The next generation of Volkswagen’s luxury SUV has arrived. Can the Touareg shake its perennial also-ran reputation in this segment?
The Volkswagen Group may be known as the maker of people’s cars but it has also produced a few notably extreme ones. Think of the Bugatti Veyron and W12 Phaeton grand saloon, plus the 5,0 TDI V10 version of the first Touareg (there was even a limited-run W12 petrol); all projects driven by the company’s previous head, engineer Ferdinand Piëch.
Fast-forward to 2018 and we now witness the introduction of the third-generation Touareg, an SUV based on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB platform. As you may know, it underpins a number of similarly sized vehicles in the company’s stable, including the Bentley Bentayga, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and even the Lamborghini Urus super-SUV (with obvious chassis-setup differences between them).
The new Touareg is an undeniably stylish vehicle with an imposing grille dominated by a series of bold, chromed louvres. Side-on – both in design and silhouette – the DNA it shares with the Q7 is clearly evident in a relatively low, long stance. It’s only the rear that arguably looks mundane, with slim rear lights which don’t quite have the character of those fitted to its smaller Tiguan sibling.
Climb inside and, much like the new Arteon, the design of the grille is echoed through to the Touareg dashboard. And it’s a dash dominated by some of the largest infotainment screens in the business. Called the Innovision Cockpit, this R74 000 optional extra comprises a 12-inch virtual binnacle cluster and a 15-inch central display. With a facia tilted towards the driver, there is an enormous sense of occasion when you start the car and the crisply defined interface switches on. It oversees a wealth of ancillary functions, including climate controls and all manner of media and vehicle settings in between.
Ahead of the steering wheel, a second screen shows the instrumentation, as well as a summary of the information contained on the larger screen. As intuitive as the system’s layout is, it does take a few days to learn all the shortcuts and to fully utilise the range of functions and features. Also, using it on the go takes up time because there’s no place to rest your hand to keep it steady. A quirky addition to the sat-nav mode is a display that shows the number of satellites the car is connected to, plus your altitude.
The perceived quality throughout the cabin is readily apparent, from the tactile solidity of the (admittedly few) buttons to the soft-touch areas along the top half of the cabin. Lower down, on surfaces which will receive more wear and tear, the plastics are harder and more extensive than you’ll find in the Touareg’s rivals. The electrically adjustable front seats are fantastically comfortable, and so too are those in the second row, where there’s copious amounts of leg-, head- and shoulder-room.
Opening the electric tailgate to a sizeable 400-litre boot revealed our test car to be equipped with the handy optional cargo package offering a net partition, mat, variable-height floor, luggage net and roll-up sunscreen for rear side windows. It’s not cheap at R6 850 but the system feels sturdy and is a doddle to use.
This flagship Executive model (supplemented with a Luxury derivative) comes standard with height-adjustable air suspension. It also offers seven different drive modes tailored to various on- and off-road terrains.
In the comfort setting, the Touareg displays a soft, floaty ride akin to older grand saloons, the comfort levels further aided by those excellent ergoComfort seats and supreme levels of refinement. Our press unit was fitted with 20-inch wheels that are just about the right size for a big SUV; the 285/45s front and rear have a high-enough profile to juggle both comfort and lateral-stability requirements.
Up front, the V6 twin-turbodiesel delivers 190 kW and 600 N.m. of twist and, even though the Touareg tips the scales at 2 212 kg (fully fuelled), the engine offers a wide performance envelope for good in-gear acceleration times as well as brisk off-the-line sprinting. The slick-shifting eight-speed torque-converter transmission is perfect for an application such as this, where super-quick dual-clutch swaps aren’t required. A minor criticism is a delay in get-go from the engine when pulling away from standstill. Once going, the response is more immediate.
On our grippy test strip, the Touareg hit 100 km/h from standstill in just 7,22 seconds, while the stoppers also impressed in our braking test. Contributing to an excellent average of 2,80 seconds across 10 emergency manoeuvres was one sportscar-rivalling 2,61-second stop.
This vehicle is fitted with the Advanced Safety Package (R59 150) including lane assist, side assist and night vision with head-up display. However, it’s only really the latter that’s of benefit to a South African driver because the system cleverly highlights pedestrians in low-light conditions; an alarm sounds and there’s a visual indication on the instrument screen where the night vision points out where the pedestrian is, with said person receiving an automatic flash of the headlamps. And this is not merely at low speed, either; the system works even when the car is driving at highway speeds. All the supplementary safety systems can be disengaged but, annoyingly, the intrusive lane-assist system switches itself back on every time the engine is restarted.
In the company of the Big Three's established premium SUVs, plus those from Volvo, Porsche, Land Rover and Lexus, past generations of VW's Touareg suffered - somewhat unjustly, it must be said - from sideline syndrome. This latest model, however, should firmly lay that sentiment to rest. The new Touareg is one of the leaders, it is that good. It might not be as dynamic as a Cayenne but it has a level of refinement, technology and comfort making it a force with which to reckon.
We do have reservations about its pricing relative to the Audi Q7. The Ingolstadt product is satisfyingly sophisticated and less expensive than this Executive model (there's just one Audi derivative). Yes, it isn't quite as well equipped, and its infotainment technology looks decidedly old-school against a Touareg equipped with the pricey InnoVision option. But the Audi comes with a more illustrious badge and a cabin that boasts even higher perceived-quality levels.
To that end, our recommendation would be the Touareg Luxury at R999 800, which shares all of the SUV's vast range of admirable attributes at a price that makes it even more irresistible.
*From the October 2018 issue of CAR magazine
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