PLETTENBERG BAY – It's a fact that we, as a species, are a remarkably fickle bunch. That we fall for fake news and are often mesmerised by whatever’s the biggest, brashest, loudest and possessed of the most Twitter followers, goes to show that being softly spoken in this maelstrom of madness is tantamount to being invisible. And that’s what’s gradually happened to the Touareg since its arrival in 2002.
Having met with much fanfare, including a stonking V10-engined turbodiesel and stunts such as towing a Boeing 747 and netting (albeit in the heaviest of disguises) top honours in the Dakar Rally, Volkswagen's halo SUV has otherwise gone about its business quietly, toiling away quietly on the boundary of the SUV stardom that the likes of the BMW X5 and Mercedes’ ML/GLE has enjoyed and lending its underpinnings to flashier relatives from the Porsche and Bentley stables.
It’s a posting that, to be completely honest, is ill-deserved; the Touareg has perennially proved itself to be a solidly crafted and suitably robust piece of luxury. It’s just not been shouty enough to garner the attention it’s so sorely due. With the release of this third-generation model, Volkswagen has again opted for this softly-softly approach … and that may not be a bad thing.
Its styling certainly doesn’t send heads whipping in its direction, instead being suitably Volkswagen-neat, taut and in places slightly crystalline in its execution. It’s a design that, when static, is almost invisible. But once on the move, with its slivers of LED daytime running lights flowing into the grille louvres, it suddenly begins to exude a pleasing purposefulness from its otherwise conservative frame.
The new Touareg is spun off Volkswagen’s MLB Evo platform, which already sees service underpinning such glamorous wares as the Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus. Measuring 4 878 mm long, the new Touareg is 77 mm longer, 44 mm wider, and at 1 702 mm in height, sports a roofline that’s 7 mm lower than that of its forebear. Luggage space also takes a 113-litre hike north of the previous car, with VW claiming 810 litres with the seats in place.
But while it’s bigger, yet still something of a stealth-premium SUV, it’s in the cabin is where the new Touareg really shines. Our Executive-spec test drive unit was fitted with the optional (R70 000-odd) “Innovision Cockpit” which ups the ante when it comes to the sheer acreage of virtual instrument screen a dash can house. The system occupies a vast swathe of facia, comprising a 12-inch virtual binnacle cluster and a 15-inch central display. This crisply defined interface is lag-free and oversees a wealth of ancillary functions, including climate controls and all manner of media and vehicle settings in between.
While the interface sports large, easy-to-prod tiles, it’s a system that can be deeply mined and can, without likely time-consuming familiarisation, prove a bit daunting to navigate on the go. But it’s not just the infotainment system that boasts the segment-leading span of glazing, the Touareg’s interior is bathed in light from the largest panoramic roof to ever grace a Volkswagen; a whopping 1 270 mm long and 825 mm wide.
Under the skin
The Touareg’s new platform, along with the utilisation of numerous lightweight materials in its construction, has shaved an impressive 106 kg off the kerb weight of its predecessor and this lighter frame is propelled by a 3,0-litre V6 turbodiesel (the one that’s soon to do service in the new Amarok V6) serving up 190 kW and 600 N.m of pull through Volkswagen’s multi-mode AWD system. The underpinnings can be further bolstered by an optional four-corner adaptive suspension system and an all-wheel steering setup that makes threading the Touareg’s substantial frame around tightly packed urban obstacles at low-speed less of a grimace-inducing affair.
Our route between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay took in a wide variety of surfaces, from smooth motorways to the tarmac patchwork of country roads and a considerable stretch of loose-surfaced dirt road with a generous helping washboard corrugations thrown in. No matter what was thrown the Touareg’s way, it calmly ironed out the lot.
Driving at pace on gravel, the new car feels less bulky and nose-heavy than its forebear and the brakes scrub off speed with an impressive alacrity. Those seeking involving driving dynamics may be left cold by the Touareg’s light steering and at times leisurely throttle response, but that’s missing the point of this car.
Fire and forget
Move to the motorway and the Touareg becomes a consummate fire-and-forget cruiser that wafts you over the miles in an effortless manner, quietly cocooned in an impeccably built cabin hewn from a wealth of soft-touch and other wonderfully tactile materials. The quiet innards did mean that a spot of tyre roar permeated the cabin, although admittedly only on the Eastern Cape sections of the N2, with their coarse surfacing.
It’s immensely frustrating that a car of the Touareg’s calibre has been perennially relegated to the periphery of our awareness when it comes to premium SUVs. But given the latest car’s showing, it’s heartening to know that in our loud, look-at-me world, there’s always a space for the softly spoken but substance-packed likes of the Touareg…