It may not be that obvious, but the Volkswagen Touareg model is a pivotal product for this German marque. As the brand continues its ascent to the near-premium segment, a desirable and luxurious SUV offering is a crucial piece of the puzzle. So, while sales volumes are perhaps a secondary concern, a product being capable of withstanding direct comparison with the class-best offerings is not. Touareg simply has to measure up. To some extent this explains the company’s (expensive) efforts in the Dakar Rally, all in pursuit of credibility and desirability.
Volkwagen Touareg subtly faceliftedEven in the three short years since Touareg’s original introduction, the Volkswagen design language has refined considerably. Reflecting the brand’s increasingly upmarket aspirations, the upgraded Volkswagen Touareg broadcasts its premium-segment intentions via its brash, chrome-laden front-end and design changes to its head- and taillights, among other smaller modifications. It remains a handsome vehicle.
The interior changes are similarly minor and understandably so… the Volkswagen Touareg has always boasted a superb cabin with excellent fit and finish and high levels of comfort. Perhaps more work could have gone into simplifying some of the minor controls (there are an awful number of buttons), but familiarity soon sets in. Perhaps most importantly, the Touareg’s commanding seating position endows the driver with a sense of “superiority”. The T-shaped transmission lever falls nicely to hand and the fat transmission tunnel with its padded armrest further contributes to the feeling of empowerment. Unfortunately, one’s ego gets somewhat deflated when reaching for the electric seating adjustment only to find that there is none…
Of course, the Volkswagen Touareg shares much of its basic structure with the Audi Q7, but unlike that vehicle, the Volkswagen is not offered with seven seats, perhaps wisely so. Due to its five-seat only layout, Volkswagen has managed to design a vehicle that offers both superb rear legroom as well as a capacious boot. Take note, however, that a full-size spare wheel is an optional item.
Speaking of which… while the Volkswagen Touareg is a decently equipped vehicle, a number of nice-to-have features remain on the options list, including metallic paint, adaptive, cruise control, iPod plug-in for the sound system and air suspension.
What you do get for your half-a-bar are; climate control, fog lamps all-round, electrically adjustable and heated mirrors, cruise control, six airbags, hill-start assist and hill-descent control.
Power, but…Weighing in at well over two tonnes, the Volkswagen Touareg is a bit of a fatty. So, even though its 3,0-litre turbodiesel V6 engine packs a solid 500 Nm of torque (and 165 kW of power), it never feels particularly agile. The engine is mated with a six-speed automatic transmission that offers the option of manual shifting. It’s a smooth ‘box but it perhaps plays a role in the Touareg’s feeling of lethargy off the mark. Once up to speed, it shifts unobtrusively and generally finds the correct gear for the prevalent driving situation. The powertrain always exhibits superb refinement, contributing to the feeling of relaxed, stately progress in the cabin. There is, however, a price to pay – it is quite a thirsty engine. Volkswagen claims a consumption figure of 10,9 litres/100 km, but you’ll have to drive gingerly to achieve that.
Touring excellenceThe Volkswagen Touareg excels as a long-distance family tourer. For a family of five plus their luggage, there aren’t many vehicles out there that can rival it for comfort. The Touareg’s standard steel suspension does a very good job of ironing out road imperfections, so think carefully before specifying the costly (R30 000+) air suspension. The latter brings some advantages (particularly off-road), but at the cost of some ride quality during everyday use. Besides, the standard 237 mm ground clearance is more than good enough for most and the long-term reliability of a normal steel set-up is likely to be better than that of a technically complex air-suspension system.
Where the Volkswagen Touareg potentially trumps its rivals most convincingly is in the balance it achieves between being a consummate on-road mile-muncher, and a capable off-roader. Rivals products tend to either be too off-road biased (Jeep) or, on the other side of the scale, are almost entirely road-oriented (Volvo). By comparison the Volkswagen Touareg packs enviable “hiking gear”, including low range and a centre diff-lock, and yet it doesn’t sacrifice any composure on tar. Job well done, Volkswagen.
Volkswagen Touareg - VerdictThe Volkswagen Touareg 3,0 TDI comes close to being the perfect solution for families who want one vehicle to fulfil all requirements. It cuts a distinctive and stylish figure, so will impress the neighbours. The interior is a fine place to spend the daily slog in traffic, and with that ground clearance finding a parking spot will never be an issue. Then, when the time comes for the family holiday at the sea-side, there’s more than enough space for people and luggage (as well as a good tow rating) and excellent ride comfort in the nicely chilled (dual-zone climate control) cabin. Finally, should you wish, it can even do some hardcore rock climbing or sand driving, if required. Bearing all that capability in mind, the issue of relatively poor fuel economy suddenly looks like a minor sacrifice. This is an excellent vehicle.
- Luxurious, well-built interior
- Refined engine
- Capable off-road
- Heavy, so economy suffers
- Off-the-line lethargy
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, turbodiesel
Power: 165 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 500 Nm @ 1 750 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic + low range
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 201 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,9 seconds
Fuel economy: 10,9 litres/100 km
- Land Rover Discovery TDV6 SE: Pairs superb off-road capability with enviable status appeal. The Discovery can’t, however, match the Volkswagen Touareg on the road where these vehicles will spend most of their time.
- Volvo XC90 D5 Geartronic: Not such a serious off-road machine and can’t match the Touareg’s performance/economy balance, as well as its refinement, but the Volvo offers a very spacious cabin (including seven seats), and superb levels of comfort.
- Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI Automatic: Slightly more expensive, but the Mercedes offers similar spaciousness, power, economy and off-road ability. And, of course, that status symbol on the nose. Extra cost should be recouped come trade-in time.