The entry-level Volkswagen Touareg packs a lot of value into a solid package. Is it truly premium though?
The 2016 Volkswagen Touareg TDI150 may have one of the most mispronounced and misspelled names on the road (say it with me: twahr-egg), but that isn’t stopping it from being a bit of a quiet achiever.
Even the point that it was named after the nomadic Touareg (or Tuareg) people of North Africa makes a statement about the big VW. It has the capability for conquering all terrain, but is still a bit unsure of its place in the market.
Which begs the question, does it live at the higher end of mainstream brands, or the lower end of the prestige marques?
Regular readers will know I don’t mind some creative licence with words, so I have defined a new way to summarise the Touareg…
The materials, equipment and general manner of the car have it ‘almost’ in line with the frontline premium large SUVs from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but at its sub-$70k price point, it can afford to be a little less ‘prime’.
Premi-ish. Say it a few times and it really works.
That said, the TDI150 is no black-bumpered, steel-wheeled stripper.
Newly designed bi-xenon headlamps with LED running lights have given the six-year old Touareg a more modern look. The full-width chrome grille and lower bar treatment enhance the classy appeal and, even with the standard 18-inch alloy wheels, it is impressive to think this Touareg costs less than a Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.
The rest of the car, including the chrome side strips and rear kickplate, roof rails and LED tail lamps look smart too, particularly in our car’s Canyon Grey metallic ($1,500 option). There are six colours available, all of which suit the Touareg and help the VW match looks with its pricier European friends.
You are reminded though that this is the entry specification when opening the heavy, unpowered tailgate.
There is good space: 580 litres that expands to 1642 litres when folding the 60:40 seats with the neat remote switches. There is also a neat ‘20’ section of the larger seat than can fold like a ski port to allow longer loads (like skis) to fit. Luggage hooks, straps and cubbies are also present, as is a 12-volt power socket.
The parcel tray, however, has the hugely annoying ‘feature’ of a raised rest position, which is great when throwing shopping in, but it stays up when you close the boot – resulting in blocked rearward vision for the driver. I’m sure I can't be the only person who (consistently) forgets to fold this back down…
With the full cargo space available, loading and unloading is easy - although the seats sit a few degrees above ‘flat’, and we found the VW swallowed a pair of outdoor chairs and a table without breaking a sweat. The agave in the photos wouldn’t fit though and had to ride up front.
Folding the seats back up is a considered process. You’ll need two hands, as they are pretty heavy.
The rear bench has comfortable sculpting for the outer seats, as well as good knee and head room. The middle spot should be reserved for the arm-rest, though, as the back of the center console protrudes into the back row, so you’ll find any adult sitting there will have to ‘straddle’ the transmission tunnel. Not recommended for anyone wearing a kilt… although there are air-vents in the center, if you are into that kind of thing…
Up front, the electric and heated leather-appointed seats are very comfortable and offer a slightly ‘sporting’ driving position.
The layout doesn’t feel particularly ‘new’, but everything is there and the ergonomics are very good. Some of the plastics feel a but cheap, the top of the console for instance, but it doesn’t sour the overall experience.
Storage is great, from the dash-top cubby to the big door pockets. We love the piccolo latte drink holder too – as what else could it be?
A highlight is the TFT instrument cluster. The display is clear and switching between modes to show trip data, audio or navigation information is very intuitive.
An eight-inch touch screen infotainment system takes center stage in the middle of the dashboard. It is a bit dated - there are a lot of screens and options to wade through - but it does the job. We will note that the traffic alert list was always empty and the rear-view camera is very low resolution. Plus the eight-speaker stereo sound wasn’t brilliant either.
There is no dedicated USB connection - you have to use the VW adapter lead - and that is a bit clumsy for 2016. We had some connectivity trouble too, the Touareg not always recognising music on the plugged-in iPhone, and sometimes getting confused and dropping the Bluetooth connection as well.
While it might be basic, there is a heap of information available. Not sure about you, but knowing our current altitude, and that 10 of 12 satellites are currently online, is great for distracting small passengers who love something new to watch when on the move.
Plus, being a VAG system, there’s the rocket!
For the uninitiated, the rocket allows you to quickly zoom out from your current position on the map to get a ‘wider view’ of your location. Great when exploring roads less travelled and even better for when the satellite and altitude data gets boring.
Safety is another important consideration for family buyers and, along with a five-star ANCAP rating, the VW has nine airbags, multi-collision brake (which stops the car from continual rolling after a crash) and, of course, the rear-view camera.
There’s no keyless start on the TDI150, and the large flip-key can stick out a bit, but fire up the 150kW/450Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel and, despite a curious ‘fart’ noise as the V6 ticked over, the Touareg idles very smoothly.
On the go, too, it is reasonably quiet and well insulated. Those 150kW don’t make for a punchy performer though. Throttle response feels laggy under 2000 rpm and the V6 can vibrate above 4000rpm. Sit between these though, and the Touareg plugs along quite happily, both in town and on tour.
The stop-start system is quite intrusive at low (parking) speeds and can be a bit annoying. It’s economical though: we recorded 8.1L/100km (VW claim 7.2L/100km combined cycle).
The eight-speed automatic gearbox is very smooth too, and when driven around in a normal day-to-day role, the Touareg is a really pleasant family bus.
Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system can be switched from an ‘on’ to ‘off road’ setting with a single dial on the console. This activates a different ABS program, along with hill descent control and an electronic diff lock. We didn’t get to put the Touareg through its paces off the tarmac, this time around - which is indecently the same amount of off-road time both Touareg owners we spoke to have had.
Even without the air-suspension found on higher grade models, the VW gives a comfortable ride in both urban and highway environments. It exhibited some ‘aftershocks’ as the suspension settled over larger potholes and speedhumps, but was generally very pleasant to drive.
Push the Touareg through tighter bends, though, and you can feel the taller 55-section tyres flexing, giving a less-than pleasant feel. Wet weather also tended to limited the confidence of the TDI150 - we found it would push-understeer when more extreme steering inputs were applied. This suggests the 255mm wide tyres were forced to the limit of their grip a bit too easily.
This isn’t normal driving behaviour though, and, on its standard urban errands, the big VW felt solid and pleasant to drive in all conditions.
The sales impact of the Touareg becomes apparent when you start looking around. They are everywhere! We even managed three-of-a-kind in a parking bay. I’m no Warney, but I’m pretty sure I’ve won a poker hand with that before.
The 2016 Volkswagen Touareg TDI150 is not a car of superlatives. It’s not the biggest, fastest, quietest or most modern. You don’t get a lot of the nifty gadgets that are even becoming standard fare in some of the higher-grade mainstream cars, but it does have everything you really need.
If you want more, an extra $2000 will get you the Touareg TDI150 Element, which adds different 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, power tailgate, heated steering wheel and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
That is great value in our book, and still positions the Touareg under $70,000 - and the Element at $12,000 less than the 180kW version.
That said, with either variant of the TDI150 you, do get a classy, well-featured, comfortable and economical SUV that does its job well. It’s nice, but it is no BMW. It’s refined, but it's no Mercedes.
It’s not quite premium… the Touareg is premi-ish.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.