Volkswagen certainly got its money’s worth out of the previous generation Touareg large SUV, running it for almost a decade before replacing it.
The wait for the third-generation Touareg has been worth it, though, as VW cherrypicked some of the best tech from across its collection of brands and blended it with a brace of new gear that helps to reposition the Touareg at the top of the company’s tree.
However, VW is also taking a big bet on the Touareg in terms of its configuration by offering it as a straight five-seater, and there are a couple of small issues we reckon need to be sorted out.
VW has taken the familiar silhouette of a large five-door, five-seat SUV and imbued it with real presence. The front end, in particular, makes a brash statement, with the wide-slat grille running the complete width and most of the height of the front fascia, with the subdued LED headlights and daytime lamps – located over the headlights - almost reduced to bit-player status.
The chrome theme runs down the side of the Touareg, around the glasshouse and across the more conventional rear end, which also uses LED taillights with dynamic turn indicators to create a modern light signature.
VW hasn’t forgotten the Touareg’s USP, though, providing short overhangs front and rear for decent off-road clearance.
Inside, a very contemporary take on the modern multimedia display and restrained interior combine well with small, luxurious and sometimes surprising touches. The thumbwheel-style volume control, for example, is rendered in alloy and feels great to use.
The huge Innovision screen and digital dash array take pride of place within a still reasonably traditional cabin, with rotary dials to control driving modes and air suspension height, and an updated take on the t-bar gear shifter.
Price and features
The Volkswagen Touareg costs $89,990 before on-road costs for the single variant – officially dubbed 190TDI Launch Edition - that’s currently on offer.
Our Silicon Grey tester (a $2000 option) has the $8000 Innovision package installed, which not only includes the simply enormous 15-inch central multimedia screen but also nets a heads-up display and gloss black interior highlights.
This gives us a Touareg that's just ten bucks shy of a hundred grand.
As standard, the VW Touareg comes with a six-cylinder, 3.0-litre, direct-injection turbocharged diesel engine that makes 190kW and 600Nm, backed by an eight-speed automatic gearbox that links to VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, with various modes to tackle different terrain.
It also runs adjustable-height air springs in partnership with adaptive shocks to change the quality of the ride between Comfort, Normal and Sport settings, while the airbags can be inflated on the fly to increase the ride height over more challenging terrain.
Read next: 2018 Volkswagen Touareg Review
Headlights and taillights are LED with dynamic turn signals front and rear, and 20-inch rims are fitted as standard.
Leather seats, quad-zone air-con with rear controls and LED interior lights – including colour-changeable ambient strips throughout the car – along with push-button start, driver memory settings that can be programmed to individual keys, rear window blinds, automatic high beam and more provides a pretty good insight into the value equation of the Touareg. Really, it wants for very little out of the box.
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In terms of competition, the Touareg has the specs to be cross-shopped against the likes of the entry-level versions of Audi's Q7, the new BMW X5 and Volvo's XC90 SUVs.
Land Rover’s Discovery SD6 SE is a few dollars cheaper but not as well equipped, while Jeep’s much older Grand Cherokee S-Overland is around $82,000, which also has a six-cylinder diesel for motivation.
Virtually everything else in the market is now powered by four-cylinder turbodiesel engines, which lowers the cost but changes the fundamental nature of the car it comes in. The six-cylinder diesel might be a dying star, but it’s very well suited to large-bodied wagons.
Safety and running costs
Volkswagen hasn’t missed much on the Touareg, with eight airbags and a comprehensive suite of driver aids including traffic-jam enabled adaptive cruise control, lane departure guidance and warning, front and rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian-detecting AEB, side traffic assist with lane changing assistant, 360-degree sensor detection and parking assist.
I did experience an oddity with the rear-view camera image on the main screen, though; the image would disappear mid-manoeuvre if someone touched the screen to access another function, which is not something I’ve ever come across before. Not ideal!
I also was surprised at how poor the image from the rear camera became when it was even slightly wet, which suggests that it might be set at a slightly goofy angle. When the rain dried, too, it made the lens dirtier than it really should have, when compared to pretty much every other rear camera I've used.
Volkswagen offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on the Touareg, along with three- and five-year pre-pay service plans. At $1400 for three and $2500 for five years, the costs are line ball with those for cars like the Passat and Tiguan.
When it comes to fuel consumption, VW claims 7.4 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, and we recorded a genuinely impressive 8.5 litres per 100km over more than 1200km of testing. The VW Touareg has a 75-litre fuel tank, which gives it a theoretical range of more than 1000km.
It’s a strictly five-seat deal, which is somewhat surprising given the competitive set it operates in, and even more so given the lack of a genuine seven-seater in the local VW line-up.
However, that does mean that every seating position in the Touareg has loads of room in every direction.
Cargo-wise, the Touareg has 810 litres of room in the rear with the seats in place, and 1800 litres of reasonably flat load space when the rear seats are dropped. How much will the Volkswagen Touareg tow? Up to 3500kg with a braked trailer, and a generous 280kg down-ball weight limit.
The rear seat backs can be reclined for comfort, or set vertically to create a flat-backed loading space. Second row passengers are also well catered for with an air-con control panel, charging points and cup holders. Two ISOFIX baby seats can be anchored too.
The front seats are broad and deep, and can be adjusted in multiple directions, including the length of the seat base. A multi-mode massage function combines with vented and heated seats to provide long-distance comfort par excellence, as a six-hour round-trip with no long breaks can attest.
Our second complaint, oddly enough, comes from the fact that the car is very well put together; so well, in fact, that it is a genuine chore for smaller folks to shut the final door with enough force to engage the secondary lock.
Other cars have, over the years, set power windows to crack open just enough to release the air pressure in the cabin to enable the door to close more easily, and this is a possible solution to for the Touareg.
On the road
On paper, the Touareg presents as a handsome off roader that’s raring to tackle the great outdoors, but it’s the way it resets the large SUV bar in terms of on-road civility that stands it in excellent stead.
Inside, it is whisper quiet, it offers up genuinely impressive road manners and it imparts a feel of pomp and prestige that belies its badge.
Sure, ninety grand and up sounds like a lot for a Volkswagen, but from behind the wheel, the Touareg feels like a bit of a bargain.
The suspension helps here, imparting an initial suppleness that only air springs can provide. They are well matched with the adaptive dampers, providing subtle but meaningful changes to the chassis behaviour without falling into extremes.
The Porsche-derived turbo diesel engine is a cracker as well, with plenty of low-down reserves of torque to get the 2086kg Touareg up and going.
It almost feels as if eight speeds are too many, but the top two gears contribute mightily to an astonishingly low real-world fuel burn figure.
Brake feel can be a bit numb despite the presence of big four-piston one-piece calipers, but there is nothing wrong with the steering, especially off centre.
Off-road, the Touareg’s ultimate performance is blunted by the highway-spec Bridgestone Alenza tyres, but the well-proven 4Motion system makes easy work of moderate to rough terrain and loose gravel.
The ability to raise the car at the twist of a dial is a boon, while the VW Touareg's 75-litre fuel tank capacity gives it a decent range.
Volkswagen flags the Touareg as a flagship vehicle for the company, and its price moves it past everything else on sale within the company.
In the past, buyers have baulked at big-dollar VWs, but the success of the almost eighty-grand Amarok Ultimate dual cab ute, the Golf R and the Arteon coupe shows that the brand’s continued focus on highly specced machines is paying off.
Taken in isolation, the Touareg is a terrific five-seat large SUV, with impeccable road manners, excellent levels of driver safety, real on-board comfort for five and genuine flexibility as an everyday drive.
Having only a couple of small (but still noteworthy) niggles only serves to highlight what a thoroughly impressive job VW has done out of the box with the big Touareg.