Volkswagen Touareg - the discrete off-roader

Drive a big off-roader these days and you may invite some questioning about your need for such a large vehicle. That's a more likely line of questioning if your choice of off-roader carries a badge that presents an image of luxury.

The Volkswagen Touareg may offer a rather distinct appeal for those who prefer the understated approach.

It is a big off-roader. It was developed in conjunction with Porsche for their Cayenne 4X4. It is also powered by a range of engines that starts at 3.6 litres.

Yet, when you tell someone you drive a Volkswagen Touareg, they are not likely to think big, or expensive, in the same way as they might about some other marques. The appearance too is, if anything, understated. The most recent facelift to bring it more into line with the latest Volkswagen corporate look, has, if anything, reduced its visual size.

But don't be misled. The Touareg is a big vehicle. It is spacious, powerful and capable - particularly in the five-litre V10 form that I drove for my most recent road test of this model. The range starts at £36,532 for the V6 3.2-litre and rises to £54,867 for my test car, the Touareg 5.0 V10 TDI SE - just one notch down from the top-of-the-range Altitude version.

It is an up-market vehicle then. It sits alongside the Volkswagen Phaeton, the big luxury saloon, as a car that makes us re-think our perceptions of Volkswagen as the producers of small and family sized hatchbacks and saloons. Volkswagen, after all means "people's car".

At launch, some five years ago the Touareg took Volkswagen into a new market.

Volkswagen and its collaborator Porsche had both missed out on the early days of the sports utility vehicle boom. But with lifestyle vehicle sales still on the up, Porsche, in particular, have reaped the rewards of their late entry into this market from massive sales growth in the USA.

Strictly speaking the Touareg was not an entirely new market for Volkswagen. Many years earlier they had produced a military off-road vehicle and, of course, many of the company's mainstream models are available with 4Motion four-whee-drive as an option.

It goes without saying that the V10 Touareg has ample power for hard work off road, for towing or just for everyday motoring. It is also superbly refined. You really have to stand close to it at tickover to have any clue that it is a diesel engine under the bonnet.

Out on the open road its responses are quick and the noise level is non existent. Matched to an excellent automatic gearbox it makes the Touareg an effortless car to drive, either around town, on dual carriageway or on more twisty give-and-take country roads.

You can select your own gears. But why bother? The Touareg has the power and the torque to deliver perfectly without any driver intervention. You can also choose a sports setting on the gearbox, but I seldom used that, for the same reason. This car just delivers the power you want, when you want it with just a touch on the throttle.

For those who like to see proof, the 0-60 time for the Touareg V10 is just 7.4 seconds. What is so impressive is the way that power keeps coming, so effortlessly, until you reach your chosen cruising speed. Inevitably, such a big engine is not going to be the most economical and - on my daily commute - the Touareg V10 consistently returned just a fraction under 20 mpg. On longer out-of-town journeys you should expect to get well into the 30s.

On twisty roads, the Touareg proved a great companion. It drives like something much smaller and more nimble. The steering feels remarkably precise for such a big vehicle and body roll - something that is the bugbear of so many big off-roaders - is minimal. You can also dial in comfort or sports settings for even more fine tuning of the suspension.

The suspension height can also be set for different conditions. You can drop it right down low to make loading the large flat load area even easier. In normal settings, the car will automatically lower itself at speed to help stability and aerodynamics. Above that are four different settings to cope with off-road conditions.

Some vehicles in this class don't provide all the options for really difficult conditions. The Touareg, however has the complete range of options for locking differentials to cope with the worst of conditions. It certainly mastered my off-road course with ease.

With a price that falls between the Land Rover Discovery and the Range Rover, you would expect the V10 Touareg to be a luxurious place to be. It is.

It is spacious and comfortable. With all the equipment and options, there inevitably are a lot of controls and switches to learn. But, fortunately, I found the layout very logical and intuitive, adding to my enjoyment of the Touareg.

If it sounds like I liked the Touareg V10 TDI, then you are right. I really could be very happy using this vehicle as my day-to-day transport.

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