First drive: 2019 Volkswagen Touareg in the UAE
The Volkswagen Touareg has always occupied an awkward niche in the midsize SUV segment. Not quite mainstream, but not quite premium either, it’s left to do battle with everything from Jeep Grand Cherokees to BMW X5s, while even targeting lower-end Toyota Land Cruisers and Nissan Patrols in terms of price (and VW admitted as much). Now there’s a new-generation Touareg in town, and its objectives are clearer.
According to VW, the 2019 Touareg features a “pioneering fusion of assistance, comfort, lighting and infotainment systems.” On the outside, aside from the new grille, you won’t be able to tell from afar that it is all-new from the ground up, and sharing the same chassis as much more expensive VW Group products such as the Bentley Bentayga, the Porsche Cayenne and the Lamborghini Urus, but retaining one too many Touareg design cues from older models. The real changes are under the skin, including the cabin.
Inside, it’s like nothing else, appearing to be a big block of standard LCD screening on two-thirds of the dash face. In reality, there’s actually two screens embedded behind the plastic, namely a 12.3-inch one to replace the gauge cluster, and a 15-inch touch-sensitive one on the centre console that can even detect hand-waving movements to flip through pages of settings. It doesn’t successfully detect the hand waves and the interface takes getting used to, but the capacitive screen itself is reasonably responsive.
The rest of the cabin is typical Volkswagen, with clean lines and pleasant materials, even if some of the lower bits are hard plastic.
There is ample room both in front and in the back, with a clearly larger boot now, making it a much more practical SUV.
The Touareg is available with a 2.0-litre turbo four in the base trim, and the 3.0-litre turbo V6 in three trim choices, all with standard all-wheel-drive. Pricing is steep, as it straddles the niche between the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Land Rover Discovery, overlapping with lower-spec versions of the Nissan Patrol and the Toyota Land Cruiser.
We drove the 340 hp 3.0-litre version in a controlled convoy onroad, where it proved to be adequately powerful but not groundbreaking by any means. The 8-speed is smooth and seems to choose the right gears without issues.
The handling is very stable, and you can throw this good-sized crossover SUV around like a car, aided by available features such as “all-wheel steering” and “active roll compensation.” Mind you, it’s still not particularly entertaining, as the overall drive feels clinically efficient, with precise but lifeless steering, and responsive but feedback-free brakes.
The ride is largely smooth with a slight tinge of firmness on some surfaces, which gives a sense of stability on uneven highways, even with the low-profile tyres. At speed, the ride height drops by 25mm in trims equipped with air suspension.
Available safety features include front cross-traffic alert and a night-vision in the gauge cluster, aside from the usual active-safety systems found in other high-end cars.
Offroad abilities are limited to driving on gravel tracks and mountain trails, as we did during the launch event around the UAE. A good driver can even take it on the sand, taking care of the Touareg’s overhangs, soft bumpers and average ground clearance. In versions equipped with air suspension, the off-road mode raises the ride height by up to 70mm. But there is no low-range gearing, although VW may offer it in future variants, as they have done with the previous model.
The VW Touareg retains its position as somewhere between mainstream and premium SUVs. However, with this iteration, it moves closer towards the premium segment that ever before, with certain features that none of its perceived rivals offer.
For prices and specs, visit the Volkswagen buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury and VW Middle East.