The risk of calling peak anything is that an even more extreme example of the subject under discussion will turn up shortly afterwards. Yet beyond the slight chance of a leggy Cat N Bugatti Veyron appearing in the classifieds, or a V12 Ferrari with an ongoing fire smouldering in its engine bay, it is nearly impossible to see how anything could out-brave this week’s Brave Pill. This is a well-used V10 TDI Volkswagen Touareg with 185,000 miles showing and with the pictures suggesting it has lived either a hard life or a very dirty one.
That’s an XXL chunk of risk right there, but what looks like an equal or possibly even greater amount reward balances that. Because our Pill is being offered for just £6,495, which feels like a ridiculously slight amount for one of the brawniest diesel-powered passenger cars ever built – even if it is could easily produce bills to rival the cost of a fire in a banknote warehouse. On the previous occasion Pill featured a V10 Touareg, back in June 2020, it was being offered for £9,995 – and it also ended up being the most popular offering of the year. Can lightning strike twice?
The Touareg V10 TDI is one of those cars that only got green-lit because of the ability of Volkswagen Group’s then uber-boss, Ferdinand Piech, to bend reality to his will. Having taken control of the group in the 1990s we was soon rushing to indulge his every product development whim – and to sack anybody who didn’t jawohl his maddest ideas quickly enough. The V10 comes from the same era as the Volkswagen-Bentley W12 and the Bugatti quad-turbo W16, both of which looked almost sensible compared next to it.
The early noughties were the age of diesel, and no company was more associated with this trend than Volkswagen. We know how that ended, of course – with billions of dollars in fines and compensation, and several of the company’s senior managers getting bars in their bedroom windows. But well before those executives were edging carefully around the prison showers, diesel was being pitched as something of a wonder-fuel for cars, the easiest way to trim CO2 emissions and increase torque. Under Piech, Volkswagen was always going to lead that trend.
The issue was that diesel at the time was too sensible – much better at MPG than speed and excitement. Prior to the arrival of the V10 the most powerful VW Group oil-burner was the 3.3-litre V8 TDI that was offered exclusively in the D2 generation Audi A8, this making peaks of 222hp and 354lb-ft. Which definitely wasn’t enough for the halo Piech envisaged. So as the company started work on the W12 petrol that would powered both the Phaeton and new-era Bentleys, development began in parallel on a V10 TDI. The brief was simple – to make the most powerful passenger car diesel powerplant in the world.
In this, it succeeded, although only briefly. The V10 was related to both the 3.0-litre V6 TDI and the 4.0-litre V8 TDI that were being engineered at the same time, but outscored both with peaks of 346hp and 627 lb-ft. The hugeness of that latter figure meant the only car being sold with more torque at the time was the Bentley Arnage. While the new V10 had been designed for the Phaeton, what would be limited sales for the luxury saloon meant it would also be installed into the new Touareg. This bringing a plot twist: the SUV hadn’t been designed to accommodate it. The huge engine was squeezed in, but with packaging so tight that anything other than simple maintenance would require it to be unbolted or even dropped.
Despite its headline-grabbing figures, the V10 was not a smash hit in the Touareg. It cost 60 percent more than the 2.5-litre TDI version, which did a good job of preventing queues from forming – but the big car’s pillowy air suspension and lack of dynamic focus meant it never particularly inclined to deal with so much performance. Nor was the 5.0-litre especially economical, 22mpg combined was 4mpg better than the V8 petrol version, but hardly good enough to earn an endorsement from Greenpeace. Oddly, one of the markets the V10 found most love in was actually the U.S., with VW even bringing a cleaner version when the first iteration was cancelled due to tightening emissions standards.
A bigger issue for the V10 was the bitter internecine warfare raging within Volkswagen Group, likely to Piech’s amusement. Rival engineers were vying to outdo each other, and as Audi hadn’t been given access to the V10 it soon created a more powerful 349hp version of the 4.2-litre V8 TDI. Volkswagen responded by boosting the bigger engine to make 351hp in the Touareg R50 that arrived with a 2007 facelift. Then Audi got the last laugh – or ended up as the bald guy clutching the comb and the Titanic deckchair concession – with the hugely expensive 6.0-litre V12 TDI that was briefly offered in the Q7.
Despite the implicit promise of its private registration plate, our Pill is too early to be a Touareg R50, being a 2005 model. The dealer selling it in beautiful Bolton (twin town: Le Mans) has written the advert with what seems to be understated Lancastrian brevity, the salient details being the promise of two keys, HPI cleanliness and the promise of 12 months’ MOT. That may well have been true when the car was first listed for sale, but it now has just under five months of ticket left unless the vendor submits it for another one.
The MOT history contains some conversation-starters, especially the most recent finding that no fewer than four “subframe pin or bushes” are “worn but not resulting in excessive movement.” There was also a non-excessive leak from the power steering last time. Yet, in defiance of more cynical expectations, the earlier online history is far from terrifying with a series of three clean passes before the most recent one, and the last fail in 2018 being for an ineffective parking brake.
All V10s were well laden with kit, and this one has leather, walnut and a period sat nav. It also has what seems to be a ceiling-mounted DVD player for rear seat occupants. At the back is both a towbar – it would be very surprising if there wasn’t one given the V10’s proven ability to tow Boeing 747s – and also a swing-out spare wheel carrier which looks to have been an original option. But which is also pretty hideous.
The very fact our Pill has managed to cover almost exactly one light-second is implicit proof that love and cash has been spent on it over the last 17 years. But beyond the advert’s promise of “runs and drives great” there are no mentions of the sort of weighty service history that would reassure potential punters. It has also clearly been a while since it last saw a sponge, making it hard to gauge the condition beneath the grunge. But even if it is immaculate its next owner’s bank balance is unlikely to stay undinged for long.
So over to you – is this the bravest Pill yet?