Browse the lengthy Volkswagen SA vehicle pricelist and this is the one you’ll find right at the bottom. This 3rd generation VW Touareg is indeed the flagship of the range. It’s the largest, most advanced, most expensive and most capable SUV that VW makes. Built on the same platform and with some of the same parts as names like the lavish Bentayga, sporty Cayenne or style-conscious Q8, the Touareg isn’t in easy territory let alone the non-family competitors like the BMW X5 or Mercedes Benz GLE. It’s a hot market with some hot property so the Touareg needs to have its boxes ticked.
There’s only one engine choice and though it’s a sumptuous one – there is only one. Styling is sharper and that aside, the car is brimming with air (there’s more than 810-litres of space) and technology. You name it, it’s quite possibly in there and not just infotainment and Apple CarPlay tech, but also assistance systems, safety systems and things you need if you like towing things.
In Executive trim the Touareg gets the popular and stylish R-Line package. The overall design is bolder and more progressive enhanced by the Black Style Package fitted to our test unit. It’s a R43 400 option that’s proven to be quite popular in South Africa. It features Black trim treatment on the mirror housings, the roof rails, the window surrounds, front grille and the bumpers at the front and back. The treatment contrasts well with 21-inch Suzuka alloys also finished in black.
It’s posh and bold yet also casually appealing – not too much and not something we’d call understated either. There’s a confidence in its design strongly differentiated as a modern VW product. It takes the fight to all those fancy brands up top andit should present a real thorn in the sides of them all…but it doesn’t – because we’re obsessed with certain things that perhaps are less important.
You can’t miss the level of detail to which Volkswagen has gone in completely redefining in-car functionality. The stunning Innovision Cockpit is an entirely digital interface that is huge in size and hugely satisfying to command. It’s the answer to all the internal controls from vehicle settings, ambient lighting control and climate control systems to the nav, seating functions and of course connectivity features. It’s one of the largest interfaces we’ve seen, 15-inches in size and it combines with the 12-inch digital interface in the instrument cluster for a truly state of the art experience. It does take some getting used to, partly because it’s packed with features but partly because the experience is highly configurable for every user/driver. Once your desired profile is set up, which may take a few days before you’re truly happy, you never have to change it again, except for selecting that profile when you’re at the helm. It’s perhaps not as immediately intuitive as some Swedish competitors or perhaps even as ergonomically user-friendly as a GLE Benz but it is at the edge of tech for internal commsand infotainment. Is it worth the R82 300? – We won’t answer the question directly but it’s an excellent piece of kit.
Aside from that, the cabin is indeed spacious and rear seat legroom and headroom among the best in the class. The adjustable rear seats will sit 3 adults in comfort apart from the raised transmission tunnel. The boot is a cavernous 810-litres and it will swallow most things you can throw at it. And here’s a trick – should you really wish to pack the holiday wares, there’s at least another 45-litres under the boot lid next to the space saving spare. That is at least 150-litres more than those other Germans.
At this price, expect premium levels of noiseless motoring. Touareg does well to block out exterior wind or road noise even with 21-inchers at each corner. It’s a consummate cruiser, the 190kW turbodiesel inaudibly whispering at under 1 600rpm. This is complemented by equally compliant fuel-sipping ability, our test run turning out a mesmerising 7.0-litres per 100km with 1253km on one tank of 50ppm.
Admittedly it was a long and arduous route dotted with slow and steady single carriageway driving at times languishing behind 80km/h trucks where the national speed limit was way beyond our average speed. But long as it was, there was also a 60km stint of urban, city driving in a holiday destination with weekend traffic and all too many stop streets. Touareg was astoundingly efficient. What needs to be noted too, was the car’s easily accessible power and ability to soar through the gears gathering speed at a commanding rate – accelerative force is impressive with almost no turbolag and mated to an 8-speed transmission that works well to channel that 190kW power and 600Nm of torque. Its usable, accessible, powerful and efficient. What more do we need really?
Safety systems include Adaptive Cruise Control and all manner of emergency systems. A R65 000 option is the Night Vision package that adds infra-red vision to the car’s repertoire. It’s a safebet for wondering cows and pedestrians at night but apart from that it’s an expensive option. It’s packaged with a lane-keeping system which does exactly that. It’s not as semi-autonomous as what you can spec in a Mercedes, Audi or BMW equivalent but in all honesty, these systems require more mental concentration than we like, so in most instances we turn them off. So that’s a‘not fundamental option’ then.
We mentioned tech – tech under the sheet metal is a band of air-suspension combined with all-wheel steering and electric anti-roll bars to keep the large SUV in check when the corners are presented. You can just feel the weight but much less so than you’d expect from a 2-tonSUV. Driving modes are a familiar specification at this level, the VW easily switching between these via a rotary selector below the leather-wrapped gear shifter. Permanent all-wheel drive means there is loads of grip before the front end trails off but barring a non-sporty steering feel, its dynamic competence is very good with only hard direction changes unleashing the electronic aids employed to keep the rubber where it should be. All Wheel Drive also endows the SUV with seamlessly employed off-road capability, part and parcel of that SUV identification. Switch the terrain selector switch and the Touareg is primed for whatever you throw at it, in our case a beach load of soft sandy inclines that required strong and linear power delivery and torque distribution to be transferring to the right wheels which changed often as we navigated up and around dune after dune. The wheels spin frantically for a moment before finding traction, something you have to get used to. The air suspension system means you can raise the ride height and therefore breakover angle and wading depth too.
When the off-road going is done, the Touareg slinks into its lowest setting again, improving its slipperiness as it settles back to its distance devouring antics.
R1 527 100 for the Touareg with all the bells and whistles is a lot of money but it’s right in the sweet spot of its rivals. At this stage, you get the Luxury trim and the Executive trim but as for drivetrains and transmissions – it is what it is. This is where its rivals will really make ground offering a mix of drivetrains including plug-in hybrid versions. There is talk of petrol-powered versions arriving and when they do, we'll tell you all about it.
There’s never been a more competent Touareg. It plays the role of executive family SUV with such mighty competence that it really should be considered over most of its more ostentatious rivals.
It is pricey but it’s every bit the car for the money. It’s the smart money – but not the popular money. Touareg sales remain relatively low because of some strange aversion to VWs at this price? Silly really – this is the one you should have or at the very least have it very high on your considerations list.
The Volkswagen Touareg does a stellar job of combining real world practicality and intelligence with competent all-round performance.