The Touareg, Volkswagen’s flagship, has been described as a new high-water mark for the brand. It would be hard to argue against that when this new for 2019 third-generation model shares several goodies with its posher cousins from the VW Group including a chassis from Porsche, elements of its drivetrain from Lamborghini, its suspension componentry from Bentley and some semiautonomous tech from Audi. That in itself makes the Touareg more than a match for some of its premium-badged rivals such as the X5 and GLE and although when it launched back 2003 it offered SUV buyers a less blingy alternative to its competitors, things have changed on the aesthetics front, and for the better.

Styled by Klaus Bischoff, VW’s chief of design, it is far bolder than ever before and easily stands out in the crowded class. It takes just a mere glance to realise that the brands most important vehicle has grown in size; it is 77mm longer, 44mm wider and sits 7mm lower than the outgoing model and the result is a far more butch appearance. The larger exterior leads to a significantly larger luggage compartment now as its capacity increases from 697 to 810 litres (with rear bench seat up). The exterior styling now reflects the German automaker’s latest design language. Gone are the old model’s dumpy looks — it has sharpened up and boasts more powerful lines which bring about not only an air of sophistication but modernity too. It sure has evolved into a far more upmarket SUV (even though the styling is an evolution of the old version) and it is arguably more handsome than the BMW and Mercedes. Just look at that imposing front grille for starters. Add to it the rakish roofline and neat rear (replete with Trapezium-shaped exhaust pipes) but the interior is where it really shines.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The cabin is a massive step up over the dated second-gen’s and is more attractive than pretty much anything else out there in this segment with the highlight being the Innovision Cockpit giving you a huge 15in swiping/zooming/pinching touchscreen, and the familiar 12.3in Active Info Display. Thanks to these two screens stitched together to look like one massive one, the Touareg feels like the most high-tech of any SUV’s on the market. Night-time drives are made more pleasant by a newly developed form of LED ambient light and it boasts the largest panoramic sliding roof ever fitted to a VW to date which does a sterling job in bathing the luxurious cabin with natural light and making it feel roomier. That it also includes a ‘Night Vision’ system to detect humans and animals in darkness via a thermal imaging camera, Lane Assist, LED matrix headlights (they’re intricate and full of presence), head up display, driver personalisation, inductive wireless mobile phone charger, park assist and 360 cameras to name but a handful of its goodies only strengthens this point of view. In fact, this Touareg points the way to the future.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

Its body, made from 48 per cent aluminium — and which sits on the VW Group’s MLB-Evo platform — has helped shed 106kg over the predecessor and dynamically, that’s very encouraging news. Power comes from a 3.0-litre TFSI V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic (which is capable of handling torques of up to 1,000Nm in case VW ever wants to take the Touareg down that oh so speedy route) sending the 340 horses to all four corners. It is a very smooth and strong unit making it the perfect match for the big SUV. The gearbox may be a tad keen to kick down but then this isn’t supposed to be a sporty family hauler; it is designed to offer a relaxing and comfortable highway ride which gives it a rather different orientation to the first generation’s more dominant off-road DNA. But this one can still handle the rough stuff too; the off-road drive modes include ‘Sand’ and ‘Gravel’ along with ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’ on-road modes making it a more exclusive all-round vehicle. There are a number of optional dynamic additions engineered into the new model, including rear-wheel steering and multi-height air suspension that can jack up the body by 70mm.

Audi might feel its toes are being stepped on, that’s how accomplished the VW is now. It’s come exceptionally far with this latest makeover and though sometimes overlooked by buyers opting for more exotic options, it’d be their loss if they pass it up this time.