For almost a decade since the original version launched in 2008, the Volkswagen Touareg SUV has remained relatively unchanged. Around the world, is has proved itself to be a well-loved and well-used five-seater, with VW claiming it has sold close-to one million vehicles to the end of 2018.
However, a lot has happened in those years and if you look at the current model in showrooms, the Touareg has, well, lost its groove. It's like focaccia sandwiches, white wine spritzers and CDs – its not like these things are bad they’re just a bit…dated.
Thankfully, the third-generation of Volkswagen Touareg is due in Australia in May 2019. It’s better, bigger and more agile than ever before and with style and technology in the bag; it is coming for the jugulars of luxury SUV rivals BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Q5, Volvo XC90 and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
We know because we’ve driven it.
For a first drive, we took it to the ultimate proving ground: the Sahara Desert, Morocco, the home of the Tuareg Nomads – the Moroccan tribe from which the SUV gets its name, to see if VW has finally given this five-seater the chutzpah it deserves.
Already available in Europe and other territories around the world, the third-gen VW Touareg is its most luxurious and technologically advanced incarnation yet. And as you’ll see, it’s bursting at its long, lean seams with features. But how much is it?
Unfortunately, we don’t have an Australian price confirmation just yet, but for reference, the outgoing Touareg is priced from $68,990. Considering the kit involved, we expect to see the 2019 model start just under the $80,000 mark.
When it comes to value, however, consider this: The all-new Touareg is underpinned by VW’s longitudinal MLB architecture, which it shares with some of the group’s most luxurious SUVs, including the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus. That’s an impressive lineage!
If you look closely, you’ll see high-end styling cues are borrowed from its VW group stablemates – most notably the Q7-like stealth of the body shape and the spaced-out "T O U A R E G" lettering on the rear (first seen in the Arteon but also a staunch Porsche cue). This, it seems, carries on from the aspirational design language the Arteon started and makes it a hardcore, opulent reality.
In terms of fuel economy, over four days of driving on many different terrains our 210TDI averaged around 9L/100km. If you’re kinder to it, according to the Germans, that can get as low as 6.6L/100km.
For launch, the VW Touareg will arrive with the 190TDI, a 3.0L, V6 turbo diesel engine with 190kW of power and 550Nm of torque (the same engine as the Volkswagen Amarok). Two more engines (170TDI with 170kW/500Nm and a 210TDI with 210kW/600Nm) are expected later in 2019.
Internationally, there is talk of a V6 petrol, plug-in hybrid and V8 turbocharged-diesel, but yet these are still to be confirmed for down under.
The 170TDI is looking like it will come with 19-inch wheels as standard, while the 210TDI (the car we tested here) will land with 20-inch wheels.
When it comes to safety and tech features, there is plenty to talk about with the Touraeg. Granted, the models I drove in Morocco were optioned to the sky, so keep that in mind. Unless mentioned, the following doesn’t necessarily reflect what is available as standard in Australia.
Volkswagen’s brand new Innovative Cockpit is a stunner. A premium option and part of the Innovation Package, it’s comprised of a gorgeous 15-inch screen that seamlessly flows into a 12.3 active info display, angled toward the driver. In the standard models, a 9.2-inch touchscreen with some hard keys is offered.
The inner smug control freak in me loved how this placement subtlety alienated my passenger, forcing them to ask me to change the music/climate before reaching over a bit awkwardly. A little psychological warfare from the design team, no doubt. Obviously, this was sign #1 that Team Touareg has built this thing with the driver in mind first.
From the touchscreen, everything can be controlled and customised. Including climate, active safety elements, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, audio EQ, drive modes (also accessible via a dial on the centre console), navigation, front and rear cameras (including a high-res 360-degree hawk’s eye view) and more.
The active info display is also customisable and home to the standard digital instruments, a head-up display that is projected onto the windshield and some other cool elements like the desert strike-esque night vision camera that detects both humans and wildlife and even works during the day.
The Touareg also has impressive WiFi capabilities for up to eight devices. You can pop a SIM in the car and set it up as a hotspot, which you can use when the car is turned off, even form around two metres away. The WIFI was handy in the desert when we wanted to really flex the brilliant top-level 14-speaker 730W Dynaudio system (or 80W eight-speaker system as standard) by streaming tunes. For those who prefer USBs over Bluetooth, there are four USB ports and inductive charging is offered.
Another first by VW, is the “IQ Light” LED matrix headlights, with the single beam made up of 128 clever individual LEDs. Why does this matter? Because not only do the lights look like jewellery, reimagining what headlights can do for the sex appeal of an SUV, but it also means the beam can individually adapt to each driving situation and things like road sign reflections, pedestrians, animals, passing cars and the like, for extra safety and precision.
As for more safety features, there’s not a lot VW hasn’t thought of, including semi-automated steering and lane keep assist, road work lane assist, cross-traffic assist, electro-mechanically controlled anti-roll bars, clever LED matrix headlights, a windscreen head-up display, park assist (including trailer manoeuvring assist), driver fatigue alert systems as well as some impressive pedestrian detection systems and proactive pre-crash systems.
The pedestrian detection systems and emergency braking even worked well for us with rogue camels in front of the car and small children on the side of the road, who, out of excitement, got a little too close to the moving Touareg.
Even though it’s not obvious due to its sportier shape, the new Touareg is bigger than its predecessor. Though still shy of two metres, width has increased by 44mm, while the SUV’s length has grown by 83mm, landing the Touareg at 4.88m long.
Perhaps the most impressive change is the increased boot space. While the rear opening has shrunk by a tiny 4mm (to 1.17m), overall cargo space is up from 697L (1642L rear seats-down) to 810L (1800L rear seats-down) – that’s with the rear bench pushed all the way forward. The rear seats can also tilt up to 21 degrees.
As for weight, the new Touareg has shed just under 50kg with a new kerb weight of 1995kg; impressive given all the added kit.
There is a level of elegance and futurism to the interior of the VW Touareg that pegs it against luxury SUVs that are significantly more expensive.
Yes, some of the standout elements are part of the top-end trims, but still, Volkswagen must have had some serious roundtable discussions to make sure they didn’t leave a creature comfort out. If I ever became homeless due to Sydney’s outrageous housing market, this is a car I’d quite happy live in, and not just because it feels like a NASA control station.
To start, the visibility was notable, particularly in the thinness of the A-pillars. A recent trend with some mid-sized SUVs (I’m looking at you, Alfa Romeo Stelvio) has been to chunk up that space between the mirror and a-pillar making for shocking visibility for those of a smaller stature. Volkswagen has not followed suit, thankfully.
Our cars were fitted with the enormous panoramic sunroof, which is actually the largest VW has ever made. This was a highlight, and an option I’d definitely tick as, when out on the road or in the North African wilderness, it added an extra sense of adventure, space and brightness to long drives.
I’ve already mentioned the wow-factor of the cockpit, but it truly is lounge-like. Especially when you up the ante with the optional La-Z-boy-rivalling leather seats that are electronically adjustable in 18 ways (another win for not-so-average-sized humans) with optional heating/ventilation and massage function.
Then there is a customisable coloured ambient lighting and materials like wood, chrome and leather detailing as trim options. The sartorially-inclined might complain that the trim choices on offer are either snoozy or gauche, but they’re a lot better than that Nick Scali-heavy piano black interior everyone else seems to be loving right now (even with that huge screen).
Headroom and space in the rear is adequate, even with the sunroof, which would normally chop some centimetres. If you have small children, there are two ISO-fix points above the sliding rear seat.
As mentioned, the boot is bigger than before, however, it doesn’t have a full-sized spare. Unless you’re going off-road like we did, it’s not a huge deal, as the Touareg does come with an inflatable space saver spare.
ON THE ROAD
The ever-changing roads between Marrakesh, the Atlas Mountains, the twisty Tichka mountain pass (which at times was ripe with potholes and low-level flooding) and enormous dunes of Erg Chebbi proved to us that VW can put its money where its mouth is when it comes to off-road capabilities.
Our cars were equipped with Volkswagen’s off-road pack, with extra driving modes for different terrains, and a larger fuel tank (from 75 to 90L) and with air suspension and four-wheel steering ticked as options. If you had a choice, these two options are worth ticking as the handling and ride was hard to fault. Even atop mountains or deep in the dunes when one would be at risk of body-roll nausea, the Touraeg held itself together beyond expectations. On top of that, the Touareg has incredible cabin attenuation; even on the rocky riverbeds of Ouarzazate.
The only complaints? A slight turbo lag, which was liveable but noticeable and that unnecessary gear upshift habit that Volkswagens are wont to have. Which, fine, is an economy thing, but when you’re climbing a dry sand dune at an angle of around 35-degrees, a steep, twisty mountain pass or overtaking a man on a donkey, this was increasingly frustrating which led me to switch the ZF-sourced, 8-speed auto gearbox into manual often enough to notice. There were also more than one instance on the launch, that, due to user error in the dunes, we also got to watch the 3500kg towing capacity in action. Yes, it worked.
With the level of futuristic tech, safety features and thought that has been put into the car, it’s achingly obvious that Wolfsburg has come out swinging, even if that includes a little bit of sibling squabble.
The dynamics, capability, comfort and function of this SUV, despite a few tiny niggles, like the turbo lag, likelihood of the price and lack of a full-sized spare, are hard to fault – the eight years of drawing boards that led the Touareg to here have worked, because VW seemingly has an answer for everything.
With the new Touareg, Volkswagen is levelling the playing field with features that were previously only reserved for more luxurious marques, most notably in tech, connectivity, active safety, style and cockpit design. While we know it won’t come cheap, it will land with decent kit. And if anything, moves like this will keep an already bloated segment on its toes.
So for those who aren’t all about labels, the Volkswagen Touareg really does put up a good fight against its more premium cousins. And even though the Q7 has two more back seats on the Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne has performance stacked, if I were the relatives, I wouldn’t be so naïve to think the arrival of the Touareg wasn’t a tempting sidestep for some customers.
Read next: 2018 Volkswagen Touareg Review