The line between mainstream and luxury seems to be getting blurrier by the day. While the likes of the Kia Stinger and Mazda’s new 3 are both signals of the upmarket aspirations of Japan and Korea, there’s one manufacturer that’s been playing the “middle-class fancy” game longer than most: Volkswagen.
Exceptional driving characteristics, high cabin quality and, of course, European provenance have all helped elevate the likes of the Golf, Polo, Passat and Tiguan to a position on the automotive desirability ladder that’s much closer to entry-level luxe, and now it’s the Touareg’s turn.
Launching in Australia in a single high-featured grade for now, the all-new third-generation Touareg Launch Edition definitely aims high. Built on a platform shared with the Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Audi Q7, it’s got blue blood running through its veins – and that’s reflected in its design both inside and out.
In fact Volkswagen confidently compares it with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery and Volvo XC90, rather than more prosaic rivals like the Toyota Landcruiser, Mitsubishi Pajero, Mazda CX-9 or Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Is that confidence justified?
Retailing at $89,990, the Touareg Launch Edition is indeed a costly option in the world of large SUVs. However, keep in mind that Volkswagen Australia is launching its new Touareg with a top-down strategy: the Launch Edition is the range-topper, and more affordable variants will arrive later in 2019.
And that means that for the money asked, the Touareg Launch Edition is positively brimming with gear. We’ll dive deeper into the spec list in the next section, but on a spec-adjusted basis the Touareg flagship is $14,560 cheaper than the (much less powerful) Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum and $46,143 cheaper than the 200kW Audi Q7.
As for the segment stalwart, the BMW X5 xDrive30d, the Touareg is already $23K under the Bimmer’s retail price, and $36,700 more affordable when the X5 is specced up to the same level.
But is the Touareg quite on an even footing with those rivals? Not really – and we’ll get into some of the reasons why later on – but there’s no denying that it offers substantially more gear than practically all of its large SUV competitors in the mainstream segment.
Where to start. Stuffed to the gunwales with equipment, the Touareg Launch Edition spoils the owner with a standard feature list that is easily one of the lengthiest in the segment. All of the expected features like power seats, front and rear parking sensors, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers and keyless entry/ignition are all there, but the Launch Edition goes further. Much, much further.
Air suspension, for example, is standard-issue, as is active cruise control, four-zone climate control, lane-keep assist, four USB charge points throughout the cabin (the two front ones being wired for Apple device compatibility), and advanced ‘Matrix’ LED headlamps borrowed from corporate cousin Audi.
There’s plenty of luxo glitter too, in the form of partial leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, plus an electrically-adjustable steering column.
However, the real standout is the Touareg’s infotainment fit-out, which consists of a 9.2-inch colour touchscreen display with gesture control, voice controls, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration – not that you’ll need that much, given the standard sat-nav and media/telephony functions are so good. A wireless phone charging pad is also standard on the Launch Edition.
If you can, it’s worth ticking the option box for the Innovision package. At $8000 it’s not cheap, but it brings an absolutely gigantic 15-inch infotainment screen (pictured) with an ultra-slick interface that is so large it replaces the physical climate control buttons and relocates them to the screen. You also gain an all-electronic instrument panel, a colour head-up display, some additional stainless trim, and customisable cabin ambient lighting.
It elevates the Touareg’s interior from “nice” to “is this a concept car?”, and the wow factor is off the scale.
At 4878mm long and 1984mm wide, the Touareg slots into the large SUV category and sits just above the Jeep Grand Cherokee in terms of overall dimensions. However, with no capability for a third row of seats, it isn’t quite as suitable for family bus duties as the Volvo XC90 or BMW X5, let alone the Toyota Landcruiser 200 and Nissan Patrol that are price rivals for the Touareg Launch Edition.
But for five people, it’s certainly got space to spare. And luggage room too, with a seats-up capacity of 810 litres that increases to 1800 when you fold the 40/20/40 split second row seatback flat.
A powered tailgate is standard on the Launch Edition, and the air suspension can ‘knee down’ via boot-accessible buttons to aid the loading of big and/or heavy items.
Downside? A space saver sits under that boot floor, rather than a full-size spare tyre.
The Touareg’s active and passive safety equipment list is strong. Standard features include the usual ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control and stability control (with multiple terrain modes), along with autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, fatigue detection, plus front and rear cross traffic alert.
Eight airbags are standard – dual front, front side, rear side and full-length curtain.
The premium promise of the third-gen Touareg becomes apparent the moment you step through the door. It simply looks special – especially with our car being equipped with that gigantic 15-inch screen from the Innovision package – and soft-touch plastics, convincing pleather and genuine leather are everywhere.
And from the commanding height of the driver’s seat, the Touareg is a nice place to be. Not only is outward vision excellent, but virtually every control and button falls easily to hand… except for the left half of that jumbotron 15-inch screen.
Besides that, the ergonomics are hard to fault. The power seats and power steering column have more than enough adjustment to cater to all body types, are nicely trimmed and come standard with a built-in back massage function. Perfect for long, long stints behind the wheel – or just driving home from a stressful day at work.
In the back, a sliding second row provides exceptional legroom when slid all the way back as well as commendable comfort from nicely sculpted seats and a reclinable backrest, while vents at the rear of the centre console and on the B-pillars ensure those in the back seats receive plenty of air. The provision of quad-zone climate control is another nice touch, meaning nearly everyone should be able to stay comfortable no matter the weather.
Speaking of which, the weather during the Touareg’s local launch in Tasmania certainly did its best to highlight the positive virtues of the car’s climate control. A massive dump of snow sent temperatures plummeting, yet the Touareg’s cabin quickly warmed up to defrost our semi-frozen limbs.
ON THE ROAD
It’s a polished offering, that’s for sure, but the Touareg’s talent extends well beyond simply looking like it belongs at the country club. The fact that it’s also an outstanding car to drive is even more laudable than its extensive equipment list and fancy furnishings.
All diesel Touaregs in Australia will come with the one engine – a 190kW, 600Nm 3.0-litre turbodiesel with a combined fuel consumption of 7.4 L/100km and a very respectable zero-to-100km/h sprint of 6.5 seconds.
An eight-speed automatic takes power to all four wheels via a rear-biased all-wheel drive system (which can take up to 70 percent of torque to the front in slippery conditions), and air suspension is standard.
That mechanical ensemble comes together is a very satisfying way. The diesel six is commendably quiet and smooth – settling down to a barely-audible hum at highway speed – and the automatic does a fantastic job of smoothly and intelligently slotting between gears.
Low-down torque is huge, giving the Touareg a relaxed, effortless feel, and we’ve no doubt that this powertrain would easily cope with the car’s 3500kg maximum tow capacity.
And then there’s the way it rides. Long-travel suspension and air springs with adaptive dampers work miracles in both containing the Touareg’s 2.0-tonne kerb weight and dispatching bumps and potholes.
The way it cushions the cabin from big hits and then recovers with almost no secondary bounce on the rebound has to be experienced – it’s this quality of the Touareg that feels the most ‘premium’.
Again, the unexpectedly snowy weather of the launch worked very much in the Touareg’s favour, allowing us to actually sample its dedicated snow mode and drive in conditions that were generally slippery most of the time. The Touareg passed with flying colours, and never did it feel anything but stable and secure, either on icy tarmac or on sleety mud.
Is it fair to hold VW’s big wagon up against genuine luxury rivals? No. Volkswagen may point to the value equation being much sharper in the Touareg than it is in X5, GLE, XC90 et al, but so it should be. That’s the fundamental difference between mainstream and premium – good value is a core expectation in the former, not so much the latter.
Furthermore, while the Touareg's interior is a standout of the mainstream segment, it's still not quite the equal of better-finished luxury rivals like the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90, not to mention its corporate cousin the Audi Q7.
But of the mainstream large SUV pack, the Touareg Launch Edition is undoubtedly the king.
Few feel as rock-solid and comfortable on road and dirt, and few feel anywhere near as refined. What’s more, while the rest of the pack favour cabins that are at best ‘conservative’ and at worst ‘agricultural’, the Touareg Launch Edition’s tech-laden interior looks like it’s come from several years into the future.
It straddles the divide between mainstream and premium quite adeptly, and though the badge cachet for proper luxury status isn’t there, the flashy new Touareg certainly skews toward that direction.
Cheaper variants will follow in its tyre tracks, but right now the Touareg Launch Edition is easily one of the best sub-$100K large SUVs around.