The Touareg, Volkswagen's heaviest hitter, is still a strong proposition in the luxury SUV segment. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Volkswagen's Touareg might not be the first luxury SUV that comes to mind but it remains a strong contender against prestige brands in this class, matching them on quality and heavily undercutting them on price and value. Wolfsburg wants to match its rivals on technology too, so has introduced a range-topping 'R-Line Plus' level of trim offering buyers more sophistication. This car was significantly updated in 2014 and these days is powered exclusively by 3.0-litre diesel engines available in either 204 or 262PS outputs.
The Volkswagen Touareg has never been the most in-your-face of the big 4x4s. Look at the imposing slab-like front end architecture of a Range Rover or the squirrel swallowing air-intakes on the Porsche Cayenne and you'll probably concur. Volkswagen's offering has always appeared a little more reserved, more family-friendly, more 'Volkswagen' than its ostentatious rivals. That said, the styling of the current revised MK2 version has evolved into something slicker and altogether more expensive-looking. Nevertheless it's still a good choice for luxury SUV buyers looking to maintain a more discreet profile.
The latest generation of Touareg has to face rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery, the Lexus RX 450h, the BMW X5 and the Mercedes GLE. Plus it also has to earn its corn against in-house cousins such as the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi Q5/Q7. That's why the MK2 model was given a spruce-up in 2014 and why, more recently, a flagship 'R-Line Plus' trim level has been added in at the top of the range.
The Touareg engine range is easy to understand. There are two engines to choose from and they're both economical 3.0-litre turbo diesels. One makes 204PS and the other a gutsier 262PS, both driving all four wheels via a brilliant eight-speed Aisin automatic gearbox. With this transmission top speed is reached in 6th gear, 7th and 8th essentially being used as overdrive gears to improve cruising economy. Both engines are strong pullers, the 204PS unit putting out 450Nm of torque and the 262PS variant increasing that figure to 580Nm. The base model makes 62mph in 8.7s en route to 128mph, while the top version improves those figures to 7.3s and 140mph.
We should point out that, quite apart from engines, not all Touaregs are created equal, especially if you're planning to venture off road. For anything a bit Bear Grylls, you might want to look to the Escape version which features the 4XMOTION off-road four-wheel drive system, with 50:50 torque split and centre and rear axle mechanical differential locks, higher off-road suspension, 18-inch 'Karakum' alloy wheels, 100-litre fuel tank (85 litres is standard on SE), and underbody protection.
Design and Build
If you haven't had the chance to catch up with this MK2 model Touareg since its mild facelift in 2014, you'll find that it has a little more visual sparkle these days. The styling hasn't been radically altered but the net effect is a sleek, less macho look. The revised bumpers incorporate grilles with more slats than a Ferrari Testarossa and the smart alloy wheel designs are also a good deal showier than the utilitarian look of some of the older designs. A wider colour palette also features these days and the headlight units have been upgraded to incorporate bi-xenon lamps. The lack of a seven-seat option will continue to hinder the Touareg's appeal to family buyers, but there's plenty of room for five adults to get comfortable and their luggage should fit in the extremely spacious boot.
The Touareg never feels less than well built and although the dash is a little overloaded with buttons, the controls are solid to the touch. The interior doesn't have the elegance of a Range Rover's or the slickness of Audi's Q7 but it certainly isn't put to shame in this illustrious company. Inside, the front seats come with standard lumbar support and there are two optional wood trims - 'Sapelli Mahogany' and 'Engineered Ebony', while the optional Nappa leather upholstery in the R-Line model is available in two-tone Flint Grey and Titan Black.
Market and Model
Prices remain reasonable in a market sector where the roof seems to have been lifted and manufacturers are racing to load their cars up with as much kit as possible and price them accordingly. You can put a Touareg on your drive for around £44,000, which is less than some Range Rover Evoque models. Interestingly, that price is in very much the same ballpark as the Porsche Macan diesel, a slightly smaller car which also seats five but fronts up with 255PS.
If you're still interested by the Touareg's extra space and versatility, you'll be pleased to find that it comes with a fairly decent slug of equipment, even in base SE trim. Your money buys you 19-inch 'Salvador' alloy wheels, satellite navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth, 2Zone climate control, leather upholstery, parking sensors and chrome roof rails. The Escape model gets all the off-road equipment as well as black roof rails and a headlight cleaning system while the sportier-looking R-Line version gets an R-Line body kit with bespoke bumpers front and rear, sill extensions and wheel arch extensions, 20-inch 'Tarragona' alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension, LED daytime running lights and a panoramic glass sunroof.
Most recently, Volkswagen has added in an even ritzier 'R-Line Plus' variant at the top of the range which it reckons more than half of Touareg buyers will choose. This includes larger 21-inch wheels, a 360-degree 'Area View' camera system and more luxurious 'Vienna' leather upholstery.
Cost of Ownership
The decision to migrate to 3.0-litre turbo diesels has helped the Touareg to some manageable cost of ownership figures. Remember the old 5.0-litre V10 diesel with its 333g/km emissions? That all seems rather quaint in a time when a Ferrari 458 emits less. The current crop of Touaregs emit from 173g/km and top out at a reasonable 180g/km. Fuel economy for the rugged Escape model is 40.9mpg with the SE getting 42.8mpg regardless of whether you choose the 204 or 262PS engine. Given that it's only £1,500 to get that additional 58PS, that seems like a decent deal to us.
The Volkswagen Touareg might not be the newest and freshest thing in the luxury SUV market, but this model still has a lot to be said for it. It's tough, drives well and as long as you don't need seven seats, it's hard to pick holes in its practicality. In order to convince buyers of the Touareg's appeal, Volkswagen has also loaded these latest models up with quite a lot of standard kit and priced them keenly.
Of course a cynic might ask in what way a Touareg is class-leading and it would be tough to pinpoint one. Its chances of success reside in managing to convince enough people enough of the time that it covers the required bases competently. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not meant to. Think of this car as an artful exercise in managing compromises instead. It's still well worth your attention and with prices now overlapping with compact SUVs, its value proposition speaks for itself.