The new generation of Volkswagen Touareg finds a way to be both a Poor Man’s Cayenne and a Rich Man’s Passat
What we liked:
• Terrific interior design
• Ultra quiet cabin
• Surprising cornering performance
Not so much:
• Poor throttle response in corners
• Innovision familiarity takes time
• No full-size spare tyre
The new Volkswagen Touareg SUV does just about everything tremendously well, and there’s barely a conceivable situation where it can be convinced to behave poorly. The Touareg is sophisticated and cultured and quiet and smooth, yet it can also whip around corners with disturbing (but easily controlled) alacrity. There are plans to lift the price of the Volkswagen Touareg this time around, and that’s the only realistic impediment to its success.
Wait for it…
There’s a point, following a moderately-driven Boxster S through the Austrian Alps, where the road straightens for just long enough before the corners start again. It’s enough to show both the best and the worst of the new Volkswagen Touareg in one easy kilometre.
The worst is this: you stomp the throttle expecting the thump of 600Nm of TDI torque from the 3.0-litre, turbocharged diesel V6 and then you wait. And wait…
It’s like late 1980s turbocharging; forcing you to think about what you need a second or two before. It’s nothing to do with the eight-speed automatic transmission matched to the Touareg’s V6 TDI mill, either, because it kicks down promptly in Sport mode.
It is, Volkswagen insists, something we’re all going to have to get used to in the coming world of WLPT real-world driving homologation and EU7 emissions laws. It’s a by-product of the exhaust scrubbing technology of exhaust-gas recirculation and Volkswagen says every diesel engine (even its TDI) and, to a lesser extent, every petrol engine will soon go the same way.
So that’s heartening.
But after the extended delay and the punch past the Porsche comes, the corners, and the Volkswagen Touareg shines a surprisingly bright light in the bends.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise. The new Volkswagen Touareg SUV shares its MLB Evo architecture with the Porsche Cayenne, the Audi Q7 (and A6 and A7) and even the Lamborghini Urus and the Bentley Bentayga, and they all go around corners spectacularly well.
The Volkswagen’s engine pick-up issues aren’t so noticeable when the car is at less than 80 per cent of its performance envelope. But it’s a bit annoying when you’re punching hard for a small overtaking gap.
Cruise along a bit more, as most people will in daily driving, and the lag is far less noticeable, so what you’re left with is a calm, strong, dignified impression from the diesel. What we’ve come to expect from the label Volkswagen TDI.
Indeed, Volkswagen has gifted the new Touareg a smooth V6 TDI turbo-diesel engine, with the underlying strength of all that torque, but an earlier prototype drive showed us the 250kW mild-hybrid petrol engine was the pick of the powertrains — without the throttle lag of the diesel.
There’s also a 310kW/900Nm bi-turbo V8 TDI diesel on its way, but partner Audi is late with its development so it’s not in the Volkswagen catalog yet.
There’s no solid evidence of the Touareg V6 TDI’s 1995kg of mass when you turn the steering wheel. Instead, it’s an almost casually stage-managed concert of high below-decks technology working its bytes off to get the jobs done before you run out of road.
There’s a conflagration of stuff going on down there, but all the driver ever knows is that if he/she brakes and turns and accelerates again, the car will follow along the same general line of thought. It doesn’t seem to matter to this generation of Volkswagen Touareg how ludicrously optimistic that train of thought actually is.
The straight and narrow
That goes for when you’re driving in a straight line or in bends or over rough roads or on dirt. It doesn’t care. It just gets on with it in a way that you simultaneously understand is incredibly difficult for it and incredibly easy for you. Just like with the Cayenne, the Touareg takes its bewildering assortment of extremely complicated under-body stuff and turns it into enjoyable, cultured cornering sparkle.
The Volkswagen’s ride quality is sublime, regardless of the surface, and the body stays flat and level, even when you’re pushing through bends or flicking through switchback corners.
It’s brilliant, bordering on majestic, in its behaviour on any road surface, at any speed.
It’s also whisper quiet inside, with very little wind noise and even less engine noise at 100km/h. It’s the sort of car you could imagine being just perfect for knocking over a thousand kilometres in a day.
It shares its chassis with the Cayenne, down to the millimetre (the other three MLB Evo SUVs are a touch longer), and most of its technical tricks in either standard or optional form. There’s a three-chamber air suspension as an option, along with an electronically controlled rear anti-roll bar that can stiffen or soften, depending on the need beneath the steed.
Rear-wheel steering helps a lot in corners, too, effectively shortening the wheelbase on tighter bends and lengthening it on faster corners, as well as helping in tight car parks.
The Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI is even useful off road, with the standard air-suspension system lifting the body 25mm in Off-road mode. It also lifts it 70mm in Off-road +, drops it 15mm in Sport and drops it 40mm to help people load their luggage or shopping into it.
Towing is a big part of many Touareg buyers’ consideration set. Maximise its towing prowess, the new Volkswagen Touareg has scored a Trailer Assist package that uses self-parking technology to let the driver set the trailer-reversing angle on the Innovision infotainment screen. From there the Touareg does the rest.
The new generation Volkswagen Touareg has a bigger footprint than its predecessor, with another 77mm of length (4878mm), an extra 44mm of width (1984mm) and a sporty 7mm reduction in height (1702mm). It also finally gets its own doors (it shared the Cayenne doors for the first two generations) on a body designed to cope with 18 to 21-inch wheels.
It has been stripped of 106kg of mass, while gaining 113 litres of luggage space, which has ballooned out to 810 litres.
While luggage space is impressive, the headlines will be all about the Innovision cockpit, with its curved screen. Unique to Volkswagen (at least for now), the Innovision screen takes the traditional infotainment setup and turns it into something more like a smartphone or a tablet, and it’s operated in the same way.
It takes a while to know where everything is and how to use it all, because it’s a whole new way to operate such things in a car. But on the highest-priced versions, the curved 15-inch screen’s left-hand edge hosts a vertical column of buttons which replace fixed buttons or dials in the old car. That’s for favourites and you can slide them (with your finger on the icon, just like a phone) in and out as you please (we’d recommend putting the instrument-cluster dimmer switch there, because otherwise it’s a five-touch operation, in just about the only real clunker of a user-interface decision Volkswagen has made).
You can load it with your own pictures, too, and it has a homescreen page and it works by pinching or spreading fingers, and two and three-finger actions do different jobs. There’s no haptic feedback, but each registered move gives a soft sound as confirmation.
We expected it to be a big curve, but Volkswagen insists they tried that and its testers didn’t like it, so they gave it a more modest curve so the passenger doesn’t feel isolated from the display.
It joins up to the eight-inch instrument cluster to create a 23.0-inch solid wall of digitised information and artwork, and it all sort of works.
You work it better with familiarisation, and compared to the Innovation screen the rest of the instruments are a doddle. The cabin has been stripped of plenty of its buttons, so the ones you can actually see have fairly distinct and important jobs. The centre console is instead dominated by the driving mode and off-road mode dials and the gear lever, and that’s about it, while the steering wheel is still a bit busy.
The tip of the sword
It’s a calm, connected steering wheel, too, though it never feels heavy to use. It feels accurate and has a way of taking any urgency away from the driver’s movements, no matter how frantic the situation.
It’s the tip of the sword; the driver’s entry point into the simple language of the complicated stuff going on downstairs.
As a huge car, the new Volkswagen Touareg is light on its toes in corners, calmly planted everywhere else, easier to park and load, stupendously well-equipped and we found no situation too demanding for it.
It’s at once Volkswagen’s flagship and a softer Porsche Cayenne, with a warmer interior touch.
How much does the 2018 Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI cost?
- Price: $TBA
- Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel
- Output: 210kW/600Nm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Fuel: 6.9L/100km (NEDC Combined)
- CO2: 182g/km (NEDC Combined)
- Towing capacity: TBA
- Safety Rating: TBA