Volkswagen Touareg: road test
The Touareg is a good 4×4, but it’s up against some very tough rivals.
What is it?
The revised Volkswagen Touareg is a big 4×4 taking on the likes of the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The new Touareg offers improved fuel economy and lower emissions.
How safe is it?
Although it hasn’t been through a Euro NCAP crash test, the car has a long list of safety equipment, including brakes which are applied automatically after a collision.
Who should buy one?
Although the Touareg isn’t class-leading, it’s worth considering if five seats are enough. If you need space for seven a Land Rover Discovery is a better bet.
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Look really closely, and you might spot the new Volkswagen Touareg’s revised bumpers and grille, the new alloy wheel designs and the bi-xenon headlights.
Volkswagen’s engineers must have been working longer days than the designers, because the most significant changes are hidden from view. The old V8 and hybrid models have been dropped from the UK line-up, so buyers must now choose between two versions of the 3.0-litre V6 TDI . Both are more economical and emit less than before, as we’ll explain later. The more powerful of the two also offers stronger performance.
With 262PS (or 258bhp in old money), the beefier engine improves upon the old car’s 245PS. That’s not enough for a night-and-day difference in acceleration, but it is a worthwhile extra slug of muscle. Even from low revs the engine is strong enough to have this two-tonne 4×4 really shifting, and if you tow a caravan, horsebox or trailer the V6 is easily up to the job.
The engine is refined as well as strong, staying in the background at a steady cruise and never sounding harsh even when accelerating hard. The eight-speed automatic changes gear smoothly, and paddles behind the steering wheel allow the driver to take charge and select the ideal gear before overtaking.
The less powerful engine gives away 58PS (57bhp) and costs £1500 less. We didn’t have the chance to drive it but we’d be inclined to choose the more powerful version, especially if heavy-duty towing is on your agenda.
Despite being so tall and weighing so much, the Touareg rides and handles well. At least, it does on the optional air suspension fitted to every car on the press launch. This allows the driver to choose between Sport, Comfort and Normal modes, although arguably the suspension’s self-levelling function and manual height adjustment of the rear of the car are more useful than being able to tinker with the behaviour of the dampers. However, whether the system is worth paying £1590-£2170 for over steel springs is a moot point (the cheaper price applies to R-Line models).
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Changes inside the car are just as subtle as those to the exterior. There’s a more expensive feel to some of the switchgear and a couple of new wood trim options, and lumbar support on the front seats. Otherwise it’s largely as you were.
Up front, the driver and front seat passenger have acres of room to stretch out, and the high-up driving position gives a commanding view out. Those in the back also get plenty of room, although the chunky transmission tunnel means two rear-seat passengers will be more comfortable than three.
The boot is very large, with a 697-litre capacity with the seats up, rising to 1642 litres with the seats folded down. However, the rear seat backs don’t lie flat so there’s a slight slope to the load floor, and anyone with a bad back won’t look forward to lifting heavy bags so high.
Our biggest problem with the Touareg’s interior is that there’s no seven-seat option, which is unusual on a 4×4 of this size and price.
Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the Touareg in its current form, but most Volkswagens which have been tested recently have scored five stars. Every Touareg comes packed with safety kit, including curtain airbags for both rows and VW’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, which is intended to reduce the severity of any secondary impacts. A Driver Alert system, which monitors the driver and warns if they are becoming tired, is also fitted to every Touareg.
Most buyers are expected to plump for the top-spec R-Line, which comes with 20-inch alloys, lowered sports suspension, LED running lights and a panoramic sunroof. Just 2% are likely to choose the Escape model, which has a higher ride height, underbody protection and differential locks to improve its off-road ability. The entry-level SE model has 19-inch alloys, satellite navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen, a digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity and leather upholstery.
Prices start from £43,000, which pitches the Touareg against some serious competition, and we’d question whether resale values will match those of rivals with more prestigious badges. That said, fuel economy is good for a big 4×4, returning 42.8mpg on the combined cycle for both the 204PS and 262PS versions (40.9mpg for the Escape model). SE and R-Line cars sit in Band H for Vehicle Excise Duty, with a first-year-rate of £290 at today’s prices.
A good 4×4, but it’s up against some very tough rivals.
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds
Economy: 42.8mpg combined
Tax: Band H (£290 first year)
Figures for the 3.0 262PS TDI R-Line