– Premium interior feel
– Good ride and handling
– Excellent rear legroom
– Pricey with options
– No low-range gearing
– Average boot space
When we tested the last Volkswagen Touareg, way back in 2006, we were surprised by its refinement, agility and offroad capability, because we initially thought it was a softroading mommy-mobile. We were even more surprised when it was redesigned for 2011, as what initially appeared to be a simple facelift was actually a complete redesign from the ground up.
The tightly-built new Touareg looks very similar to the old one, but the entire body is new, while the front-end gains the new black-grilled VW corporate face. The front and rear overhangs are tight, while the rear end appears shorter that it should be. It is a handsome look overall, if a tad on the conservative side, even with the pretty triangular exhaust tips, the fancy LED lights and the big 20-inch wheels. There is nothing to suggest that we were driving the V6 model, aside from one badge on the tailgate.
The ground clearance is good, but the step-in height into the cabin is still low enough for even kids to jump in with ease. And you’re greeted with a superbly upscale interior. Premium soft-touch materials adorn the upper dashboard and upper door panels, with cloth on the pillars and headliner, tasteful wood trim and padded leather door inserts and armrests that match the leather seats. Hard plastics are relegated to below-the-belt panels, but if we didn’t know any better, we’d say the overall quality felt on par with the pricier BMW X3 we tested recently.
Cabin space inside this midsizer is great on all counts, including rear legroom. The front seats are beefily bolstered, almost similar to those of the sporty VW Golf GTI. Boot space is adequate for monthly grocery duties, but stuff a couple of big suitcases and you’ll find they barely fit, a consequence of that short rear end. The rear seats can split-fold down to increase cargo room though. And there is no shortage of covered cup-holders, door pockets and seatback nets. There is no third-row seat.
Features include smart keyless entry with starter button, cruise control, HID headlights, front power seats with power-adjustable bolsters, panoramic glass roof, touchscreen navigation, electric parking brake, front and side-curtain airbags, big colour LCD between the gauges, and a great four-zone a/c, complete with rear digital controls and vents. The premium CD/MP3 stereo sounds great, although the USB port is awkwardly placed in the glovebox. The Touareg can be outfitted with a million other luxury options, such as adaptive cruise, lane assist and cooled seats, but that’ll drive the price up considerably.
Fitted with a respectably-powerful 3.6-litre V6 churning out 280 hp at 6200 rpm and 360 Nm of torque at 3200 rpm, the 2103-kilo Touareg feels rather quick thanks to its proactive all-wheel-drive system and smooth 8-speed automatic. We only managed a 0-100 kph time of 9.4 seconds during our test in warm September weather, but if we went by butt-feeling alone, we would’ve thought we were piloting a V8, because there is no shortage of overtaking kick with all those gears. The trip computer also indicated a fuel-consumption of 14 litres/100 km, decent but not much different from class competitors.
The Touareg is probably one of only a handful of midsize SUVs in which we’ve managed to find the perfect driving position. We sat higher than in a GMC Acadia, and yet don’t have strained knees like in a Ford Explorer. That makes for great all-round visibility, aided by the thinnest front A-pillars we’ve seen in a modern SUV, unlike the blindingly-thick ones on the Cadillac SRX. The all-round cameras and sensors make it even easier to park. And the highway ride is pretty smooth and very quiet.
It’s great to be able to hustle an SUV around corners too. Like the previous version, this new one offers great grip thanks to the 275/45 tyres on 20-inchers, with some body roll noticeable only when taking the tighter curves quickly. There is no awkward rebounds or floatiness on exiting the curves, but while the steering and pedals are nicely firm, they offer little feedback. The brakes are also so-so, perfectly fine on emergency stops, but feeling vague and loose in slower rolling stops.
The new Touareg also isn’t as good an offroader as it used to be. While the previous model had low-range gearing, this new one ditches it in favour of sizeable weight savings and some sort of basic terrain-management system whose only settings are “Onroad” and “Offroad”. It can cruise along just fine on soft sand as long as you keep moving, but it bogs down if you slow down, thanks to those fancy 20-inch alloys. Of course, you can factory-customise your Touareg height-adjustable suspension and smaller rims, but you can only order the low-range case with the diesel model, for whatever reason.
Still, the Touareg is the kind of near-perfect vehicle that makes us want to love offroad-incapable crossovers. It drives so well onroad that we can’t think of anything else in the non-luxury midsize segment that offers similar refinement. Of course, pile on the options and the price starts looking like that of a luxury vehicle, but we believe even the not-so-loaded version is a darn nice car.
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