Volkswagen Touareg review
The Volkswagen Touareg doubles as a capable off-roader and a luxurious family car – although it comes at a price
Volkswagen’s biggest SUV was launched in 2002, and is now into its third generation, introduced in 2010 – rivalling the Jeep Grand Cherokee, BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Infiniti QX70. Power choices include a petrol-electric hybrid and a 4.2 TDI V8 diesel, but the most popular engine choice is likely to be the 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel.
The Touareg sits at the top of the company’s range. Most models will never see more challenging terrain than a muddy track or grassy field, but buyers can be reassured that the Touareg is capable when they need it. While it doesn’t have the ultimate off-road ability of rivals like the Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Sport or more expensive Range Rover, the car will overcome most obstacles off the beaten track thanks to its high ground clearance, 4MOTION permanent four-wheel drive and powerful, torquey diesel engines.
Most of the time, the Touareg will be driven on the road, and here it shines with impressive comfort and refinement, as well as reasonably sharp handling for a car with such enormous dimensions. All engines are hooked up to a slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, while the range comprises SE, Escape, R-Line and Hybrid specs. Every version comes generously equipped as standard – although you’d expect them to, because even the entry-level Touareg carries a high price.
Our choice: Touareg 3.0 TDI V6 SE
There’s no mistaking who makes the Touareg, as Volkswagen’s DNA is evident in every panel. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the simple lines and sharp detailing the company is famous for really do suit the proportions of a full-size SUV. The wide two-bar grille and rectangular headlamps are similar in design to those you’ll find on the Golf or Passat, 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 isn’t as in-your-face as a Jeep. Go for an R Line model, and you get 20-inch two-tone alloys as standard, black plastic body add-ons, a rear spoiler and sharper bodykit, while 25mm lower suspension means the Touareg looks a lot smaller than the Grand Cherokee, although it’s still pretty huge.
All versions get hide interior trim as part of a long list of standard equipment that also includes climate control andBluetooth. Avoid the SE and Hybrid if you want the easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system, although every Touareg bar the petrol-electric model gets a DAB radio. And the dash is neatly designed and beautifully finished whichever version you go for.
The Touareg’s interior will be a familiar sight to any VW owner. You get the same no-nonsense dash layout as other models in the range, and the standard-fit touchscreen sat-nav is easy to use. The biggest difference is the addition of an extra bank of switches and a dial behind the gearlever which adjusts the Touareg’s 4WD system.
Again, R Line models add some sporty touches, such as metal pedals, brushed aluminium and gloss black dashboard trim, although if you want leather seats like the Jeep, you have to pay £1,370 extra. The cabin is quite dark thanks to the black fabrics and plastics used throughout, although VW has fitted a panoramic glass sunroof as standard to help give the interior a bit of a lift.
However, when it comes to quality, the Touareg has the upper hand over its rivals here. 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 that puts the VW a step ahead.
The 328bhp Hybrid provides plenty of pace, and can be driven in near-silence on electric power alone for short distances at low speeds – although the sheer size and weight of the car means it’s never long before the 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine kicks in. Opt for the range-topping 4.2-litre V8 TDI, and you’ll be able to outsprint most hot hatches, although this model is obviously much more expensive to run.
The 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel is the only engine most Touareg drivers will ever need. Fire up the V6 and it idles with a quiet purr. It remains hushed all the way through the rev range, although it does have a bit of a sporty edge at higher rpm. The engine is combined with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox, which delivers smooth shifts and makes the most of the diesel’s 242bhp.
The Touareg features shift paddles on the steering wheel, but again, they seem excessive – the electronics do a good job of keeping you in the right gear. The 3.0 TDI delivers a 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds.
In corners, the Touareg has an advantage over rival, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, thanks to its 175kg lighter kerbweight, while the R Line model also benefits from lowered sports suspension which further limits body roll. The car can be specced with air-suspension, too – a £1,855 option. It means you can tune the VW to suit your driving needs.
In Comfort mode, the soft self-levelling set-up soaks up bumps with ease, and the 20-inch wheels don’t cause too much disruption. If you want a sporty drive, the Sport setting firms up the dampers and keeps body roll to a minimum.
The air-suspension can also be tuned for off-road driving by providing up to 300mm of ground clearance. Combine this with the switchable four-wheel-drive system, and the Touareg does a decent job in the rough. If you want even greater ability, then there’s always the Touareg Escape, which adds low-range gears and a mechanical diff lock in place of the Torsen device found on other models.
As the Touareg has been on sale for four years, you’d expect any teething troubles to have been ironed out by now. And in general, it seems the big VW has been pretty reliable.
Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the current Touareg, but past models have performed well, and the current car is available with VW’s latest safety kit, such as adaptive cruise control (£1,715), 360-degree cameras (£900) and lane assist (£865), while front and rear parking sensors and six airbags are standard.
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, and there’s a through load facility as well.
Rear space is good, and the seatbacks recline to increase comfort for rear passengers. The seats themselves are comfortable, while the standard panoramic glass means it feels 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 and decent door bins.
You don’t expect low running costs from a big SUV like the Touareg, but surprisingly, the most efficient model in the range isn’t Hybrid. The petrol-electric version promises 34.4mpg fuel consumption, while its 193g/km emissions aren’t especially low, either. VW claims 40.4mpg and 184g/km for the 201bhp 3.0-litre V6 TDI, and the lower price means the diesel is a much more tempting buy.
Just steer clear of the 4.2-litre V8 TDI if running costs are a concern – this potent model returns only 31mpg and emits 239g/km. It also sits in the highest insurance group, although no Touareg will be especially cheap to insure. 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.