2016 VW Touareg V6 TDI Wolfsburg Edition review

$88,990 Mrlp
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Volkswagen gives its mid-spec Touareg V6 TDI the Wolfsburg Edition treatment, but can the updates keep the shine on the ageing large SUV with premium aspirations?

‘An old, beloved jacket, dated yet classy’.

That's how we described the Volkswagen Touareg the last time we reviewed one, the mid-range 180kW V6 TDI version, six months ago.

Face-lifted to its contemporary form in 2015, the current generation’s genes – umm, jacket? – were daisy fresh way back in 2011, so to retain suitable lustre to what is essentially one of Volkswagen’s most mature ranges, the new Wolfsburg Edition arrived late last year to add some spit and polish to the large German family hauler's shine.

The namesake homage to Volkswagen’s hometown is essentially an appearance and equipment spruce, as applied to the aforementioned 180kW version. Priced at $85,490 in a current drive-away offer (until the end of March 2017), adding the Wolfsburg badge to its tailgate, nevertheless, adds $3500.

So what does the Wolfsburg add? The conspicuous changes outside are the black 20-inch ‘Mallory’ style wheels (in lieu of regular ‘Masafi’ 20s) and choice of three colours in Pure White or a pair of cost optional ($1500) metallics in Reef Blue or our test car’s Canyon Grey, all of which are sport-tingled, in a sense, by more or less aping the performance Golf R range colours.

Inside, the regular Comfort seats of the V6 TDI are reimagined in a rather fetching diamond-patterned Nappa leather using what its maker calls Tobacco stitching.

But wait, there’s more, if in less-conspicuous detail. Fitted standard are LED tail-lights, dark-tinted rear and rear-side glass, seat cooling and heating, a heated paddle-shift steering wheel and the Driver Assistance package (otherwise $5400 optional in V6 TDI) which adds radar-based adaptive cruise control, AEB, lane assist and lane departure warning systems, side assist lighting, and lane-keeping assist and proactive occupant protection.

So the extra $3500 Wolfsburg ask certainly starts stacking up, if mostly in sweetener rather than core substance.

We’ve described lesser Touareg as ‘premi-ish’ in reviews past. The general quality, equipment and ambience comes close to matching large SUVs from premium frontliners such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but at a cut price. The extra sweetener in the Wolfsburg Edition, particularly that diamond-look stitching, blurs the gap between mainstream and premium further. Dipping into the mid-$90k mark on road, this VW wants for premium money, if clinging precariously to the lowest rungs of X5 and GLE ranges.

It presents well, feels solid and well built, and the materials inside range from slickly upmarket to utilitarian and, well, Volkswagen-like depending on where you look or what you touch.

The front seats – which offer myriad electric adjustment including lumbar and bolster – balance comfort and support impressively. The slightly sporty, driver-centric ergonomics mean even taller occupants slink into the seats without impinging clarity of outward vision.

It’s not the freshest cabin space, though it is ageing gracefully. But some details let the team down.

There’s no digital radio, no App-Connect smartphone interface for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and you need Volkswagen’s proprietary plug-in cable in order to attach a separate USB cable for basic phone connectivity.

The touchscreen-operated infotainment system, with its decent-sized 8.0-inch screen, has ample features – including a ‘hidden’ fold-down CD/DVD player in the glovebox, but it’s old hat against other European designs in terms of look, functionality and even sound quality. That a good many aspects of the cabin space feel a generation old – the gloss finish wood inlays, say – may deter some prospective buyers shopping for a cutting-edge vibe.

With its sculpted seating, it’s comfy and roomy for large adults in the second-row outboard positions, though there is a pronounced hump in the centre position offering only modest comfort even during short trips.

The inclusion of a central rear air vent, as well as dark-tinted rear glass said to be “65 per cent light absorbing”, makes for favourable accommodation for kids once the mercury rises. On that subject, there are ISOFIX points in the outboard locations as well as three child seat tether points.

Storage? There’s oodles of it, from the dash-top compartment and chill-able (if tiny) glovebox, to bottle holders in the doors and handy front under-seat drawers. On the subject of space, there’s a reasonable 580 litres of it in the luggage area that expands to 1642 litres once the 60:40 split-fold rear seatbacks stowed.

As we’ve found in past review, one annoyance is that the soft rear parcel shelf sticks in the raised position once you’ve dropped the electrically powered tailgate, which obscures rear vision if you’ve forgotten to manually replace it into a flat position.

The cargo floor is set quite high – handy for loading or changing kids’ nappies without breaking your back – though the air suspension does allow variable height adjustment, so there’s a low (147mm) Loading setting to complement its breadth of five settings that tops out at 300mm for one called Extra.

From its default road-going ride height of 197mm the chassis lifts a further 50mm for its preset off-road height. Thus set, there’s a handy 27 degrees of approach and departure angles, 22 degrees of ramp over angle, and its maker claims a decent 580mm of wading capability.

The permanent all-wheel-drive system uses a Torsen centre differential but it’s the clever electronic diff lock (EDL), which mitigates wheelspin via individual wheel braking at up to 40km/h travelling forward or reverse. That said, the drive system’s Off Road setting allows a looser ESP calibration to better balance drive with traction on the loose stuff.

We didn’t put the Touareg’s off-road chops through their paces during this test but we’ve had favourable results in testing past, though the big VW’s ultimate beaten track capabilities are at the mercy of how much purchase its fat 275/45 R20 Bridgestone Dueller H/P tyres, which have a quite shallow on-road treat pattern, can muster.

Is it any surprise, then, that on road cruising is where the Touareg shines? And it does so quite brightly indeed. What was eye-opening, though, was a back-to-back comparison with the new Amarok V6 TDI ute which, given their similarities in 3.0-litre diesel power, eight-speed automatic transmissions and 4Motion type all-wheel drive, surprisingly, couldn’t be more different. It’s a strange comparison, perhaps, if one with no ulterior merit than to demonstrate that, on road, the Touareg does a number of things particularly well.

For one thing, it’s very quiet, be it lack of chatter and general refinement of the engine to sheer lack of road noise from those hefty tyres. The isolation of noise outside the cabin is also impressive.

The Comfort suspension setting is a charm. It’s incredibly supple in ride quality over any surface you throw at it, is pliant and settles quickly over speed bumps, and with very little floatiness and almost no slap or noise. And given that even in this soft mode the suspension always retains ample body control, the chassis feel tied down and the handling remains suitably sharp and consistent, there’s almost no normal driving situation where the need arises to venture into its firmer Sport mode.

Sport damping setting apart, there’s nothing else in the Wolfsburg Edition formula that’ll raise the pulse higher than what you find in the regular V6 TDI versions. And no great revelations from the 180kW/550Nm 3.0-litre oiler or the auto than in other Touareg we tested prior.

If there’s anything to add it’s that, in the presence of Amarok, the extra (30kW) of power is evident, this V6 is quieter and smoother, and the eight-speed fitted to the Touareg – same ’box, different calibration perhaps – is a little crisper and shifts more assertively. (Interestingly, the SUV’s 3500kg braked towing capacity is actually half-a-tonne higher than that of the ute.)

The powertrain is at its happiest on the move, full of gutsy urgency and decent response, the auto self-shifting intuitively keeping the diesel politely on boil near its narrow torque peak – a scant 1750-2250rpm window – without over-revving histrionics. There’s ample energy under foot to get the large SUV moving swifty indeed, though it’s not what you’d call a performance machine: its 7.6sec 0-100km/h claim is handy if hardly hair-raising.

If there’s a chink in the powertrain armour, it’s some lazy response off idle or immediately after a throttle lift. Whether this is caused by turbo lag or perhaps a lazy low-rpm throttle mapping tuned to achieve maximum frugality on a light constant throttle (while cruising), there’s a dull initial take-up that forces you to lift off the loud pedal as rpm rise to prevent the Touareg lunging forward once peak torque arrives. It’s annoying and can be alleviated by tapping the transmission into Sport mode… if you’re happy for diesel consumption to suffer. The positive trade off is that, driven with restraint, its combined consumption claim of 7.4L/100km/h isn't far off the real-world mark.

The eight-speed also has a handy coasting function where the powertrain ‘freewheels in neutral’, so to speak, idling the engine at 800rpm to help reduce consumption. It’s an effective system if one with a key markdown: the Touareg is too eager to engage coasting mode downhill, allowing the SUV’s speed to creep, at times adding 10km/h, before drive re-engages and engine braking takes effect. This means you have to ride the brakes somewhat to maintain speed, which is annoying. If there’s an off switch for the coasting mode, we couldn’t find it after much sub-menu searching...

That said, it’s generally quite user-friendly. The door apertures are large and both rows of seats are at heights that facilitate easy access. From behind the wheel, there’s a good sense of external parameters, so it’s easy to place on the road or to manoeuvre and park in tight spaces, despite a fairly ordinary rear-view camera. Its surprisingly small (11.9m) turning circle is a boon around town, too.

Buyers after a comprehensively equipped, eminently upmarket SUV that’s as gutsy and off-roadable yet quiet and comfortable, will find much to like in the Touareg Wolfsburg Edition, provided premium badge cache, newness and slickness of electronic features aren’t high priorities.

On the flipside, an all-new, third-generation Touareg is predicted to show its predictably sharper and fresher face some time this year and the Wolfsburg effect is merely garnish on an ageing model that still wants for serious money. It’s the kind of money that doesn’t require much of stretch to climb into Audi’s Q7 for instance, an SUV with which the next-generation Touareg will undoubtedly share much of its DNA…