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Volkswagen fervently believes its first all-new Touareg in a decade has what it takes to match the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and the related Audi Q7.
That’s a lofty aim for a brand unused to playing in such rarefied air, yet on paper at least the new model has what it takes.
For proof you need look no further than the ‘MLB’ underpinnings, at their core the same as what’s used on said Q7, as well as Bentley’s Bentayga, Porsche’s Cayenne and even Lamborghini’s Urus — all Volkswagen subsidiaries.
At the same time, if we come slightly back to earth, it’s clear also that the new Touareg will make a formidable contender to product such as a top-of-the-range Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland ($82,950), Ford Everest Titanium ($73,990) and Toyota Prado Kakadu ($84,119).
The launch rollout will be staggered, with initial deliveries all called Launch Edition, priced at $89,990 before on-road costs — that’s $4500 up on the old model’s MLP. This means you probably won’t be driving away in one for less than six figures once you’ve paid dealer costs and taxes.
However, based on information from brochures and product planning data, a Land Rover Discovery SD4 HSE optioned-up to match the VW would cost you about $113,000, and an Audi Q7 with the same options around $136,000. The issue really comes down to badge prestige.
Given the decade-long running cycle of its predecessor, it goes without saying that this new Touareg is mostly a ground-up re-do, with the notable exception of an ‘upgraded’ V6 diesel engine.
The new platform has cut around 120kg, getting the mass down to around the two-tonne mark. The suspension is a pretty standard five-link MacPherson strut up front and five-link at the rear, and the disc brakes (six-piston front, single rear) have rotors of 350mm and 330mm respectively.
But interestingly, all Launch Editions come with standard adjustable (oxygen-filled) air suspension that can raise the height of the vehicle at low speeds. This system is linked in with the adaptive dampers that become firmer or softer at the twist of a rotary dial, the latter improving ride comfort and the former handling.
The Australian launch drive comprised about 400km on some of Tasmania’s more challenging blacktop, corrugated gravel, and unseasonably snowy trails. Despite running on 20-inch wheels (shod with 285/45 tyres) the ride comfort is outstandingly good, isolating cabin occupants from all but the worst ruts and potholes.
At the same time, the body control/handling in corners is above average, with the Touareg staying relatively flat compared to any rolly-polly body-on-frame rival. The electro-mechanical steering loads up at higher speeds and is linked into the drive mode systems.
The 4Motion full-time all-wheel drive system can shuffle torque between the axles on demand, but is always at least partially running both. While you go without conventional low-range, you get some clever snow and mud/rock modes that fettle the throttle, gearbox and stability control systems to suit lower-traction surfaces.
Said snow mode worked effectively on this trip, mashing the throttle and taking off more convincingly by relaxing the throttle mapping and ESC actions.
I’ll point you towards a feature from last year, in which we drove Touaregs across parts of the Sahara Desert in Morocco without a whole lot of fuss — conquering sand with the tyres partially deflated, rock hopping along shallow riverbeds, and climbing muddy slopes.
It’s pretty commanding beyond the beaten path, much like a LR Discovery is. Clearance is 215mm, wading depth 500mm, and the maximum climbing gradient is 60 degrees.
One thing that’s merely an update is the engine, the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel making 190kW of peak power at 4000rpm and 600Nm of max torque from 2250rpm. It’s only Euro 5 certified, and is fitted with a DPF. It’s matched to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission sourced from German company ZF.
This is at its core the driveline found in the Amarok V6 workhorse ute, and has Audi origins. It punts the big Touareg to 100km/h from standstill in a Golf GTI-like 6.5 seconds, and manages a claimed combined-cycle fuel figure of 7.4L/100km. On our long stint at the wheel outside of urban surrounds I averaged 7.2L/100km (the extra-urban claim is 6.7L/100km).
There are other engines overseas, such as 170kW and 210kW diesels, a 250kW V6 petrol and a thumping Euro6d-TEMP 4.0-litre turbo-diesel V8, which has been tuned to deliver 310kW of power and 900Nm of torque. They're on the radar but for now it’s just the engine you see here. VW’s product planners gave nothing concrete on timings.
Volkswagen has done a good job keeping engine, noise and vibrations out of the cabin. It’s a surprisingly refined engine, and the gearbox is typically smooth. The big selling point is the Touareg’s 3.5-tonne braked-trailer towing capacity, though in reality its tow ball load limit is 280kg (with two occupants), making the realistic ceiling 2.8t. If you tow a boat, float or caravan it’s a solid bet.
For people planning on doing long regional drives, it’s also worth pointing out that the Launch Edition comes standard with tricky Matrix LED headlights with auto high-beam, that five years ago were the province of more expensive metal like the Audi R8 supercar. It’s cool how technology trickles down…
One rationale for the $90k price is the level of standard driver assistance stuff.
You get AEB with predictive pedestrian and cyclist detection, front- and rear cross traffic alerts for perpendicular bays, auto parking, radar-guided active cruise control, and lane-departure assist that nudges the wheel between road lines. At first this system seems intrusive, but by the end we were letting it nudge us around corners. You can switch it off, if desired.
It wears a five-star ANCAP rating, too.
The cabin comes pretty loaded with features, including four-zone (front and rear rows) climate control with dust and pollen filters, and 'Savona' leather seats that for front occupants have 18-way electric adjustment, heating and ventilation, and eight massage modes operating through 10 pneumatic cushions. The leather rivals Nappa grade.
Infotainment comes as standard via a 9.2-inch touchscreen running integrated sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system comprises a wireless phone charging pad, four USB inputs and Bluetooth, but lacks DAB+. Instead, VW suggests using the Commercial Radio Australia app through the App Connect system.
Below this are hard buttons to control your ventilation. Between the analogue gauges is a 7.0-inch digital info readout.
However, our test car came with the $8000 (including tax) Innovision Package that switches out the 9.2-inch display for a whopping 15.0-inch centre display with touch inputs for ventilation and various configurable widgets, plus full-screen maps that give Teslas a nudge.
This also adds a 12.3-inch TFT digital instrument display ahead of the driver, though the supposedly flush join between these two displays left a little bit to be desired. This pack also adds a windscreen-projecting HUD, stainless steel inserts and 30 ambient cabin light colour choices. It’s all pretty Hollywood, though it’s pricey.
The interior is well-made, with genuine leather, felt and brushed aluminium surfaces, and plenty of space and storage up front. The fascia is very driver-oriented, meaning front passengers don’t have the best view of the screen. We’d suggest many buyers will want a sunroof, too, which also costs $3000 extra.
The back seats offer ample legroom and headroom for my 194cm frame, and occupants get rear USBs, temperature control, pull-up sun-blinds and LED lighting. There’s still no third-row seating option, which we suggest might turn off some prospective buyers after a 5+2 seating solution for school and sport runs. There would be room.
The cargo area is accessed by an electric tailgate and has little levers to drop the back seats down. With the seats in use you have a surface area of 1051mm x 1173mm inclusive of the wheel arches and 810L of cargo space. Drop the back seats and there's 1800L.
People planning on going off-road or towing might be dismayed to learn that there’s only a space-saving temporary spare wheel under the floor, though there's a decent amount of room for an aftermarket wheel setup. Volkswagen Australia says the factory doesn't offer a full-size spare option, so it can't either.
From an ownership perspective, Volkswagen Australia recently lifted its game by introducing a five-year warranty with no distance limit, and 12 months free roadside assist.
There’s no publicly available service pricing yet but the old model’s first three visits (every 12 months/15,000km, which remains the case with this revised engine) cost $515, $739 and $617 apiece. It should be similar.
So there’s a launch review of the new Volkswagen Touareg, which frankly makes for a formidable luxury SUV using tech and underpinnings tricked down from far more expensive offerings.
It’s an intriguing mid-way point between the mainstream and luxury set, and quantifies the value of a premium badge.