2016 Volkswagen Touareg Review: A Cheaper Audi by Another Name

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Though the Asian SUV invasion has snagged huge swaths of the American SUV market with high-caliber compact crossovers and three-row juggernauts, I’m sitting in a German engineered leather La-Z-Boy and smiling. While critics and parents continue to fawn over modern machines like Mazda’s latest CX-9 (and rightly so), there’s still an often overlooked and criminally underrated SUV out there serving as a shining example of what brought us to this point.

The Volkswagen Touareg is by no means a fresh piece of engineering, but it still stands strong as a solid piece of automobilia in today’s modern world. Is it going to cause you to put down your coffee and approach it in the parking lot for closer inspection like the aforementioned Mazda might? Probably not. But you will love driving one when the miles seem to stretch on for what seems like eternity.

VW SUV

When I received our tester Touareg, one of the first things I did was clear it with the automaker in order to take it on a road trip down to Alabama, which meant almost 20 hours of windshield time to and from. With the cargo space packed to the brim with luggage, coolers, and trail mix, and the 3-year-old snoozing in the second row baby seat, the luxurious German-built SUV started its trek southward.

VW headlights

Exterior

When looking the Touareg over, it’s obvious right away that this is a VW. The automaker’s slick take on LED lighting and “less-is-more” external styling touches make it hard to not like the way it looks. The Touareg may be a little vanilla, but it’s tastefully done. I found that for the most part, its shell was both functional and handsome at once.

LED tail lights

Exterior pros and cons

+ Touched up to be attractive, simple, and not too unwieldy looking, with very nice LED lighting front and rear.

+ Hands-free power lift gate, shark fin antenna, contrasting roof rails, heated washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, and a snazzy dual exhaust.

+ Power folding, LED-lit mirrors and a keyless entry system make night drives a lot safer and easier.

– There’s some excessive use of chrome; even the bumper skid plate gets slathered in the stuff.

– Dated-looking in that it so closely resembles older models.

3.6-liter FSI engine

Powertrain

During the course of the week, I found that part of me loves Volkswagen’s 3.6-liter V6, and part of me despises the fact that for perhaps obvious reasons we can’t review its diesel-chugging brother. The FSI engine still does deliver the goods, but with less torque and worse mileage. Calm and content with regular unleaded, it’s quite thirsty and its older architecture is apparent in that it feels slightly underpowered by the 3.6 that just so happens to be mated to a smooth-sailing eight-speed auto. On the upside, off-road options come standard in Lux trim, so if your final destination requires some mild mud-slinging, the Touareg has you covered.

Off-road switch

Powertrain pros and cons

+ While it may not be the most powerful V6 you can get in a modern SUV today, it’s by no means inadequate either.

+ Does not require premium gasoline, and is established enough where it can be serviced down the line by damn near anybody.

+ Features 4Motion all-wheel drive, with an off-road setting that allows low-range ratios of 2.66:1 to be electronically activated with a switch.

– Guzzles gas faster than other V6 SUVs in the segment and doesn’t feel all that potent despite having a 3.6-liter displacement.

– TDI is off the table, so torque and fuel economy are down.

Touareg driver's seat

Interior

The Touareg’s cabin is a lovely, leather-filled cockpit that can best be described as responsibility refined. It’s a very grown-up, generously appointed place to ride, drive, or just relax, with a lot of Audi influence giving it some luxury cred. Even after eight hours of windshield time, the driver and passenger seats remained extremely comfortable, with a lot of adjustability helping in no small way. If you’ve never driven a VW, you will notice right away that there’s a little bit of a learning curve pertaining to what is where, why it’s located in such a place, and how to best use said amenity, but once you get that down, you’ll realize everything is purposefully placed.

Panoramic sunroof

Interior pros and cons

+ Stately, super quiet, and incredibly comfortable cabin, with the leather-wrapped heated/vented seats being a keystone.

+ A cooled glovebox, one-touch express windows all around, large panoramic sunroof, and a heated steering wheel all add up for a big impact.

+ Loads of stow space in the rear, and the second row is quite spacious.

– Rear storage privacy screen likes to pop up, thus obstructing your view, and the absence of a rear bench infotainment setup or any USB plugs show the Touareg’s age.

– All of the light faux woodgrain and bland beige colors make for an underwhelming appearance despite the car’s $53,000 starting price.

VW navigation map

Tech and safety

Technological options abound in the Touareg Lux, and while some of them may not be as up to date as what we experienced in the new Passat, it still managed to impress with a slew of useful and sometimes amusing offerings. Passive and active safety features were an integral part of the driving experience, and there were a number of times where I felt drawn to praise the vehicle out loud for its cleverness in the MID and touchscreen departments. But sometimes not everything always wanted to work the way it should, even when everything seemed bug-free just a few minutes prior.

Backup camera guidance

Tech pros and cons

+ Variable cruise control, autonomous braking, forward collision warnings, lane departure alerts, and VW’s “Intelligent Crash Response System” all make for a very safe vehicle.

+ Multiple parking monitors, a very instructive and easy to use touchscreen, and surprisingly nice stock audio components.

+ Small stuff like the navi rocket for zooming out on a map for a moment, the electronic-brake, the rear AC plug, and an MID that shows what the next exit has to offer in regard to lodging, food, and fuel are all neat touches.

– Lane departure warnings don’t always engage, and when they do it’s just a small icon in the gauge cluster and a vibration in the steering wheel that’s hardly noticeable.

– The navi graphics are clunky, and the touchscreen can be slow to respond. As good as the MID is, it doesn’t feature basic info like song and artist info.

Heated steering wheel

The drive

After spending what seemed like an entire rotation around the sun in the Touareg, it’s safe to say that it’s a very pleasant vehicle to drive and ride in. If long voyages are a common staple in your life, it behooves you to get out there and give the Touareg a fair shot. The overall driving experience one gets out of it is damn solid.

Although I didn’t get the chance to take it off-road, third parties indicate that the Touareg also does quite well in the traction department, and in on-road settings, this translates to terrific grip and a very refined ride. It may unload a little weight in the corners and show slight signs of struggle when getting uphill when fully loaded down with passengers and gear, but for the most part, VW’s heavy hitter is a very responsive and controlled vehicle.

I could go on about how quiet the cabin is, even with the massive panoramic sunroof exposing the milky way above, or how nice all of those switches and soft touch materials felt, but I would be amiss if I didn’t talk about the brakes. Simply put, the Touareg gets a massive set of unbranded, charcoal gray brakes that are some of the sharpest I have encountered on an SUV of this size since the Range Rover Sport SVR. Once you get a feel for how they like to be manipulated you’ve got it made, and in something that weighs about as much as several rhinoceroses, having large amounts of stopping power adds to the Touareg’s appeal.

Das Auto

Wrap up and review

So here’s the million-dollar, family-friendly question: Would we take the Touareg in this trim over a similar SUV like an equally-equipped Lexus RX 350 F Sport? Honestly, it depends on what you are looking for. Even though both vehicles come to a bit more than $50,000 when they’re fully loaded, the VW is far less edgy (both literally and figuratively), and outside of that sensational set of brakes, it’s much softer in terms of sportiness.

Many three-row SUVs now are bold and exciting in an effort to cater to younger millennial tastes, but the Touareg retains a simple world-class presence that is extremely hard to hate on. It’s well-appointed, easy to drive, safe as can be, and completely non-offensive in every way, and by playing it safe, with just a mild refresh here and there, Volkswagen has again secured its place as a manufacturer of outstanding family vehicles.

Unfortunately, this also means that there’s nothing extremely new or exciting about the Touareg. This may be completely fine for some buyers, but a turn-off for others. So let’s just hope that once the smoke clears and Dieselgate blows over, we can see an all-new model of the Touareg reach the market. We would love to see a Touareg that sports legitimately clean TDI power and VW’s bolder new design language to really make buyers think hard about where they’re going to put their $50,000.

(cheatsheet.com, http://goo.gl/lujdo3)

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