Touareg road test: Volkswagen’s desert commando gets sharper

The Touareg mid-size SUV has had a complete revamp, resulting in a properly luxurious driving experience

Volkswagen was looking to create a specific impression when it called its 2002 SUV release the Touareg. The name references a Sahara-dwelling nomadic people who survive in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Message received and understood: this is a car designed to go places you wouldn’t contemplate in your teeny, city-bound Fiat 500.

Those who came up with the concept had high hopes for the new line. The Touareg has a pedigree – it was a car first created using the combined talents of VW and fellow German classmates Audi and Porsche, and the brief was to create a vehicle that could handle the worst off-road conditions imaginable and yet still drive like a sports car. So, no pressure, then.

The model has had three distinct versions in its history, and reached a milestone this year – as of July, a million Touaregs have been sold.

This should come as no great surprise, as the car has a notable history, not least in the sporting arena – purpose-built race versions of the Touareg took on the Dakar Rally (a race that makes your average Grand Prix look as hardcore as The Great British Bake Off) and managed to beat the toughest competition on a number of occasions.

Evidently, competition cars are rather different from their road-going cousins, but these kind of results can persuade you that, should the worst happen and some disaster occur while you’re out in your Touareg, this could just be the car to get you to safety. You definitely feel secure (and comfortable) inside, which, amazingly if you think about it, isn’t always the case with cars of this sort.

Despite the million-seller statistics, in SUV terms the Touareg hasn’t quite made it to join the posh kids on the top table. Few have ever doubted its abilities as an off-roader, but the car has never been ranked alongside the traditionally high-grade options on the market.

At rest in the desert twilight.
At rest in the desert twilight.

But change is in the air. This latest model, which has undergone a complete revamp, is arguably one of the most technically competent vehicles to come out of the VW stable. In Touareg terms, it’s certainly the most ritzy. This car has never been basic, but the manufacturer has significantly upped the kit level with the latest models.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II might be a bit sniffy about taking tea in here, but she’d be happy to take a jaunt around Balmoral in it.

The Touareg’s outer shell has been streamlined, the designers clearly noting accusations of stockiness compared with some of the competitors in previous versions. You can see how subtle changes have smartened the vehicle up. Accentuated wheel arches pair with prominent shoulder edges at the rear, giving it a muscular yet engineered appearance. From some angles, you might be reminded of a slimmed-down sumo wrestler on his haunches, ready to chuck salt into the ring and get stuck in.

And, in the way modern manufacturers seem to be able to perform magic tricks even Penn and Teller might have difficulty explaining, the car is bigger than its predecessor, yet 106 kilograms lighter. Apparently it’s all to do with shaving tiny amounts of weight off individual components, as well as making full use of light aluminium and high-tech steel.

Comfort levels are high.
Comfort levels are high.

When it comes to speed and power, you can get either a two or three-litre V6 engine. The bigger powertrain will give you 340hp and a top speed of 240kph. You can also get to 100kph from a standing start in 5.9 seconds, which is fast enough to induce a chortle or two from any driver putting his foot down in a vehicle of this size.

Inside the car, VW has installed what it calls an Innovision Cockpit, which consists of two customisable displays on the main dashboard. The company reckons this fascia is the largest in any SUV. It’s certainly prominent within the cabin – a distinct positive, as it’s simple to read and use, yet doesn’t interfere with your view outside when darkness falls.

Unlike some of its competitors, there’s no option for a third row of seats in the Touareg, but if you’re buying the car happy with its size, you won’t notice the decreased passenger space unless you suddenly need to give small groups of hitchhikers a lift. What you will notice is considerably more room in the boot because of the new model’s larger frame.

The Touareg has always occupied that vague territory between mainstream and high-end SUVs, but the new versions are shunting it in the direction of the luxury lot, making it a real competitor. VW has now even produced a four-litre V8 version, which is enough to dig a few divots in even the firmest terrain.

It seems like the posh kids on the top table may be forced to make space for an extra guest, one rattling across the sand dunes towards them at high speed in a fashion that could only be described as determined.

Published: September 12, 2019 09:52 AM


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