Volkswagen’s venture into the large SUV segment with the first-generation Touareg was driven not merely by potential profit margins in the burgeoning luxury class, but also to cast a glow of desirability over the entire Volkswagen line-up. The German marque’s ambitions to move upmarket have been well publicised, and the VW Touareg was essentially the star attraction. That is why the company threw so much technology at the first-generation product, including a headline-grabbing V10 turbodiesel. Now, the new VW Touareg has arrived to do battle once more in a fiercely competitive market crowded with established premium badges. Has VW done enough to up the big Volksie’s status?
Less bloated looks for VW TouaregThe previous VW Touareg was an imposing vehicle with lots of presence. At the time, VW’s design language emphasised the use of big chromed grilles and rounded panels. Lately, however, the focus has shifted to offering a more elegant, crisper, unfussy look across all models. So, while the new model is instantly recognisable as a Touareg, the detailing is significantly different. The headlights are slim and frame a narrow grille, while at the rear there are sharper edges to the tail lamps. In the metal, the crisper styling actually makes the new model appear smaller than its predecessor, but that is certainly not the case against the tape measure. The new VW Touareg is 41 mm longer and 12 mm wider than before, and the wheelbase is a very lengthy 2 893 mm. This is a big vehicle…
With dimensions such as those, the cabin is obviously not cramped. There is very generous rear legroom and the boot measures a sizeable 580 L. You can also fold the seats down to turn the VW into a furniture removal van if you’d like… With their own ventilation outlets and comfy seats, the rear passengers are unlikely to complain, but the best seats are certainly those in front. Upholstered in fine leather and even boasting heating, the front seats proved excellent on longer trips, offering great under-thigh support.
Compared with the previous-generation model, the facia on the new VW Touareg has been slightly simplified. With lots of shiny wood all round (even the rear doors), the ambiance is still suitably upmarket, and the build quality is excellent. At first glance the dominance of the wood panelling makes the facia appear slightly old-fashioned, but in reality it’s jam-packed with high-tech features. A large digital display is positioned between the two analogue dials, and there’s another (touch-screen) item on the centre panel (navigation is optional, though).
The standard specification of this VW Touareg model will please most customers and includes; dual-zone climate control, auto wipers, radio/CD shuttle, multi-function steering wheel and cruise control. The safety package includes six airbags and an ESP (electronic stability control) system, but there’s a whole raft of driver-assistance systems included, too, such hill-start assist, hill-descent control and the ABS features a special off-road setting. Volkswagen also offers a long list of options, including an electric tailgate, surround-view cameras and a special 4XMotion off-road package that adds low range, centre and rear diff-locks and a few other gimmicks to up the off-road capability significantly.
Lighter, more efficientA big emphasis with the new vehicle was to improve efficiencies in all areas, as the presence of the Bluemotion moniker demands. Compared with its predecessor, the new VW Touareg is up to 200 kg lighter than before, yet, at 2 174 kg, it is still a heavyweight. To assist with the efficiency targets, the engine boasts auto start/stop (which can be deactivated) and even a kinetic energy recovery system. The result? A fuel consumption figure of 7,4 L/100 km is excellent, undoubtedly, but needs to be put into context to be properly appreciated. In this case context is provided by the potential performance of the engine. With 176 kW and 550 Nm of torque at its disposal, this VW Touareg can sprint to 100 km/h in less than eight seconds! Truly startling…
The engine is mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which itself is there primarily to save fuel – the two top ratios are economical cruising gears. You may think that the number of gears and efficiency targets would see the VW Touareg respond clumsily to driver inputs, but this is not the case. Even without delving into the Sport and Manual modes the gearbox generally quickly finds the most suitable gear, and responsiveness is excellent… as is refinement. This is a superbly quiet, sophisticated cruiser.
Also contributing to the first-class cruising effort is the suspension set-up. An adjustable suspension set-up is available as an option, but the basic set-up is already excellent. The ride firm at low speed, but never jarring, and absorbs especially big bumps very well. In the corners it displays very admirable grip and stability, with little of the wallow that affects so many big SUVs.
And off-road? Well, the standard package doesn’t include low-range, but there’s still a limited-slip differential and an off-road control system that fine-tunes the various electronic systems to their optimum levels for the selected off-road conditions. With 220 mm of ground clearance, the VW Touareg is a capable SUV that can certainly take you further than others of its ilk. But if you’re the overlander type, then remember to tick the 4Xmotion box.
VW Touareg - VerdictThe new VW Touareg is an exceptionally difficult vehicle to fault. It is not only more refined than before, but also significantly more efficient, and the performance is very impressive. Of course, it doesn’t come cheap, and the price puts it near some very desirable products (see below), but those who do not fall victim to badge snobbery may very well find that it offers an unbeatable package.
- Refined, powerful engine
- Luxurious, comfortable cabin
- Ride/handling balance
- Not much!
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, turbodiesel
Power: 176 kW @ 4 000 rpm
Torque: 550 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 218 km/h
0-100 km/h: 7,8 seconds
Fuel economy: 7,4 litres/100 km
- BMW X5 xDrive30d Steptronic: BMW’s new X5 is a superb machine all-round with exceptionally polished on-road dynamics and a very well-made cabin. It’s not a serious off-roader, but for most potential buyers that’s not a concern. Great engine, too.
- Mercedes-Benz ML350 CDI 7G-tronic: The latest M-Class is a vastly more refined and sophisticated machine than its predecessor. In ML350CDI guise it is also exceptionally nice to drive, with a good balance of power and economy, as well as ride and handling. Should offer superior resale value.
- Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 3,0dt TX Auto: An imposing vehicle that offers superb off-road ability, a very spacious seven-seat cabin and a bullet-proof reputation. But the interior ergonomics are a mess and it’s not as refined on-road as most of its rivals.