New Touareg impresses at a price

Ever since Volkswagen came, a little late, to the SUV market with the Touareg, I have had a soft spot for their big off-roader. Designed in parallel with the Porsche Cayenne, it is big, comfortable and very capable.

Earlier last year, Volkswagen announced the second generation of the Touareg. The clear aim was to make the Touareg a more responsible citizen in a more environmentally-aware world. It might still be a big off-roader, with good ability to yomp over the rough stuff, but the new model lost weight and gained greater efficiency.

Volkswagen Touareg

But, this new leaner, lighter, more efficient Touareg had to keep the attributes of the first model – space, comfort and capability.

Well, after driving the new Touareg for a week, I reckon Volkswagen achieved their goal. Looks are deceptive. It may look a little more compact, but the truth is that the length of the new Touareg is up by 41mm and the width has grown by 12mm.

It still looks classy in the typical Volkswagen manner. A Volkswagen doesn’t shout about style or opulence, it just exudes a slightly up-market air – not enough to take it into competition with Volkswagen’s premium Audi brand, but enough to set it apart from the mainstream.

That’s quite an astute pitch in the current economic environment. These days, most people don’t want to flaunt extravagance, they want to project a sensible level-headed image.

Put the old and the new Touareg side by side and you will see quite a few differences. Most noticeable is the removal of the Audi-esque full-height silver grille. Volkswagen’s current management team favour a more conventional, less ostentatious look.

But, if you think that means giving up your quality of accommodation, you are wrong. The interior of the new Touareg is as welcoming, comfortable and spacious as the original. Some may give it a black mark for not being a seven-seater, like the Land Rover Discovery, but the Touareg is very comfortable for five.

With the back seat in place it also offers 580 litres of luggage space, 25 litres more than the previous model. With the rear seat folded the load space increases to 1642 litres, up 72 litres on the original Touareg.

My test car was the Volkswagen Touareg SE 3.0 V6 TDI. Although there is a hybrid model for those who want the latest green technology, the test car proudly wore its Bluemotion badge. Where the hybrid model incorporates an electric motor into the drivetrain, in a similar way to the Lexus RX400h, the Bluemotion relies on diesel efficiency alone to reduce consumption and emissions.

Volkswagen Touareg interior

On my first motorway journey with the Touareg, I was impressed with a 33mpg average. That may not sound particularly outstanding, until you stop to recognise that this is a big, four-wheel-drive vehicle with a three-litre V6 engine.

Over the coming days, with some city driving added into the mix, my overall mpg dropped to 27. Coincidentally, that is exactly the same average as I achieved in the Lexus RX400h hybrid, re-affirming my belief that a well set-up conventional engined car can often match, or beat, the wizardry of a hybrid. The Touareg’s official combined figure is 38.2 mpg and its CO2 emissions are 195 g/km.

Any concerns about sluggish performance, raised by that Bluemotion badge, were quickly dispelled. Like the impressive Golf Bluemotion, the Touareg proved to be an enjoyable and responsive car to drive in a range of conditions, be it dual-carriageway cruising or the more give-and-take country roads.

My test car had the Tiptronic eight-speed automatic gearbox, which seemed very well suited to the big turbodiesel V6. It made for a really effortless drive, smoothly and efficiently selecting choosing the right gears for the conditions.

Volkswagen Touareg

The responses were good in the normal setting and even sharper in ‘sports’. When you press the accelerator there is a surge of power and torque, such that the 0-62mph is a very creditable 7.8 seconds.

On twisty roads the Touareg feels very well planted on the tarmac, with no trace of the unsettling wobble or lean angles that some off-roaders exhibit. The steering of an off-roader is never going to fit the description “sharp”, but I never felt I needed to know much more about how the rubber was clinging to the road surface and the Touareg simply went exactly where I pointed it.

Volkswagen recognises that some people are more likely to use the off-road ability than others. Accordingly you can choose to have a Touareg with 4MOTION or 4XMOTION (with the option of an ‘Escape’ design which has less front and rear overhang). The all-important X, indicates that the Touareg bearing it is fitted with full locking differentials, low-range gearing, longer wheel travel and greater ground clearance.

The test car was a 4MOTION which still comes with an off-road selector on the centre console. This tunes the electronic aids (ABS, EDS and ASR) for off-road use as well as turning on the hill descent control.

In short, I really enjoyed driving the Touareg and was somewhat sad to hand back the keys. But, then, I always have had expensive tastes.

The Volkswagen Touareg SE 3.0 V6 TDI with the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox costs a hefty £40,195. But it is a great bit of kit!

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