As VW’s current flagship model, much is riding on the new Touareg’s shoulders. Thankfully, it’s in better shape than ever
|V6, twin-turbo, 2995cc||335bhp @ 3500rpm||443lb ft @ 1250rpm||6.8 secs||240kph||2070kg||$54,500|
|Superb cabin design, array of driver assist systems and comfort|
|Lacks a bit of excitement, even for a premium SUV|
It’s difficult to overstate just how important the brand new Touareg is for Volkswagen. The premium SUV now steps in as company flagship, understandable given the million or so units VW has already shifted across two previous generations. It’s a figurehead in the largest product and technology campaign in the history of the VW brand, as well as being touted as “the most technologically advanced Volkswagen of its era.”
Put simply, the third generation Touareg is Volkswagen’s answer to the Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7, and BMW X5, and is the closest the company has yet come to toppling its fellow German trio.
Let’s start with the basics. The newbie is built on the same MLB-evo platform that underpins the Bentley Bentayga, the Porsche Cayenne and the brand new Lamborghini Urus, meaning a mixed material composition of high-strength steels and aluminium that drops the overall kerb weight by 106kg. It’s 44mm wider and 77mm longer than its second-gen predecessor, increasing available boot space from 697 to 810 litres, and VW has even eschewed the seven-seater approach of its rivals, in order to prioritise rear passenger comfort – which, as we find out on the launch drive in Austria, was absolutely the right call. There’s more head, leg and knee room across the rear bench than we know what to do with.
The wider and squatter dimensions have also sharpened the somewhat dumpy looks on the outside, and the enormous, horizontally slatted front grille that integrates seamlessly with the new wraparound headlights is notably striking. The real headliner though, is the cabin, which, top-to-tail, has received its biggest overhaul in 15 years.
Save the drive mode selection, a couple of rotary dials for the air suspension and four-wheel drive collaboration, and an oddly placed volume scroller, all other conventional buttons and switches have disappeared in favour of minimalism. Pride of place goes to VW’s new ‘Innovision Cockpit’, which, in layman’s terms, is a 15in infotainment screen and 12in driver cluster, essentially stitched together behind two giant slabs of glass. The name is appallingly cloying, and the centre screen could be more ergonomically angled for the passenger, but it’s beautifully executed, a doddle to use, and very flexible to customise, so expect this technical showcase to filter through the VW range very soon.
I can even forgive the slightly ropey, less premium feeling trim elements that are scattered about the dashboard of this ‘premium’ SUV, although I do wish VW would abandon its bothersome SatNav in favour of the much better system employed by Audi. Quite how this would affect the $50K-plus price tag, I’m not sure, and certainly the Touareg’s newly updated technical arsenal will have done some damage. Again, a forgivable ‘offence’, given how well the systems are implemented – the Night Vision thermal imaging camera is almost alarmingly clear, and fortunately we don’t need to test Proactive Occupant Protection, which closes the windows and tightens the seatbelts if it senses an impending collision.
Although a 335bhp petrol V6 will be available in the Middle East soon, only the diesel will be available as a V8. The acceleration is smooth enough and feels sufficiently torquey in the higher revs. Ditto the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which remained hesitant under shifts even when given a dig in the ribs in ‘Sport’ mode. There is consistent weighting through the otherwise dissociative feeling steering, not quite enough to hide a distinct lack of feel for the front end, regardless of driving mode. ‘Excitement’ was always going to be difficult to find, but even a modicum more engagement wouldn’t
To be fair though, the addition of new electromechanically controlled anti-roll bars means the Touareg minimises body roll through the sharper turns impressively well. The new four-wheel steering, which I initially believed would make the two-ton titan too twitchy to turn tacitly, instead cleaves the turning circle of its predecessor in half. Add beautiful ride quality and a whisper-quiet cabin for good measure, and it’s unlikely you’ll be hankering for ‘pure dynamism’ when you can happily waft away the kilometres in Comfort.
Not that it really needs to compete in this arena – the performance benchmark BMW, Audi and Mercedes were always going to be tough to match. ‘Premium’ refinement though is another matter, and when you combine a superb re-design, smooth as silk ride quality and an array of well-configured driver assist technology, Volkswagen might well have set another benchmark.