Volkswagen Touareg tested: look no further for ultra refinement
Johannesburg - Volkswagen’s latest generation Touareg sports utility vehicle has been on sale in South Africa for around two years already. To be frank, it's one of the best large SUVs we've ever driven, proving more comfortable from a ride-quality perspective than cars costing four times as much (Hello Cullinan), and when it comes to off-road prowess, well, it proved to simply gobble up the obstacles at the Gerotek 4x4 track with exceptional ease.
Now in its third generation, the Touareg is built like the rest of the large SUVs from the Volkswagen group, such as the Audi Q7 and the Porsche Cayenne. This is to say it's built solidly, with attention to detail and using only the best metals and materials. At its price point, particularly the range-topping Executive with R-Line pack, it's one of the best ways to blow around R1.3 million rand on a family vehicle that can take you, well, almost anywhere.
Styled to blend in
Like its predecessors, the latest generation Touareg tries to fly under the radar, but with that massive grille up front and huge imposing wheels, and a particularly aggressive black-out treatment of the chrome on our test car, it cannot. People definitely loved staring at the car, and why not, it's a head-turner that manges to attract attention in a good way.
There's no pretentiousness with the styling either. The large grille is to feed air to the high-tech turbo engine, while the sharply cut and chiselled bumpers and wheel archers aim to give it more capability off-road. Its large windows make it easy to see out of too, and thanks to relatively thin A-pillars, you don't have to deal with a massive blind spot in your peripheral vision when stationary at an intersection or trying to park the thing. Overall it's a well executed designed that looks elegant and muscular at the same time.
Touaregs have always been class-leaders when it comes to technology in terms of entertainment and safety. On the engine and drivetrain front too, the Touareg has always offered more capability than most owners require for the daily grind. I'll never forget that generation-one V10 TDI that VW built for it's sheer brute force and its capability off road. Sure things have changed, and you don't get 10 pots anymore, but that performance is still there in the latest V6 TDI and you can use its grunt with confidence.
Technology wise, you're really getting the best of what's out there in car safety and communications technology. In fact, technology enthusiasts will particularly appreciate the vehicle's fully digitalised Innovision Cockpit. Here the digital instruments (Digital Cockpit with 30.5cm display) and the top Discover Premium infotainment system (with 38cm display) merge to form a digital operating, information, communication and entertainment environment that does away with conventional buttons or switches for things like the ventilation or audio system.
It's like having a wide-screen TV in your car, and yes it's distracting at times, but once you get used to it and learn where to find all the controls, you're really going to enjoy the depth that's on offer.
Our test car came with technologies such as the optional Night Vision assistance system, part of the Advanced Safety Package: Lane Assist & Side Assist with Night Vision and Head-up display. It can detect people and animals in the darkness via a thermal imaging camera, meanwhile active four-wheel steering and 'IQ. Light Matrix LED headlights' (interactive, camera-based dipped and main beam headlight control) add greater agility and safety if you spend lots of time on the road at night.
There's genuinely so much to learn about the Touareg that when you buy one, you certainly have to read the manual to ensure you know just what you're getting. All the safety and luxury kit you expect of a vehicle that costs more than a million rand is fitted as standard and if you want the really trick bits like the night vision capability, you'll have to pay extra, but it's worth it to ensure you are in a safe vehicle.
Drives better than a Cayenne
There, I said it.
Ok, so I can't compare diesel for diesel in the latest generation Touareg and Cayenne as the Porsche isn't sold with an oil-burner anymore. But, I did spend an extended period with the latest generation Cayenne S, and although that vehicle is a much sportier iteration of bits and bobs from within the group, I can honestly tell you the Touareg felt like the more comfortable, easier-going vehicle. Incidentally, we took both the Cayenne and the Touareg around the same off-road course and both cars excelled, without snagging front bumpers or under-carriages.
I prefer the Touareg's drive because there's a serenity to it that I haven't felt in, for lack of a better word, a "normal" kind of car.
Yes, air suspension is air suspension, but VW's engineers have managed to get the tuning just right in all the driving modes. It rolls less when you dial it into sport mode and it soaks up rocks and bumps like an ocean liner when you have it in the softer setting on poor roads. It's controllable all the while. Compliant, engaging and fun to rev out and experience even if it can't rev beyond 5k rpm.
The 3.0 TDI engine makes 190kW in the Touareg, which might not sound like a lot, but combined with 600Nm of torque and a slick-shifting eight-speed auto with 4Motion it's really one of the nicest packages in terms of delivering thrills and respectable fuel economy. I know diesels are on their way out and plug-in hybrids are in, but this is a kind of diesel vehicle that makes you realise that all SUVs should be built like this...solid, with muscle and with tech and comfort that's uncompromising, regardless of whatever badge is on the bonnet.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
Yes. If you need something big with capability both on and off road, and that does not compromise on quality or practicality, the Touareg is a must-buy.
It's light on fuel, averaging around 8.9l/100km on the shortened test cycle and it's just a joy to drive. Everything from it's sculpted, ergonomic seats, to the weighting of the driving controls and switchgear and the whole feel of the car makes you feel like you would never want to drive anything else ever again.
Don't get me wrong, it has quirks, such as that huge TV on the dashboard that will take getting used to, but it was really difficult to find fault with the Touareg in our brief encounter with the latest version.
Current pricing pegs it at R1 334 500 and if you take those safety and tech packages as options, as well as the latest black-trim packs, you're in it for around R1.5 million.
The Touareg came as a good reminder that it's still the mack, and if you know good cars from mediocre cars, you'll know that this version is one of the best cars VW has ever made. Go drive one.
STATS: Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI Executive