In the late ‘90s and early years of the new Millennium, the compact MPV was all the rage, fuelled by the European success of first the Renault Megane Scenic, and then the Opel Zafira. Back then, it appeared to be the market segment of the future and as a result a number of brands jumped onto the bandwagon. Unfortunately, some of them had not factored in the growth of the compact crossover segment, and the fact that these two segments were set on a collision course. Hindsight is said to be 20/20, but it appears obvious now that the public would always prefer slightly macho SUV looks of a crossover to the mom’s taxi MPV, especially as both are similarly practical. So, where does this leave the updated Volkswagen Touran?
Refined looks for the Volkswagen TouranThough the Volkswagen Touran is generally neither regarded as the best-value MPV on offer, nor the most cleverly packaged, it has been a big hit in South Africa, a reality that has much to do with the VW badge on the nose. The German brand has been on a steady march up the pricing and sophistication ladders of late, and the new Volkswagen Touran has gone the same way. It gets the crisply styled new face of VW with the narrow grille and finely detailed headlamps. Every little aesthetic detail has been subtly improved, so much so that when you park the facelifted vehicle next to its predecessor, it almost looks like an all-new model. The comprehensive colour-coding, smart 16-inch alloy wheels and tinted windows do much to endow it with an upmarket presence that is not that common in the MPV segment.
The cabin has been similarly spruced up with control interfaces and displays from the latest Golf 6. Consequently, the instrumentation and particularly the centre section of the facia look vastly more modern and, importantly, more expensive. As before, the facia is a lesson in simplicity – there’s nothing flashy or gimmicky. It just works, but does so with refinement and solidity. As a result, comfort levels are immediately excellent, because one feels at home within seconds. Like all VWs, the steering wheel boasts generous rake and reach adjustment and the seats are superb – they also look very attractive with partial leather upholstery.
In fact, Volkswagen has been fairly generous with the creature comforts – this Touran boasts climate control, auto wipers, heated front seats, radio/CD player, multi-function steering wheel and cruise control. Six airbags are fitted, and there’s an electronic stability system (ESP) as well.
Seating flexibilityMove to the second row and the good news continues. The Volkswagen Touran boasts three individual chairs that can slide to tailor legroom and boot space, and also offer reclining backrests. The seats can also be removed – a job that requires a bit of muscle. Those seated in the second row are afforded a number of typical MPV amenities, including lidded storage boxes under the feet and airline-style flip-up trays. You can even fold the centre seat down and turn it into a table.
Unlike some competitors, the Volkswagen Touran is not a standard seven-seater. It only has five seats in its normal configuration, and you have to spend slightly less than R10 000 extra to get third-row seating. Do that, and you’ll also no longer have a spare wheel (a mobility kit is offered). As with most MPVs of this size that offer seven-up seating, the space in the rear is really only for smaller adults (or children) and for shorter distances. When the seats are occupied there is almost no boot space. In five-seater configuration, however, the boot measures a massive 695-litres.
Willing, modern engineThe 1,4-litre turbopetrol engine that does such excellent duty in the Golf 6 powers this Touran. It develops 103 kW and 220 Nm of torque (from 1 500 rpm). As is the case in the Golf, there is very slight turbo lag before the engine really comes on song, but one quickly gets used to its power delivery characteristics. In fact, it’s quite an enjoyable vehicle to drive. The six-speed manual transmission feels refined, and if you hit the sweet spot of the torque curve, the strong acceleration is very satisfying – the Volkswagen Touran feels quite nippy for a 1,5-tonne mom’s taxi… faster, in fact, than the 0-100 km/h time of 9,5 seconds would appear to suggest. The engine is also impressively frugal, consuming as little as 6,8 L/100 km on average if driven relatively gingerly.
Touran – the refined compact MPV?A major benefit from being based on the Golf is that the Volkswagen Touran inherits its sibling’s impressive (and pricey) multi-link rear suspension. It’s a vehicle that feels impressively composed and refined as soon as the wheels start turning. The suspension is supple, soaking up big bumps or rippled surfaces in an equally impressive manner. The low levels of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) further accentuate the overall sense of sophistication and refinement. And it doesn’t turn all wallowy in the corners, either, remaining composed and stable even when driven with some vigour.
Volkswagen Touran - VerdictThe facelifted Volkswagen Touran is a marked improvement on an already good predecessor. The changes are not big, but Volkswagen has refined every aspect of this vehicle, and the result is the most “premium” feeling compact MPV on the market. Comfort levels are very high, and the new 1,4 TSI engine remains impressive. Yes, the price is high – too high, perhaps – but remember that you’re likely to get a better trade-in for this than some of the cheaper competition. And, in reality, the Volkswagen Touran does feel like a more substantial product than its rivals. The MPV segment may be shrinking, but the Touran’s slice of the pie may end up growing…
- Classy cabin
- Build quality
- Standard specification
- No spare wheel as a seven seater
Engine: 1,4-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 103 kW @ 5 600 rpm
Torque: 220 Nm @ 1 500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 16-inch alloy
Top speed: 202 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,5 seconds
Fuel economy: 6,8 litres/100 km
- Toyota Verso 1,8 TX: The Verso is significantly cheaper than the Volkswagen, so the value argument is very strong, especially as it packs seven seats as standard, as well as a decent standard features package. Refined and comfortable, too.
- Mazda5 2,0 Individual: As before, the Mazda5 attempts to offer some driving excitement in the MPV segment. To a large degree it succeeds, because it certainly is more engaging to drive than most. But, as an MPV it also impresses offering great value, lots of features and seven seats as standard.
- Renault Grand Scenic 1,9 dCi Dynamique: OK, so the Renault is a diesel, but the brand doesn’t offer a petrol model anymore – with good reason too… This diesel derivative is an excellent all-rounder, possibly the best MPV on the market right now. And it’s well priced.