This is the most technologically advanced Volkswagen you can buy today. It’s the post-Piëch Phaeton, grand in everything but ambition. Let’s face it, the failed Phaeton took on too much — it took on Bentley.
The third-generation Touareg (although you can spec it up to 100,000 euros here in Europe with taxes) stays only somewhat more grounded going up against BMWs, Mercs, and Porsches and Audis. Volkswagen’s own brands.
Take the crisp 12in driver’s display in high definition, something Volkswagen keeps calling ‘innovision’. In the Ingolstadt dialect, a few hours south of Wolfsburg, it’s pronounced ‘Audi Virtual Cockpit’.
In order to take its latest Touareg SUV upmarket and really stand neck and neck with X5s, GLEs, and Audis, Volkswagen’s made it… an Audi.
This is a serious bit of kit, headlining Volkswagen’s line-up as the company’s flagship SUV despite the bigger US-built Teramont soon to arrive in the Middle East. That seven-seater comes on the Group’s MQB platform, the same one as the humble Golf, and the two-seater Audi TT. This kind of commoditisation means it will start at Dh137,000, whereas a Touareg will start from Dh195,000 with potential for lots more.
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A million Touaregs have been sold since 2002, and the Germans expect most buyers of the new third-gen model to come straight from the old car. Volkswagen people in Austria at the launch talk a lot about customer research and you can imagine the focus groups, so perhaps it is a committee-car with a distinct corporate character. It’ll blend in, but it shouldn’t be ignored.
This high-tech flagship doesn’t shout about it so much from the outside though it is quite a substantial amount of car here, with nice proportions — the new Touareg’s grown in size so it’s wider and longer, but actually slightly lower, and that does give it some presence. Otherwise it’s as conservative a design as they come, and still better executed than some brutes like the BMW X6 and its twisted coupe delusions.
The interior is as flamboyant as VW will get, and in Atmosphere trim at least with the beautiful natural grain wood, it’s very nearly as good as Audi’s. The rotary controls, the volume wheel, the column stalks, and all the controls feel sturdy, and there’s space in the front and back with good access to the massive 810-litre boot. Volkswagen should have only changed the steering wheel design because I can’t stop thinking of a Touran van.
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You won’t be looking at the wheel anyway because 27-inches of curved screens dominate — besides the mentioned 12in driver’s display the main display is a 15in touchscreen operated with tablet gesture controls. Somehow it doesn’t look at all out of place and Volkswagen has integrated this digitalised dash design into the cabin quite well. It’s not the most exciting interior but you won’t feel short changed sitting there.
On the move the new Touareg continues to make sense without any surprises — with a torquey V6 diesel engine, the only one Volkswagen had on hand for us to try in Austria, it’s smooth and unhurried and intent on taking as much effort away from the driver as possible. This flagship is packed full of tech, like adaptive cruise control that reads road signs and obeys speed limits, speeding up and slowing down for sharp corners it recognises through satellite navigation data. There’s night vision including a thermal imaging camera, and all kinds of alerts and assists. Even semi-autonomy is mentioned, although the smart lane keeping system is more of an annoyance.
Brake warnings, cross traffic alert and several other features make for a relaxed drive by circumstance — you just ease into a Touareg pensively, and the fine ride and quiet cabin don’t interrupt. The roads are great in the Alps and still you’re not exactly invited to start hustling this thing around.
With twin-chamber air-suspension and on 20in wheels the big SUV is comfortable and hushed, with no vibrations and noises getting into the cabin especially with the optional double-glazed glass. The electric steering is tuned to be effortless and direct, and it is but it is also quite intrusively electric with that artificial resistance.
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The new stiffer, lighter car is now 48 per cent aluminium and 52 per cent steel, and the adaptive air suspension can raise the whole thing within a range of 110mm. At speed the car drops, and in off-road modes it’s raised by up to 70mm. Even with all this choice, I mostly fiddled with Eco and Comfort driving modes where the new Touareg settles best.
In our region we’ll be getting a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine rated at 340 horsepower. With the turbocharged power delivery, and knowing VW’s economy-minded transmissions always rushing for a higher gear, I don’t expect that version to be any more exciting than the 286-horsepower torquey diesel on test here. Volkswagen will offer the third-gen Touareg in three trims including R-Line, although no regional importer is expected to bring in much apart from full-options cars.
When you consider this includes serious kit like active all-wheel steering and active roll-stabilisation, things you get in Cayennes, you can figure on around Dh300,000. That should also buy you a head-up display, LED matrix headlights, the big wheels, and the biggest panoramic sunroof ever fitted to a Volkswagen.
This means that crucially the latest third-generation Touareg still beats its competition on price, and gets pretty close everywhere else. With some growth in the range with more engine options and electrified variants, Volkswagen should have a hit on their hands. It’s not exactly what Ferdinand Piëch would’ve wanted, but he wasn’t in the focus group.