My last experience involving a VW Touareg was very different.
It cost R13-million to build, was part of a four-car strong VW factory works team, and was born and bred to tame the South American expanses of the 2011 Dakar Rally.
It’s safe to say then that the only thing my recent holiday wheels, a “candy white” 3-litre V6 TDI Touareg, had in common with the Dakar Race Touareg was its badge.
My production-spec heffalump may not have left the factory with industrial strength air filters and a roll cage, but I guarantee you that the VW Dakar pilots would have given a testicle for the level of cruising comfort the production Touareg offers.
Perhaps it’s the cushy high-profile tyres, or the sofa-like comfort seats, or the quiet cabin with those plush finishes, but the result is an SUV with impeccable road manners – happy to swallow all the tar between Sandton and Table Mountain, or whisk you to the shops with graceful ease.
The Touareg is by no means new to the South African market, with this second-generation launched over two years ago. The design of this heavyweight SUV still looks fresh, with interior fit and finish rivalling that of the BMW X5s, Audi Q7s and Merc MLs of the world.
ACRES OF SPACE
Point number one for a holiday car is space, and in this department the Touareg is not left wanting. With the back seats folded bicycles and camping chairs were swallowed on a daily basis, the kids had access to an air-conditioned little playpen, or dad could sneak off for a comfortable little snooze. Not to mention how handy the 12V socket was for recharging cellphones or plugging in an electric cooler box.
In commuting mode, with back seats up, rear legroom is more than generous, and it’s cool that the rear seatbacks can be tilted to your taste. The only thing missing is the option for a third row of foldable seats, which some competitors offer – the space for these is certainly there.
Things I would tweak?
The optional panoramic roof is a treat, especially at night under the stars, but the flimsy net cover lets in a fair amount of scalp-tanning sun on hot days. I also found the Touareg’s touch screen easy to navigate, but at times it delayed in responding to my fingertips; the cruise control on downhills didn’t hold my selected speed (a traffic fine hazard); I’d prefer the engine’s auto stop to stay deactivated on engine restart; and the fancy key fob occasionally got stuck in the ignition.
But most annoying is that VW (and Audi for that matter) still don’t have simple USB slots, insisting on SD cards for stored music instead.
Clever little highlights in the Touareg include the electric buttons in the boot to drop the rear seats; the button on the driver door which not only opens the electric boot lid but closes it too; and the double sun visors for maximum shade. The biggest highlight though is the engine and gearbox, which really is a winning combination.
The 180kW and 550Nm on offer from the force-fed diesel is more than sufficient to turn the wheels of the heavy Touareg, and married to VW’s sultry 8-speed tiptronic makes for effortless gliding. There’s no turbo lag on pull-off, and a constant power surge as the ‘box explores the best gear.
The gearbox, I reckon, is partly the reason we managed a decent 9.3l/100km consumption figure, although filling the 100 litre tank is still eye-watering.
The ride quality was plush yet firm, with none of that spongy and floaty feel sometimes found in SUVs of this size. It’s not as dynamic as say BMW’s X5 or Porsche’s Cayenne, but it still offers very decent handling for the segment, and was especially sure-footed in the freakish thunderstorms we’ve had recently.
Which brings me to the Touareg’s all-road capabilities. Our test unit was sans the optional hardcore 4XMotion offroad package with height adjustable air suspension, but we did have standard 4Motion permanent all wheel drive. Should you decide to tackle some rough stuff you simply flick the switch from “road” to “offroad” and it accordingly adjusts the ABS, throttle and gearshift settings.
It’s in this regard that I reckon the Touareg pips competitors – the 220mm ride height is generous and the little bit of bundu bashing I tried demonstrated a very capable offroader.
We voted the Touareg the best adventure vehicle we drove in 2010, and two years later I would still happily have one in my garage. At R661 000 it’s also quite the bargain - cheaper than competitors like the Audi Q7 3-litre TDI (with the same engine) at R692 000, the BMW X5 xDrive 30d at R705 413, the Infiniti FX30d at R699 000, the Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTec at R778 000, and the Porsche Cayenne diesel (also the same engine) at R763 000. -Star Motoring