Motoring

MOTORING: VW Touareg 3.0 V6 TDI Executive R-Line: A cut above

Volkswagen’s biggest SUV has made the jump from everyman’s large all-terrainer to an altogether more luxurious and more advanced machine. It now competes with the best from BMW, Mercedes-Benz – and stablemate Audi. But it also has the pricing to match.

The VW Touareg has always enjoyed a loyal following from a customer base more intent on function, space and versatility than the outright luxury and sophistication buyers of premium SUVs demand. Not that the Touareg wasn’t comfortably kitted out. It always came with most of the important bells and whistles, linked to ample space and, depending on model, plenty of urge. The Gen 1 version even counted VW’s famed W12 monster engine among its powertrain options. That said, most Touareg buyers opted for the efficiency and grunt of the turbodiesel versions. They also tended to prioritise value, capability and versatility, as opposed to the glamour and tech associated with more aristocratic marques. Within the broader framework of the Volkswagen Group, it was a status quo that made sense. After all, the closely related Audi Q7 flew the premium flag, with a pricing strategy to match, allowing its VW sibling to focus on more pragmatic attributes at more approachable price levels. How things have changed! Launched in South Africa in July, the third-generation VW Touareg is no longer content playing second fiddle to its Four-Ringed stablemate. Instead, it seems to be making a concerted effort to establish its own upmarket credentials. Admittedly, stepping up to the luxury SUV plate has required steeper pricing, too: the Executive R-Line model tested here retails for R1.14-million – before options. That’s more than the Q7 3.0 TDI’s list price, even though the two vehicles effectively share the same platform and drivetrain. Not that all is quite as it seems, though. The Touareg’s interpretation of the MLB platform differs from the Q7 – the Touareg is significantly larger than its predecessor, but still slightly more compact than the Audi. More important, arriving almost three years after the Q7, the execution is both more modern and more efficient, while maintaining a distinctively different, Volkswagen-specific character. Plus, the Touareg offers a higher level of standard equipment than the Q7. So, in real terms, the Touareg costs more, but also includes more standard kit, which goes some way towards vindicating the dearer retail price while still expressing VW-style value. Aesthetically, the Touareg’s design is another variation of the extrovert, assertive design language that has been transforming Wolfsburg’s new models of late. It’s the reason why the latest Tiguan compact SUV is a real head-turner, and why the sleek and smart Arteon sedan is able to woo snooty buyers who wouldn’t have considered a VW before. The same is true of the Touareg. The wider, lower stance sets a strong dynamic tone. But it’s the almost over-exaggerated front, and especially the way those broad, bold spars of brightwork have been stretched across the grille’s vast expanse, that sets a superior tone. For a brand that’s always remained on the safe side of conservative in styling terms, that frontal treatment is daring to say the least. It’s a clear indication that Volkswagen has every intention of mixing it with the fancy crowd in this segment. By comparison, the profile is relatively conventional, although the broad sills and boldly outlined wheel arches continue the bigger-is-better theme. Just as well the wheels are 20-inch alloys, because anything smaller would get lost inside those vast wheel arch housings. The rear treatment is tidy, with LED taillight clusters linked by a strong crease line, while a pair of symmetrically slanted exhaust tailpipes are integrated into the deep, colour-coded bumper. An obligatory roof spoiler continues the dynamic theme, while slim alloy roof rails reference the big VW’s SUV roots. With seating for five and a cavernous 810 litre boot, the cabin is unequivocally spacious, even by large SUV standards. But roominess is only one of the interior attributes. The execution is radical by VW standards because of the vast, almost seamlessly presented digital dashboard. It lends a decidedly futuristic air to the cockpit, even if the operation isn’t always as intuitive as expected. The display occupies much of the traditional dashboard, and actually consists of two separate but closely aligned screens: a 30cm instrument display occupying the space directly ahead of the driver, and an even bigger 38cm TFT touchscreen that controls the infotainment system’s extended feature set. The touchscreen reacts to gestures much like a smart device, and offers selectable screen and layouts for its many functions. While the graphics are crisp and colourful, the control scope is vast, and access isn’t always immediately intuitive. The digital instruments in front of the driver can also be configured to suit driver preference and operating mode, while adjustable ambient lighting is the cherry on the personalisation cake. The list of standard features is exhaustive and serves to underpin the Touareg’s upscaled target market. Unlike many premium brands, VW has included most of the nice stuff as standard, leaving only a few (albeit expensive) items on the options list. As it happens, that digital cockpit (or Innovision Cockpit in VW speak) is one of those extras – a R75,000 option, to be precise. Then there is the R16,650 outlay for the upgraded Dynaudio sound system (nice yes, but not essential) and the ambient lighting I mentioned earlier (R7,900). The test car also came with luggage management (R6,850) and Night Vision – a R60,000 option that identifies and highlights roadside hazards such as pedestrians and stray animals. It sounds like an expensive gimmick, but works so well in practice that it’s certainly worth the extra dosh if you can afford it. Thankfully, the list of standard gear is much longer: electric front seats with heating and cooling, air suspension, LED Matrix headlights, adaptive cruise control, satnav, 12V and 230V charging sockets, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera, parking sensors and extensive active and passive safety measures are all included. And those are just the highlights. Less obvious is the four-wheel steering system which turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at slow speeds to reduce the turning circle and improve manoeuvrability. At high speeds, the wheels turn in the same direction as the front, boosting stability and cornering poise. Does it work? Yes: the big VW is unexpectedly nimble in urban conditions, composed in the fast stuff. The Touareg offers a raft of driving modes, covering both on-road and off-road use, and selected via a rotary controller on the centre console. There’s even a high-performance mode. It allows everything from ride height and throttle response to traction control and gearbox shift characteristics to be optimised for a variety of conditions. You can also programme the system with an individual combination of parameters to suit personal preference. Turbodiesel’s popularity in Europe may have waned, but it’s still the preferred SUV choice in SA, so it comes as no surprise that the Touareg comes with a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel only. At 190kW and 600Nm, there’s plenty of get up and go, despite a 2 ton kerb mass. Together with a slick eight-speed Tiptronic auto gearbox and seamless 4Motion all-wheel drive, progress is effortless, regardless of load. The gearbox response in lower gears could be slicker and more refined, but it’s never a deal breaker. Even with the 45-profile tyres, ride refinement is excellent, thanks to the variable compliance of the air suspension. And despite those considerable exterior dimensions, the Touareg feels more agile in town than any big SUV should have a right to – thank you, four-wheel steering. Hit the open road, and the Touareg is a model of decorum, remaining unflustered regardless of road conditions and speed, and operating with an inherent confidence that soon instils a sense of trust in the driver. Keep an eye on the speedometer, though – or even better, engage the adaptive cruise control: the Touareg always covers ground quicker than you think. The serenity of the cabin, the raised seating position and the SUV’s inherent composure all combine to understate the real rate of progress. As for heading off the beaten track, the Touareg is a lot more capable than you might expect, due in part to the adjustable ride height, the air suspension and the tailored driving mode electronics. The tyres are the real limiting factor: you’ll need rubber with a taller profile, hardier side walls and more aggressive tread on smaller wheels to reduce the risk of punctures and deliver all-terrain grip. However, the way the Touareg is positioned, the majority of buyers will be focused on the new Touareg’s high-tech cabin and extensive equipment list, its effortless on-road performance and its upmarket execution. Yes, this Volkswagen Touareg is a definite cut above: traditional players in the premium SUV league now have a new and very capable rival to contend with. DM PROS A big step up from its more prosaic predecessor. Rich in tech, features – and value. CONS Digital cockpit not always as intuitive as expected. Some extras are expensive. VITAL STATS

VW Touareg 3.0 V6 TDI Executive R-Line

Engine

2,967dcc V6, turbodiesel

Power

190kW @ 3,250 -- 4,250

Torque

600Nm @ 2,250 –3,250rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

93.14 kW/ton

Gearbox

Eight-speed auto, AWD

Wheels/tyres

20-inch alloy, 285/45 R20 tyres

0-100 km/h

7.7sec (est)

Top speed

235km/h

Fuel tank capacity

71 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed)

7.1 / 8.7 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed/t)

1,000 / 816km

CO2 emissions

188 g/km

Retail price/as tested

R1,140,200 / R1,305,650

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