Volkswagen's all-new Touareg will be introduced in South Africa around July or August 2018. The brand's flagship off-roader has often struggled to shine in the shadow of the VW group's other protagonists in the premium SUV segment. Is that about to change? Cars.co.za correspondent Matt Saunders travelled to Austria to drive the new model and see if it's ready for the limelight.
Common platform strategy must work out rather well for the Volkswagen Group, especially for the Volkswagen brand where the positive effect is clear. If your potential customer knows just enough to know that a VW Golf and an Audi A3 share a platform, after all, that knowledge is inevitably going to make the cheaper vehicle in the equation look like the smarter buy. With the new VW Touareg, that positive effect of shared tech across the group is even more favourable.
The new Touareg shares its underpinnings with the Bentley Bentayga and the Lamborghini Urus.
The cars this 3rd-generation luxury SUV is related to are mostly more expensive. The Touareg’s active roll cancellation system uses the same technology you’ll find on a R4-million Bentley Bentayga, and its four-wheel steering system is shared with an even more expensive Lamborghini Urus. But if you bought a new Touareg on the basis that it’s some kind of bargain-hunter’s super-SUV, my guess is that your smug face wouldn’t last very long. The Touareg remains a surprisingly functional and relatively simple sort – and that’s in spite of Volkswagen’s attempts to give it more glitz.
Though the car handles better than its predecessor, it’s a long way from having the agility of a Porsche Cayenne; and while the interior has high-quality materials and high-tech ingredients, the Touareg lacks the richness or design appeal of either a Range Rover Velar or a Volvo XC90.
Powerful and practical
As a pure 5-seater SUV, the Touareg has heaps of room for all passengers.
It will be powered by either a V6 turbodiesel or V6 turbopetrol in Mzansi and, whereas a V8 turbodiesel and petrol plug-in hybrid will be offered overseas at a later stage, they are not confirmed for our market. We tested the torquier V6 turbodiesel, and our test car had 2-chamber air suspension, active anti-roll bars and four-wheel steering, all of which are likely to be optional equipment. Its centre diff-based four-wheel-drive system and 8-speed automatic gearbox, however, will be standard.
The Touareg’s a 5-seater with a luggage bay that’ll swallow up to 810 litres of cargo before you start flopping over backrests. It has plenty of room even for larger adults in both rows, and up front, the cabin looks and feels solid, classy and expensively hewn, though it retains a functional ambience.
The driving experience
Engines available include both V6 turbopetrol and V6 turbodiesel units. A V8 turbodiesel and plug-in hybrid are on their way too, but not confirmed for SA.
The wow factor comes from its large duo of instrument and infotainment screens, which butt up against each other similarly to Mercedes’ most-recent orientation. The system’s complexity makes it less intuitively usable than some; it’s nonetheless slick and impressive. On the transmission tunnel, you’ll find the rotary dials controlling the car’s adjustable-height air springs and its driving modes. Having sampled several of them, you’ll find that Normal and Comfort suit the car best on the road, since they combine the Touareg’s first-rate refinement and isolation with a settled, comfortable ride; and handling that melds intuitive drivability with wieldiness and precision well.
In other modes, the Touareg is agile for a car of its size, but not particularly enticing drive. Our test car’s active suspension and variable-ratio steering systems seemed to take some predictability out of the handling: around tight bends, the steering quickened suddenly (at about a quarter turn of lock) and the extra weightiness felt artificial.
The dual-screen setup is quite similar to what Mercedes-Benz offers in the E-Class and other contemporary high-end models. Still, it looks great.
In a pattern of typical use more typical of a big SUV, the car works very agreeably, a shortage of centre feel on that steering and an inconsistency in its weight and provision of feedback being only minor dynamic bugbears. The engine hauls the car along smartly and with performance in reserve, and it’s quiet and smooth with it, only very occasionally being tripped up by a slightly hesitant transmission.
By and large, this is the same understated, competent Touareg, known and loved for its fuss-free sense of ease of use since it first appeared in 2003. It’s not likely to be anyone’s must-have vehicular acquisition of 2018, but it is a very nice car and has a rare unpretentiousness among the ever-increasing luxury SUV ranks.
The promotional clip for the new Touareg was filmed in Cape Town and surrounds, check it out: