Premium. Luxury. High end. While folks love to debate and discuss what is and what isn’t, these terms are ultimately subjective. A sliding scale of definition that means different things to different people.
Every now and then, a new car comes along and reignites that conversation. One such vehicle is this, the new 2019 Volkswagen Touareg in Launch Edition guise.
This is a specced-up variant of the range, which is your only option into new Touareg ownership for the moment. As time goes on, you’ll have additional choices above and below this pricepoint.
The Touareg Launch Edition has a list price starting from $89,990, which is a noticeable bump upwards from the previous $68,990 (150TDI) to $116,300 (V8 TDI R-Line) pricing range. It is, however, loaded up with a fair amount of goodies, both inside and under the skin.
Our test vehicle has another 10 large on top of that price in options: an Innovision infotainment system ($8000) and fetching Reef Blue paint ($2000) puts this test vehicle at $10 shy of six figures before on-roads. You can also opt for Deep Black and Silicone Grey on top of the standard Pure White.
Launch Edition specification pulls few punches on the interior stakes. The 18-way adjustable Savona leather seats, which Volkswagen calls ‘ergoComfort’, look and feel quality. They’re heated and ventilated, as well as sporting a massage function. And in true luxury aspiration, there’s a smattering of piping, perforations, and patterns all over them.
More importantly, my experience is that you can dial your driving position into the Touareg accurately and easily using the electric controls on the seat and steering column. And after a few hours behind the tiller, I was feeling relaxed and happy.
The centre console sits high against your thigh sporting a nicely laid out assortment of controls, and it’s not overdone. Less is more these days in terms of interior design, and the Touareg benefits from feeling relatively pared back. The big knurled rolling volume knob is within easy reach, and the gearstick makes a nice first impression. There are two additional dials; one for your air suspension, and one for your driving modes.
No doubt, the first thing that grabs your attention with this Touareg is the vast amount of touchscreen that inhabits the dashboard. It’s called Innovision, and will empty your wallet (or burden your lease) of $8000. No small amount of money, but we’re not talking about some paltry little trip computer here: 15 inches is the measurement of the centre display, and 12.3 inches of TFT display sits in front of the driver.
It looks impressive, but is also great to use. It’s fast to respond, sensing your incoming digits and revealing menu choices. Your swipes, prods and pinches are all seamless, working as satisfyingly as a really, really big smartphone. There’s native navigation (which looks great full-screen in front of the driver), as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It’s a shame the sheer size of the screen leaves Android Auto looking a little pixelated stretched across such huge digital acreage.
Another part of the Innovision package is the trick ambient lighting, which encompasses the whole dashboard, door and infotainment with 30 different options of colour. It sounds gimmicky, but in practice is quite impressive, if only at night time.
There are some shades of cheaper materials and models around the place inside: the steering wheel (although great) and hard plastics of the transmission tunnel are the two most noticeable. Sharing parts across a range of vehicles is common practice with just about every other manufacturer out there, but the fact that there are some small reminders and references to Amaroks, Golfs and Polos around the place could be seen as a deterrent to some for this hundred-thousand-dollar Volkswagen.
Looking good and feeling suave is great, but this Touareg is likely going to land a job hauling family, friends and chattels around town. While it looks big, the centre console doesn’t have stacks of storage; a lot of it seems to be taken up by the air-conditioning ducting and controls for the second row. There’s a big space underneath the huge screen that is good for phones and wallets. All of that piano black could get annoying to keep grubby fingerprints off, however.
The second row is impressive in terms of space and comfort. The raking roof line does eat into a little bit of rearward visibility and headroom, but only in comparison to other larger, high-riding SUVs. It feels more like a big station wagon, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. HEVAC controls look good and operate well, and budding parents will like the built-in window shades. Although, I have to say, I’d prefer them to have a tighter weave for blocking more sun.
There’s no third row available in the Touareg, which is strange considering the smaller and cheaper Tiguan Allspace can accommodate more souls aboard. This will matter to some buyers who want or need that third row, but for those who can live without it you do get benefits: the second row isn’t compromised for space or ergonomics, and the flat-floored boot is big – 810L. Drop the second row and you’ve got 1800L, or enough room to roll out a swag.
That flat floor got me assuming that there was a full-size spare wheel hiding underneath, but I was disappointed. Having a proper spare is great for those looking to road-trip, dabble in a bit of off-roading, or just hold onto that security blanket of self-dependability. But no. Under the false floor of the boot sits a small air compressor and space-saver spare wheel, which needs to be filled before fitting up. It’s only a temporary jigger, which could be anywhere from a minor to major annoyance depending on your circumstances.
The engine is a familiar suspect: VAG’s 3.0-litre diesel single-turbo V6. It has been around in various tunes and guises for many years, first appearing under the bonnet of an Audi A8 back in 2004. It’s now sporting 190kW at 4000rpm and 600Nm at 2250rpm running through an eight-speed ZF gearbox. It’s a similar drivetrain to the Volkswagen V6 Amarok.
The clatter of the diesel is heavily muffled, leaving it feeling refined in the cabin at idle. It’s got that typical whooshing sound when the right boot sinks, giving a satisfying surge of progress as that turbocharger gets to work. While peak torque is listed only at one point (instead of within a range of revs), the seat-of-the-pants dynamometer tells me it’s got plenty to give either side of the 2250rpm mark. You’re not left wanting for more, and the V6 does it with nice refinement and flexibility.
Volkswagen's claimed economy for the Touareg is 7.4 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. On a mixture of just about everything (including a day on the beach), we didn't go over 8.0L/100km. I reckon that's pretty good.
The ride is equally impressive, as well. This Launch Edition specification gets airbag suspension and adaptive dampers, along with active anti-roll bars that combine to make an impressively smooth, absorbing and yet controlled ride. My favourite setting by far was Comfort mode, which yields floaty bump absorption, while retaining body control and not impacting steering.
In terms of this $99,990 Touareg bringing the fight to the premium brands, the ride is a compelling proponent in the aye category. It’s quiet, smooth and forgiving, without losing out steering response or stability. Matrix LED headlights, which are impressive in operation and their subtle features, also help out. When you turn on the headlights, they turn on and fill inwards, with each of the 128 independently controlled diodes per cluster flexing its muscles.
It might not be the ancient desert sands of Morocco, but some local off-road testing took us onto the white, soft silica of Blacksmiths Beach. While the Touareg does not claim or aspire to be an off-road 4WD to the likes of a Land Rover or Toyota, dial back your expectations a little from rock-hopping and mud-plugging, and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised with its capability.
Remember that close connection to the Amarok under the skin, which has proven to be a decently capable off-roader without a transfer case? This Touareg is a similar proposition: there’s an off-road mode that helps dial torque into the right wheels and control wanton wheelspin on challenging surfaces.
Controllable air suspension lets you bring the belly up off the ground for more ground clearance, up 25mm for basic off-roading and 70mm for shorter, speed-controlled periods. While the normal ground clearance on airbags is 188mm, going up to around 250mm of clearance underneath is a big number, and plenty for what the Touareg is going to be doing.
The adjustable air suspension works on the flipside, too. Drop it down 40mm, making it a little easier to get gear and people into and out of the Touareg.
On the soft, churned-up sand, the Touareg was impressive. We aired the 285/45R20 rubber down to 20psi, and the Volksy had enough clearance and grunt to keep moving through some pretty challenging spots. We selected off-road mode (there’s also a snow mode for the 0.2 per cent of Australians that might need that), and it worked well. Those tyres are limited in terms of footprint and flotation, but having 600Nm readily available through eight ratios, we didn’t have any problems.
Well, I lie. I had a bit of trouble taking off once again after stopping, and the tyres dug into the sand instead of clawing up and outwards. No worries, these things happen. Whip out some MAXTRAX, dig them under the tyres, and drive out gently. No problems. While it’s not an all-out 4x4, the Touareg is much more capable off-road than your average all-wheel-drive SUV.
The Touareg has always been a bit of a dark horse when it comes to towing, as well. While everybody is adamant about the LandCruiser being the best for towing big floats and caravans, the big Volkswagen shouldn’t be discounted. It’s got a 3.5-tonne towing capacity, plenty of mid-range torque, and that air suspension pays dividends on sorting out excessive rear-end sag.
The maximum towball mass is a limiting factor, however: 280kg is the limit, which drops down to only 130kg when you have five people aboard. This doesn’t mean towing 3.5 tonnes is impossible, but it does make it very tricky. Generally speaking, a trailer that’s loaded correctly will transmit around 10 per cent of its mass through the towball: 3.5 tonnes converts to 350kg.
Sometimes, you can load your trailer to reduce the weight over the ball, but this comes with the risk of making your trailer unsteady and sway-ready at speed. And, sometimes, your load isn’t adjustable. For heavy trailers, the Touareg loses points as a potential tow rig, and doesn’t really stack up as a true 3.5-tonne candidate.
There’s another question mark over the GVM and GCM of the Touareg, which Volkswagen has omitted from its spec sheets. We’ve asked Volkswagen for the figures, and will update this story when they come through.
Towing will likely not be the main MO for most Touareg buyers, however. It’s a nice-to-have, while the main proponents of a premium people-hauler stack up well. One big part of that is safety, which has been mostly addressed by a five-star ANCAP score. It scored 89 per cent for adults and 88 per cent for child occupants, and has a comprehensive list of modern active-safety systems. It even has an ‘active’ bonnet, which will lift up in a prang to protect pedestrians from hard and sharp objects underneath.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this new Touareg is a fine vehicle, and sporting all of the right characteristics important for its purpose. I’m particularly impressed with the interior and ride, and that good off-road ability is a nice icing on the cake of a well-sorted-overall vehicle.
"Is this worth the money?", I hear you ask. I have grown fond of the Touareg, and can't find anything major to really deduct from an overly positive experience. Those who are looking to spend their hard-earned will make the call on whether it passes muster, and whether that whole debate around brand cachet has merit.
The Touareg range is no stranger to six-figure asking prices over the years, with high-end models asking for that sort of money since 2004. Remember that diesel V10? Competition is both fierce and fresh in the land of large and luxury SUVs, with antagonists like the Volvo XC90, Mercedes GLE, BMW X5 and even Range Rover Sport not terribly far away in terms of price.