– Practical power and economy
– Cabin space and features
– Ride and handling
– Pricey with options
– Below-average boot space
– No low-range gearing
The latest iteration of the Volkswagen Touareg that debuted in late 2010 had one goal above all else — to be friendlier to the planet. So VW went ahead and made their trucklet much lighter than the previous version, ditched the standard low-range gearing, and even struck the V8 engine off the options list, all in a bid to make a kinder fuel-efficient SUV. But hey, there’s only so much street-cred you can garner with a V6 under the hood. And so, with not-so-much fanfare, the V8 has now made a comeback!
Mind you, it isn’t as big of a deal as that last exclamation-mark might imply. The V8 Touareg looks exactly the same as the V6 Touareg. The only difference we could spot were the rounder exhaust tips. With massive 20-inch wheels, LED-encrusted headlights, faux bumper-skidplates, and just enough matte-chrome trim, the Touareg looks premium, but not expensive.
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 we’d say the overall quality is on par with entry-level BMWs.
Our tester was also an expensive custom-ordered “Individual” model that adds things like “Nappa” two-tone leather and “Olive Ash” wood trim, although we were hard-pressed to figure out the quality difference compared to the regular Touareg.
Cabin space inside this 5-seater midsizer is great on all counts, including rear legroom. The lack of a third-row seat no doubt helps free up space. 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.
Features include smart keyless entry with starter button, adaptive cruise control with lane assist, blind-spot monitor, HID headlights, front power seats with power-adjustable bolsters and cooling fans, panoramic glass roof, touchscreen navigation, electric parking brake, front and side-curtain airbags, big colour LCD between the gauges, electric parking brake, 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. As you can see, the Touareg can be outfitted with a million luxury options, but that drives the price up considerably.
The 4.2-litre V8 is reborn again in the Touareg, making 360 hp at 6800 rpm and 430 Nm of torque at 3500 rpm. And believe it or not, the Middle East is the only market to get the petrol V8 at the moment, while other markets play with partial-hybrids and clean-diesels. That’s not a bad thing at all, if economical running is on your mind. We burned 14.5 litres/100 km of fuel overall, as indicated by the trip computer, which is comparable to what most people get with V6 trucklets. We then ran it a little more conservatively, and managed to bring that number down to 10.2 litres/100 km, which is astounding for a V8. It’s made possible by the fact that this “Super” RON98-drinking motor is hardly stressed when cruising down the highway.
Open up the throttle though, and the engine revs up quickly and the car takes off like a banshee. It feels fast and sounds awesome doing so, but timing the November 0-100 kph run, we got 7.4 seconds. It probably feels faster because of that 8-speed automatic and the initial kick that only all-wheel-drive can offer. The gearshifts are smooth, although we did feel a hint of that electronic throttle-response delay that seems to affect most German cars nowadays.
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, and squealing understeer setting in eventually without drama. Switch the adjustable suspension to “sport” mode, and even more of that body roll is lopped off. There are 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 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.
But the new Touareg 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”. Our tester did come with the height-adjustable suspension option, which protects your underbelly to a certain extent. 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. We suspect you’ll feel more at ease if you go with smaller rims and meatier tyres, but you can only order the low-range case with the Euro-spec diesel model, for whatever reason.
When we tested the V6 version earlier, we called it “the kind of near-perfect vehicle that makes us want to love offroad-incapable crossovers.” With the V8, it is pretty much perfect as a road warrior that can handle any weather and do the occasional offroad excursion in an emergency. 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 skip a few options and the fancy trimmings, and you’ll still have a darn nice car.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: