Johannesburg - The Touareg - may not have the aspirational ‘sex appeal’ of the pricier Cayenne, but in terms of outright ability Volkswagen’s SUV has been able to look its Porsche cousin in the eye.

Its finesse, practicatlity and off-road skills, together with its relative value for money, has seen the Touareg notch up nearly one million sales worldwide in its first two generations.

The new third-generation Touareg sticks to much the same recipe but adds some aspirational appeal with a bolder design and some sexy new technology.

VW calls this the brand’s most sophisticated and technologically advanced SUV yet, and one is disinclined to disagree when encountering the Touareg’s new cabin. Dominating the dashboard is a new digitalised interface that looks ready for a Mars mission, and one is almost tempted to start a launch countdown before starting this vehicle up and pulling off.

Called the Innovision Cockpit, this stylish but expensive R74 900 option comprises a 30.4cm digital instrument cluster that flows into a huge 38cm central infotainment hub and almost completely does away with conventional buttons.

Along with looking like the helm of a starship, the Innovision Cockpit is user friendly; it’s fairly straightforward to use with a logical layout and large icons, and doesn’t take more driver attention off the road than necessary.

This digital deck is part of a smart new cabin with high-quality finishes, enhanced by stylish strips of mood lighting, which give the interior a plush feel that’s equal to any SUV made by Audi, BMW or Mercedes. But in the same breath, the Touareg also competes price-wise against those premium brands and it sells here in two V6 turbodiesel versions: the Luxury for R999 800 and the full-featured Executive for R1 140 200. Both are sold with a three-year/120 000km warranty and five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan.

The real party is inside but the new Touareg also has some exterior road presence with its large and intimidating grille that extends into the LED headlights. When one sees it approaching in rear-view mirrors, one is inclined to move out of the way.

VW’s large SUV shares its MLB Evo platform with other VW Group vehicles like the Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. At 4878mm long it’s slightly larger than the previous Touareg but because its body is made of lightweight aluminium and high-tech steels it’s 106kg lighter and therefore more nimble.

The Touareg offers five seats (unlike the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 which can take up to seven people), but those five enjoy heaps of space in a cabin that’s grown over the already spacious last-generation Touareg, while the boot’s swelled from 697 to a giant 810 litres.

The newcomer also boasts the largest collection of driver assistance and comfort functions yet to make their way into a VW including semi-autonomous driving features, and a thermal imaging camera that detects people and animals at night.

The lengthy standard features list on both Touareg derivatives includes a power-operated tailgate, LED headlights, electrically adjustable and climate-controlled front seats, rear view camera with park assist, electrically folding towbar, climate control, navigation, and adaptive cruise control. Also, for sunroof-loving South Africans, the new Touareg features the largest panoramic sliding roof yet created by VW.

The Executive also throws in height adjustable air suspension, Dynamic Chassis Control which allows adjusting of the suspension stiffness, a tyre pressure monitor, and four zone climate control. The Executive’s dressed up with a bolder-looking R-Line exterior and interior styling package, 20” instead of 19” alloy wheels, and LED matrix headlights.

Dipping further into the options budget gets you the Advanced Safety Package which includes Night Vision, a Head-up Display, and a lane-keeping aid. All of these driver-assist gizmos were fitted to our test vehicle and the Night Vision in particular is a brilliant piece of technology; the thermal camera ‘sees’ pedestrians and animals in the dark a lot sooner than the naked eye, and displays them on the digital screen in bright orange.

The Touareg’s initially available here as a 3-litre V6 turbodiesel with outputs of 190kW and 600Nm, and for now Volkswagen SA doesn’t have plans to introduce any of the other variants available overseas: namely the 310kW V8 turbodiesel, the 250kW V6 petrol, and the 270kW plug-in hybrid.

The V6’s power delivery is smooth and gutsy, but not entirely without some hesitation at times. There is some turbo lag in a standing start and the downshifts are a little lazy - although they’re improved when the eight speed tiptronic transmission’s in sport mode.

That said, the Touareg delivers a 7.4 second 0-100km/h time at Gauteng altitude, a pretty decent figure for such a bulky vehicle. 

It’s a notably refined engine, contributing to an all-round quiet-cruising experience and a very plush ride. Our test vehicle also averaged an impressively economical 7.7 litres per 100km. While most of the world is still officially hating diesel engines, you still can’t beat them for a blend of power and economy.

As an adventure vehicle the Touareg makes the grade with its impressive offroad ability, and it’s no soft-roader consigned to just climbing shopping-mall kerbs.

With its height-adjustable air suspension, 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive, and a selection of modes to suit different terrains, the Touareg breezed through the offroad course we put it through. Its belly didn’t snag anywhere on the hilly route, and its progress wasn’t halted by axle-twisting sections where one or more of the wheels lost contact with the ground.

The Touareg Executive is also specced with four-wheel steering which boosts handling and stability at higher speeds, and reduces the turning circle at lower speeds - allowing you to thread the big vehicle through tight parking lots or 4x4 trails with fewer three-point turns. 

VERDICT

A large luxury lounge on wheels that’s a master of most terrains. The appealing new technology - particularly that stylish space-age dashboard - gives the new Touareg some glamour too.

IOL Motoring