New Volkswagen Touareg review: Touar of duty



The third-generation Volkswagen Touareg is set to arrive in Singapore in early 2019. With advanced features and a giant touchscreen, it takes aim at a number of luxury SUVs.

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA — The new Volkswagen Touareg doesn’t feel like a car as much as some kind of magic tank from the future.

Okay there’s no turret and gun barrel (though there might be — the press release is nearly 50 pages long and I didn’t read it all). But it has that air of unstoppable indestructibility that you really want in times of war.

I’ve no doubt you could take down whole buildings in it by bashing through the walls and driving it straight through the support columns.

Used more benignly, it functions as a five-seat Sport Utility Vehicle, and a pretty plush one, at that. It’s now in its third generation, and waiting to fire a few shots at other luxury cars while it serves another tour of duty as Volkswagen’s flagship.

 

So what’s new?
In a word, everything. There’s been a ground-up redesign of the Touareg, though it’s a sister car to the new Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 so there’s a touch of familiarity here.

VW’s MLM (modular longitudinal matrix) platform supports it, so it’s also related to the Porsche Panamera and Bentley Bentayga.

Sounds posh!
And it is. Volkswagen considers it a direct rival to the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE, and pitches the Touareg very much as a premium car.

I see shades of Arteon…
Yep, there’s some of that car’s stylish DNA in the Touareg, most noticeably in the face of the car. The way the grille sort of blends with the headlights is very Arteon-like, or at least, artful. It’s hard to tell where grille ends and headlamp begins.

The back end is comparably plain, with slim lights and a clean, wide tailgate shape. It’s very unfussy, at the least.

The body and flanks are where you find plenty of detailing. The wheelarches are an orgy of concentric creases, for example. And the rear wheels have a little muscular bulge over them. It’s damn fetching from some angles.

It looks sportier than before, anyway
That’s right, and it’s probably due to the car’s proportions. It’s longer, wider and flatter than the last car, which makes it look a bit meaner and more purposeful.

The roof tapers down a bit toward the rear, too.

If you want the dimensions, they’re now 4,878mm (that’s 77mm up), 1,984mm (44m up) and 1,702mm (7mm down) for length, width and height.

At 2,984mm, the wheelbase is unchanged. Ok, it’s 1mm longer.

Big car. It must be enormous inside?
Yes… and not really. I mean it’s still spacious, and it has puh-lenty of legroom in the back. You don’t feel that the roof’s been lowered, either.

But VW seems to have dedicated a lot of the extra size to cargo room.

It’s the boot that has grown tremendously, not the cabin. It’s now a whopping 810 litres in size, with all the seats up. That’s 113 litres bigger.

The rear seats can slide forward up to 160mm if you need to cram more stuff into the boot, and the seatbacks can be set more upright for the same reason.

Apparently the brief was to make the car capable of carrying five people in comfort, plus a lot of stuff. Handy for, say, a run to the airport.

If you’re wondering why no seven-seater version, VW spokesperson Martin Hube told us it was never in the plans — such a layout would have affected the design, and it would have been more expensive, thus creeping into the Audi Q7’s turf. “Such a car would make no sense, from a positioning point of view,” he said.

Instead, this Touareg seems to have been conceived as something of a lifestyle workhorse.

How so?
Apart from the giant boot, it also comes with a minimum 3.5 tonnes of towing capacity. There’s also a trailer assist function that lets you reverse a trailer into place perfectly, using a joystick to guide it.

That’s a lot harder than it sounds — we tried reversing in a straight line without the Trailer Assist function and loused it up spectacularly. A monkey with dementia would have done better.

Apparently, around 60 percent of Touareg owners in Germany (and 40 percent in Europe) use their cars to tow stuff. That’s higher than average. They must have interesting hobbies, like horse riding or dirt biking.

Or maybe they collect Italian cars and need some way of getting them to the workshop.

So, the Touareg is more mule than racehorse, then?
Ah, so here’s the thing: While it’s a big, hefty machine that feels hewn from solid granite, it’s also surprisingly light on its feet.

On narrow, twisty roads that should be its undoing, it actually feels like a much smaller car, shuffling through them in true twinkle-toe-like fashion.

Impossible.
No, not impossible. Just unlikely. Yet, you can thank technology for that. Three things helped make the new Touareg so agile.

The first is four-wheel steering. Like the Cayenne, it has rear wheels that point this way and that, according to speed.

On the highway the rear wheels steer gently in the same direction as the fronts, which helps the car make lane changes smoothly without feeling darty.

At low speeds (the threshold speed is 37km/h) the rear wheels turn opposite to the front ones, giving it a shorter wheelbase. That makes it more manoeuvrable, so life in the carpark is much easier.

The turning circle is also remarkably tight. A Golf needs 11m to execute a U-turn, but the Touareg needs just 20cm more.

Not bad. Where else does the agility come from?
Well, the body is now a mix of fancy metals; it’s nearly half aluminium (48 percent) and the rest is high-strength steel.

Two things there: that’s lopped a colossal 106kg off the body’s weight, and it’s stiffer than before. Extra rigidity always helps the suspension work with more precision.

There are new active anti-roll bars, too, on both axles. They use 48-volt motors to simply force the body more upright to combat body roll. Brute mechanical force for the win. Rolls-Royce uses something similar on the new Phantom, which is something the boasty Touareg driver can shout about.

So let me guess, it drives like a sportscar?
Actually, no. The test car was shod on Pirelli P Zeros (in 285/45 R 20) but didn’t really muster heroic levels of grip around corners.

The Touareg doesn’t exactly dive into bends with alacrity, either.

But while it’s no gazelle, it’s certainly no hippo. Body roll is barely there, and the whole lot feels quite balanced, so even as you run out of grip it never wants to plough straight off into the scenery.

The steering is light and fairly delicate, and it’s also reasonably precise, so you can guide the Touareg through a set of fast switchbacks with ease. For such a big car, it never feels clumsy or intimidating to drive.

Interestingly, the steering was fettled by racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck. He’s a podium finisher in Formula One, and a multiple of the 24 Hours of LeMans and countless events in touring cars and endurance racing.

“At the very end of the development stages, I could give some hints about how the chassis feels,” he told CarBuyer. “I think it’s important the steering is not too hectic. The first, initial steering should be nice. Only small things — there are many good engineers (at Volkswagen).”

Does the car’s poise come at the expense of ride comfort?
Not at all. In fact, the big VW deals with uneven tarmac beautifully. The active anti-roll bars are essentially deactivated in a straight line. That leaves the springs free to soak up bumps without having to work against them, as they would with solid steel anti-roll bars.

On the bumpy stuff, there’s just little of the side-to-side rocking that sometimes afflicts tall cars.

In the “Normal” drive mode the Touareg feels so nice that there’s little point engaging the “Comfort” setting, which lets a bit of floatiness sneak in.

In fact there’s little point to the “Sport” mode, either. It drops the ride height a little and firms up the steering and suspension, without much detriment to ride quality, so it works well.

But the in the “Normal” mode the suspension is just well-sorted enough to do a good job across a wide spectrum of ride/handling needs.

How does it go in a straight line?
Don’t know, actually. That’s because we tested a 3.0 V6 TDI (a diesel with 286 horsepower), but what’s coming to Singapore is a 3.0 V6 TSI. That’s a 340 horsepower petrol. VW is only starting deliveries of that in early 2019, so there aren’t even performance figures for it yet.

For what it’s worth, the TDI is a capable thing. It churns out 600Nm of peak torque between 2,250 to 3,250rpm. After tiny bit of lag, the Touareg really hikes its skirt up and takes off.

The acceleration feels linear and urgent, and it’s pretty seamless. The new eight-speed auto (from ZF now, instead of Aisin) shifts nearly imperceptibly.

Whether the diesel comes to Singapore is a big “maybe”. It likely depends on what tax treatment the Vehicular Emissions Scheme gives it. There’s a lower output 3.0 TDI with 231 horsepower that’s also a candidate.

But anyway, the TSI should be nicer. Being a petrol, it should give the Touareg more top-end oomph, not to mention a nicer voice.

When does it come in?
The plan is to have the petrol Touareg in by early 2019, meaning the next Singapore Motor Show. The 3.0 V6 TSI will likely come in three trim levels, too.

There’s a new Elegance line (below) which is a bit modern, with metallic looking surfaces inside and lighter colours.

Then there’s the Atmosphere trim (below), which is a bit more traditional, with solid, porous wood trim and  a darker upholstery. That’s a bit posher, if you ask us.

But top of the line, at least for Singapore, will be the R-Line trim. That’s intended to be the flagship version that will come specced to the gills.

That said, Amanda Poh, Volkswagen Group Singapore’s dedicated and long-suffering PR spokesperson, takes pains to tell us that “nothing is set in stone.”

Does it feel like a premium car, though?
For the most part, yes. The interior is built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, and the main surfaces are all soft touch yet pleasantly free of creaks or rattles.

The seating area in the back is surprisingly plain, though, and the cushions back there are pretty short.

Wind noise was surprisingly intrusive in our test car, too. That’s in spite of double glazed windows.

Mind you, things only start to get loud inside around 130km/h and above, so you’ll won’t find much to complain about on the ECP.

But if you speed Up North often, the busy rustle of wind will make you acutely aware that the Touareg is a big car punching a big hole through the air.

The massage chairs (standard in R-Line trim) take some of the spinal toll out of long journeys, too, while ventilated front seats make our weather more bearable.

For all that, the R-Line will come with a killer feature that local buyers are bound to consider a must-have.

And that is?
A whopping great 15-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Think about that for a sec; the bigger of the MacBook Pros has a 15-inch screen, for reference.

The giant screen is part of the Discover Premium infotainment system, which in turn is half of the Innovision Cockpit. The other half is a 12-inch screen that replaces analogue instruments.

The Innovision thing sounds a bit gimmicky, but you can see it foreshadowing the future of all cars. It wipes the dashboard free of physical buttons and switches, making it much neater.

Only the drive mode selector, ride height control and volume control remain physical items.

The result is a cabin architecture that is free to emphasise horizontal lines and extended trim pieces. In the Touareg, ambient lighting does a lot for the cabin atmosphere, too.

But for something so different, the Innovision interface is surprisingly easy to use. As giant screens go, it’s more intuitive than, say, Volvo’s system.

It helps that the main screen is customisable. VW says the principle is that the car should adapt to you, rather than the other way round. So you can select what functions you want specific tiles to display, and you know where things are. It’s the same with your smartphone — you know where all the apps are.

The smartphone analogy works in another way. Whether anyone needs such a gigantic screen is a different matter, but it certainly creates the opportunity for a bit of oneupmanship.

Wait, isn’t that what a Porsche Cayenne would be for?
Of course, the Porsche badge is pretty hard to top, but the way VW sees it, that Cayenne is for someone who wants a more overtly sporty car. Besides, the Touareg should undercut it nicely.

There’s no indication of how much the new Touareg would cost as a 3.0 V6 TSI, but the last one was priced at around 300 big ones in 3.0 TDI R-Line trim.

Similar pricing should see this new one through. It’s nicer looking, noticeably more agile and easier to handle, and the cabin is more stylish while offering more comfort. The boot is significantly bigger, and of course the R-Line version will come with the enormous Discover Premium infotainment screen.

Whether the new Touareg is ever considered a true competitor to BMW’s X5 or Mercedes’ GLE-Class by Singaporeans remains to be seen, but it’s certainly capable of stealing sales from them.

It just goes to show you don’t need a turret and gun to attack your enemies.

NEED TO KNOW Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI 4Motion (as tested)
Engine 2,967cc, V6, turbodiesel
Power 286hp at 4,000rpm
Torque 600Nm at 2250 to 3250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 238km/h
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.9L/100km
Price To Be Announced
Agent Volkswagen Group Singapore
Available January 2019 (petrol model)

 

about the author

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.