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TOUR DE FORCE: VW Touareg conquers the Cordillera

Some in the auto industry may have taken delight  in Volkswagen's misfortune but the Germans aren't sulking in a corner.

Putting on a brave front amid the  adverse publicity bedeviling the German carmaker, Volkswagen Philippines over the weekend set out on a ride-and-drive event with select members of the motoring media.

The destination was Baguio City which was highly appropriate   as it offered some kind of a torture test of the much-vaunted Touareg, the flagship SUV in the Volkswagen stable.

Volkswagen convoy: The Touareg is the perfect road trip vehicle due to its size, comfort and power features

Before sending off the 17 intrepid participants, JP Orbeta, president and chief executive officer of  VW, delivered  his  pep talks of sorts.

“We really appreciate your effort to get up so early, and set aside days of your busy work week for us. But I assure you, this exciting trip will be truly worth your while, because in the next three days, you will experience the best of our flagship SUV, the Touareg Sport Edition, in the best possible driving environment suited for this class of vehicle.”

After a breakfast briefing held at the Volkswagen showroom at the Bonifacio Global City, the Volkswagen convoy, composed of eight Touaregs, snaked their way through early morning Manila traffic and drove for the next five hours to Baguio City. It was the brand’s first out-of-town event, and one can feel the excitement in the air. It was also a baptism of fire for Franz Decleodt, VW’s newly minted Director for Marketing. I was in car number six, with Botchi Santos of the Inquirer at the wheel; and Aries Espinosa of Businessworld as our third stringer for the long drive ahead. The first day was spent enjoying the drive along NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX road which cut the drive time to Baguio by at least an hour or so. To start the road trip on an exciting note, the convoy took the twisty and dangerous Kennon Road to our destination.

VW-1: The Volkswagen convoy at a rest stop along Halsema Highway

Second day of the ride and drive event tested the mettle of the Touareg as the group started the drive from the Summer Capital , up to the rustic Sagada town in the Mountain Province 150 km away via Halsema Highway--among the most scenic yet also among the most challenging highway systems in the country. Like kids with their new karts, each of us had their fare share of getting behind the wheel of the 5000 pounds luxury SUV. The working lunch in Sagada was the opportune time for Volkswagen officials to inform us that all vehicles being sold locally are not affected since their stock is not equipped with the particular software being sold in the United States. “We have a different software for the U.S. market since they are Euro5 and here we are only Euro2 compliant, explains Decleodt. The trip back to Baguio City in the late afternoon gave the group the same dose of uphill, downhill, and twisty narrow passes with unpredictable road surfaces, characteristic of mountain roads prone to erosion and landslides in the Cordillera Autonomous Region during the rainy season. We got to test the 4Motion All Wheel Drive system whicih equally distributes power down to the four wheels, ensuring maximum traction on any road surface. The sharp bends, brisk acceleration during the high speed run downhill reflected the balance of the Touareg, as the Adaptive Chassis Control proved its usefulness as the SUV gamely absorbed the road conditions and adopted to our driving style.

The Halsema Highway, with a peak elevation of 7,400 feet above sea level, is not for the faint of heart. Considered as one of the most dangerous highways in the world, Halsema Highway requires unbroken driver concentration, and a well equipped vehicle such as the Touareg which has on and off road qualities.

Volks in BenCab: Media participants and VW executives before setting off to Sagada

The Touareg Sport Edition proved to be in its elements during the most challenging and punishing portions of the trip. Powered by the 3.0L V6 Common Rail Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine that delivers maximum output of 180kW (245 Ps) at 3,800-4,400 rpm and maximum torque of 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) at 1,750-2,750 rpm, the SUV made our drive fun and exciting as we attacked the sharp turns, climbs, downhill and unpaved portions of the mountain passes of both Marcos Highway on the way to Baguio City and on Halsema Highway with reckless abandon. .” We chose this destination because the Touareg Sport Edition represents the highest SUV class so desired by discriminating executives who prefer both functionality and luxury in their sport utility vehicles,” adds Orbeta.

And after spending more than 20 accumulated hours driving and riding the Touareg Sport Edition, the media participants were literally run to the ground and needed some serious bed rest. For the Touareg, it was still game on as we routed the event with another round of high speed passes on our way back to civilization.

It turned out to be an automotive tour de force, with  the  luxury, comfort, and safety features of the Touareg Sport Edition enabling  the 17  media participants to enjoy and   appreciate the activities lined up for  them  outside the vehicle--plenty of scenic stopovers and photo opportunities, a dining adventure in high-class taste, and a humbling commune with the majestic Cordillera mountains. All told, that is no mean feat.

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