more desirable R50, but its £10,000 asking price still looks dangerously attractive when compared to similarly rapid alternatives; it's also exactly half what the same dealer is asking for the Q7 V12 TDI, that got its own moment in the Pill spotlight last year.
Some will regard our Pill's 138,000 miles as an excess of leg, but it's hardly outrageous for a 12-year old car designed to make such effortless progress. The MOT history shows a steady accumulation of mileage and flags no significant concerns since a worn suspension arm bush as long ago as 2014, and the advert even promises some service history.
In short, there's no reason in the available evidence to doubt our Pill is a solid and honest example, but by its very nature the V10 carries the near-certainty of sizeable expenditure to keep it in fettle. Or, TLDR: torque is cheap, bork is expensive.
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