Volkswagen Touareg review
The Volkswagen Touareg is a capable off-roader and doubles as a luxurious family car. It's expensive, though
It first appeared in 2002 with a second-generation model arriving eight years later. The model was lightly updated in 2014 featuring design tweaks, improved efficiency from the engine range and simplified range of three specifications.
Customers can now choose from SE, R-Line and a bespoke off-road model called Escape, and all come with Volkswagen’s 4MOTION technology. There are also just one choice in the engine department: A 3.0-litre V6 diesel with either 201bhp or 258bhp – the latter is our choice as it is emits just 1g/km more in CO2 emissions compared to the lower-output version - but returns the same economy figure.
Some would say the Touareg doesn’t offer the same badge prestige as some models from rival firms and, in comparison with the Land Rover Discovery, doesn’t perform as strongly off-road.
While it’s true the Touareg isn’t as capable as the Land Rover when the going gets tough, the VW does have hill decent control and switchable driving modes - ‘on-road’ and ‘off-road’. The Escape model adds a high ride height, underbody paneling, low ratio gearbox settings and a centre-locking differential.
In contrast, the R-Line model is designed for a more sporty driving experience thanks to a lower ride height and more aggressive body styling.
Our choice: Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TDI V6 (258bhp) R-Line
Engines, performance and drive
The Touareg only comes with the established 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine, which is offered in 201 and 258bhp trim. All cars come with an eight-speed automatic as standard and have permanent four-wheel drive.
Fire up the big V6 and it idles with a quiet purr, and aside from a little resonance through the steering column, it’s impressively refined. It remains hushed all the way through the rev range, not that you need to extend the engine beyond its punchy mid-range very often. With 580Nm on offer from 1,750rpm, the 258bhp version that makes up 80 per cent of sales, has plenty of performance on offer, while the smooth shifting eight-speed automatic is well suited to the torquey engine. The Touareg features shift paddles on the steering wheel, but again, you’ll not need them very often – as the auto box does a good job of keeping you in the right gear.
In corners, the Touareg isn’t as nimble or sporty as cars like the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport, but with plenty of grip and decent body control, the handling is composed and vice free. The R Line model benefits from lowered suspension, which limits body-roll a fraction more, although its standard 20-inch wheels have a negative effect on ride quality. With 19-inch rims, SE models soak up bumps better and have a much nicer low-speed ride.
You can add air suspension to both models as an option. Confusingly, there are two versions available both of which come with Volkswagen’s CDC Continuous Damping Control system – the standard system has Sport, Comfort and Normal settings, and also has a button in the boot for lowering the ride height to help loading.
The Dynamic Air Suspension option has all of the above, plus stiffer anti-roll bars and a 25mm lower base ride height. This is not available on the off-road optimised Escape model. The Escape model should be your choice if you are planning on doing any off-roading in your Touareg. It comes with a centre differential lock and a mechanically locking rear diff, in place of the Torsen device found on other models. Higher suspension, low-range gears and underbody protection also help it to do a decent job in the rough.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Compared to premium rivals the Touareg looks like decent value but it’s expensive to buy when you compare against the Hyundai Santa Fe. Decent residual values are good news for private buyers, and while you don’t expect low running costs from a big SUV like the Touareg, the updates to the 3.0-litre TDI engine have lowered fuel and tax bills.
Both versions have a claimed combined economy of 42.8mpg and in the real word expect to average around 30mpg. The Escape model will be a bit more expensive to run it emits 180g/km and has a claimed economy of 40.9mpg. Service intervals are variable, so the car will flag up when it needs a check, and VW offers a pre-paid maintenance plan to keep costs down.
Interior, design and technology
You’d be forgiven for missing the revised 2014 Touareg as the big VW’s looks haven’t changed a great deal. New bumpers, a revised four-bar grille and the introduction of Xenon lights across the range mark out the 2014 model year update, which has been nicely blended into the Touareg’s well-established styling.
Instantly, regognisable as a Volkswagen’s – VW’s current corporate face and grille works well with the big proportions of a full-size SUV. The wide grille and rectangular headlamps are similar in design to those you’ll find on the Golf or Tiguan, while the LED running lights add a flourish to the front end.
At the back, the large, upright tailgate features LED lights that wrap around the rear quarters, while subtle use of silver trim means the VW has an upmarket edge without being as in your face as rivals like the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. Go for an R Line model, and you get 20-inch two-tone alloys as standard, wider side sills, wheel-arch extensions, a rear spoiler and tinted rear window glass, while 25mm lower suspension gives the big Touareg a sportier stance, although it’s still a big car that doesn’t really hide its bulk.
Inside, the Touareg’s no-nonsense interior will be a familiar sight to any VW owner. The cabin fit and finish are excellent, while soft-touch plastics are used throughout and the switches and controls have a sturdy feel about them. The dash design is a fraction dated, but the cabin is nicely finished and the layout is very easy to get on with.
The 2014 models have white cockpit lighting instead of red, while all versions get part-leather trim as part of a long list of standard equipment that also includes climate control, Bluetooth, DAB radio, navigation and heated seats. The R-Line model adds a panoramic glass roof and black headlining, with bespoke sports seats and aluminium effect pedals. Extra standard kit includes a heated steering wheel and keyless entry, and if you want full leather seats, there’s a choice of Napa or Vienna optional upholstery.
The biggest difference to other Volkswagen cabins is the addition of an extra bank of switches and a dial behind the gearlever, which adjusts the Touareg’s 4WD system.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
It’s not a seven-seater but the Touareg is a practical choice. You get a powered tailgate as standard, and this opens to reveal a 580-litre load bay. There’s a slight boot lip, while the rear of cars with air-suspension can also be dropped by 60mm to improve access. The parcel shelf retracts and rises to ease loading, plus the back seats fold completely flat at the top of a button in the boot, and there’s a through load facility as well. With the seats folded flat you get a 1,642-litre load space.
Rear space is good, and the seatbacks recline to increase comfort for rear passengers. The seats themselves are comfortable, while on R-Line models the standard panoramic glass makes it feel bright and airy inside. Up front, the seats are adjustable in six directions. Storage space is good, too, with a big glovebox, deep armrest bin, dash top cubby and decent door bins.
With a 3.5 ton towing capacity, the Touareg is also a choice for towing. Not only does it have trailer stabilisation within the stability control, you can go for an optional automatically swiveling tow-bar, while the optional area view camera system has a trailer hooking view.
Reliability and Safety
The current generation Touareg has been on sale for four years, so any teething troubles will have been ironed out by now. And the big Volkswagen has a general reputation as a rugged, well-engineered and reliable SUV. Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the current Touareg, but past models have performed well.
The updated 2014 model sees the introduction of an automatic post-collision braking system, while other passive safety highlights include whiplash reduction headrests and curtain airbags. All models get stability control with trailer stabilisation and hill descent control, while the optional Driver’s Assistance Pack adds adaptive cruise control, lane assist, side scan blind sport radar and traffic sign recognition.