New Volkswagen Touareg R 2021 review

Our verdict as the Volkswagen Touareg R performance SUV gets plug-in hybrid tech

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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VW’s flagship Touareg R feels like neither a sporty SUV nor a relaxed, refined plug-in, like the BMW X5 45e. The X5 offers more range and better efficiency, greater refinement and comfort at a more affordable price. The Touareg R is something of a compromise; the tech is good and it’ll be cheaper to run than an ICE SUV, but it’s pricey and you’ll have to work to see the benefits in comfort, refinement, performance or engagement.

Big performance SUVs don’t exactly send out a message of efficiency. However, despite the R badge adorning the tailgate of this new top-spec Volkswagen Touareg, the German brand is going about its large performance SUV in a different way.

It, too, is embracing electrification to boost driver enjoyment without compromising efficiency – or so the theory goes. As a result, this £71,995 Touareg R uses a 335bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine combined with a 14.3kWh battery supplying a 134bhp electric motor for a total of 456bhp and 700Nm of torque. It means a 0-62mph time of 5.1 seconds, impressive given the R’s size and weight.

However, this top-of-the-line Touareg doesn’t feel all that sporty – and the weight the hybrid system adds is at the root of this. It dulls its responses. The chassis sometimes struggles to keep up with your demands; it never feels that dynamic, despite cornering without much roll.

The 4MOTION four-wheel-drive system can send up to 80 per cent of its drive to the rear axle, but in reality it never seems that rear-biased on the road, while you don’t feel much benefit when it comes to the subtle adjustability that you’d hope the variability this sort of system brings. But then, given the size and weight, subtleties like this aren’t all that abundant in the Touareg R.

It’s best driven at mid-speed, using the electric motor’s torque to support the smooth V6. It means the R feels less hurried and more relaxed, cruising with the inaudible electric assistance helping to boost refinement.

The powertrain’s intelligence means it switches between electric and combined propulsion seamlessly, with claimed efficiency of 94.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 67g/km, which means the R qualifies for a Benefit-in-Kind company car tax rating of 17 per cent.

Rivals such as the BMW X5 xDrive45e offer a bigger battery with more usable electric range, even if the VW’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain brings cost-saving potential compared with a similar-sized petrol or diesel SUV, as well as subdued running from the powertrain – which means that the R’s mixed ride quality is just a touch disappointing.

Large 22-inch alloys are standard, along with air suspension, but despite the latter you do notice the former, especially over potholes or bad transverse bumps. Weight also has an impact here, with the extra mass of the battery asking more of the suspension set-up. In the softest setting there is enough composure and fluidity, but bumps in corners when the car is loaded up do cause some inconsistent reactions.

Again, this particular Touareg is therefore better at a more leisurely pace, but that’s at odds with its R status. It feels compromised by trying to add some sporting pretensions into the mix, because it neither offers the luxury ride comfort of a refined SUV, nor the engagement or involvement of a sporty 4x4.

But the Touareg R isn’t without its merits. The huge 15-inch central touchscreen works well, as does the 12.3-inch digital dash. Quality is high, but the design a little short of the flourishes we expect at this price.

The tech is good, though, with nav, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, heated and ventilated leather sports seats, keyless operation, a panoramic roof, a 360-degree camera, front and rear parking sensors, four-zone climate control, plenty of safety tech and a powered tailgate – there’s lots of kit for the price.

Model:Volkswagen Touareg R
Powertrain:3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol + electric motor
Transmission:Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive 
0-62mph:5.1 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Electric range: 28 miles
On sale:Now

Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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