In a smart move for troubled times, Volkswagen replaced its over-the-top V10 diesel-fueled Touareg—voted the meanest vehicle to the environment by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy—with a much more reasonably priced and reasonably powered 3.0-liter V6 turbo diesel. The switch means buyers still get to enjoy plenty of pulling power with 407 pound-feet of torque, but with a nice bump in fuel economy, and a bottom line savings of about $20,000.

EPA ratings for the Touareg TDI are now 17 in the city and 25 on the highway. These numbers may not seem extraordinary, but they beat out the gas V6—rated at 16 city/20 highway and the embarrassing V8 with its 12 city/17 highway. The TDI is clearly the best balance of fuel economy and performance.

The 50-state legal Touareg TDI is defined by a common rail system operating with piezo injectors and a urea-based treatment, as opposed to the outgoing V10’s less effective unit injectors—a technology that VW has suspended from further development. In addition, the newer clean-diesel system utilizes advanced catalytic converters and an exhaust filtration system to minimize pollutants at the tailpipe.

In terms of drivability, the Touareg remains both compliant on the road and capable on the dirt. It has plenty of low-end grunt thanks to a standard four-wheel drive system with adaptive torque distribution. For even more off-road confidence, the Touareg offers an optional locking differential. And for even more cushiness on the pavement, buyers can opt for an adjustable air suspension that raises and lowers the body of vehicle depending on speed and other road factors.

Exterior and interior elements remain upscale and high quality. The Touareg is arguably in the same class as the Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, and the Acura MDX. In terms of price, MSRP for the TDI is $42,800, slotting between the V6 and V8 gas engine versions. But if diesel fuel remains lower than gasoline, and with its higher fuel economy, the Touareg may be the most affordable model in the line over a full period of ownership.

In the case of the new Touareg TDI, smaller is definitely better. This SUV is more refined, less wasteful, and serves as another example of the benefits of clean diesel.

Raves and Rants

Autoblog gives the Touareg TDI high marks for ride “best described as business casual: crisp and smart, it suits all of the sporting situations you could wish to get into in an SUV.” At a cruise, Autoblog said the TDI is “quiet as a church,” but the engine noise becomes jarring under hard acceleration. Edmunds noticed the same problem, describing it as a “faint, low reverberatory sound emanating from the cargo area at highway speeds.” Edmunds also dinged the Touareg TDI for not including a third-row seat. But the power and refinement earns high scores from most reviewers. Motortrend said, “Whether going uphill or on flat roads, power delivery is so smooth and effortless it’s as if you’d run out of road before the VW ran out of steam.”