Is Volkswagen's new Touareg enough to take down the segment's best seller?
The all-new 2019 Volkswagen Touareg is here, joining a fray of new and recently updated competition in that large-SUV segment.
The German manufacturer hasn’t been quiet about the lofty pretensions it has for the new Touareg, which does share underpinnings with many other VAG product: Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q8 and Lamborghini Urus to name a few.
Audi’s Q7 has just been refreshed as well, joined recently by the new Q8. Mercedes’s GLE is practically brand new, and BMW has a new X5 and X7 for buyers to ponder. So, the competition is fresh, tough and bristling with new tech and stylish designs. The big question is, where does this new Touareg fit in? Does it sidle up beside them, or sit a rung or two below?
We must remember this Touareg needs to slot into a broader ecosystem of vehicles. And while they might not be seen as natural, direct competitors, we thought it would be worth sizing up the new Touareg with the number-one best-selling large SUV in Australia.
Toyota’s LandCruiser Prado is a phenomenally good performer, in terms of sales. It sold 2045 units in June 2019, and racked up 18,553 total sales in 2018. It’s been floating around in its current form since November 2017, the latest of a handful of updates the 150 Series Prado has copped since debuting back in 2009.
And let’s be honest, Toyota didn’t exactly throw out the baby with the bathwater on each new model. Much of the base ingredients of the 150 Series Prado are a carryover affair from the 120 Series, or are at least strongly resemblant.
The Touareg we have here is the First Edition specification, the only choice for early adopters to the model at $89,990 before on-road costs. Different options will land either side of this model, with the entry-level 190TDI coming in at a more scant $79,490.
Unlike many other large SUVs, the Touareg is a strict five-seater.
The First Edition isn’t short of trinkets for that money. Underneath the skin, controllable airbag suspension at each corner teams up with adaptive dampers and active anti-roll bars to empower a variety of driving modes, along with adjustable ride heights. Inside, there’s Valcona leather, which is purported to have the edge on Nappa. Front seats have 18-way adjustment, along with heating, cooling and massaging functions.
There’s four-zone climate control inside, and a gamut of active safety technology: front and rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive lane guidance, autonomous emergency braking, park assist and traffic jam assist.
Our test model here has another 10 large in options, taking the asking price to a shade away from six figures. Most of that is the impressive ‘Innovision Cockpit’ option ($8000) that packs in a huge amount of infotainment display on the dashboard, as well as trick ambient lighting throughout the cabin. The other two grand goes to any colour other than white; we’ve got Reef Blue. Your other options are Deep Black and Silicone Grey.
The Prado we have here is the Kakadu specification, which means no stone is unturned. It’s a question of $83,671, with the optional Wildfire red paint adding a $600 bump. The leather interior on our tester is a light and airy beige, with the front row heated and ventilated (the rear outboard seats are heated). Climate control works across three zones, and you can count 17 speakers that make up the JBL audio system. And, of course, don’t forget that refrigerated centre console.
The suspension set-up, which can be seen as either passé or proven, does gain a bit of advancement (and complexity) in the way of airbags replacing the rear coil springs along with Toyota’s own KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) and adaptive dampers. The top specification gets some additional off-road goodies like Multi-Terrain Select and Crawl Control.
While the bones are old, there has been a steady slew of updates bestowed upon the Prado, with the latest in November 2017. The entire range got a facelift, and lots of tech and features of higher specifications trickled down to the lower grades. The main upgrade for this Kakadu is the 360-degree camera and a $1121 reduction in price.
Another thing to note with this Prado is its more svelte rear end, now missing the rear-mounted spare. It has moved to the underslung position, replacing the auxiliary fuel tank. So, your fuel capacity drops down to 87L, but accessing the rear barn door is a bit less cumbersome. For those wanting the full capacity of 150L and are happy with the rear-end spare, you can still choose that as an option.
Inside, the Touareg gets off on the right foot for premium town. The design is clean and quality, with unbroken lines running across the dashboard and linking up vents, centre console and infotainment.
You can’t get around the huge 15.0-inch infotainment display that sits proudly in the middle. It takes up a lot of acreage, frameless and butting up against the additional driver’s display (12.0 inches). Air-conditioning vents are forced to second fiddle below the display, along with a bit of storage and a couple of cup holders.
While we are on the infotainment system, let me mention how nice it is to use. There’s a nice slick responsiveness to the sliding, stabbing and jabbing of fingers, with easy navigation of the system mostly mastered by a bit of mucking around. Android Auto gets stretched and feels pixelated on such a huge screen, but it works well.
Like most of Volkswagen’s other product, there is a fair amount of shared components floating around. The steering wheel is shared with many others, and the hard plastics of the centre console and up against the inboard knees feel decidedly less premium.
The seats are excellent, and exactly what you want for a vehicle that might find itself stuck in traffic or whizzing past the Twelve Apostles. Visibility is good, as well, feeling more like a big station wagon than a large SUV.
Second-row comfort is equally as impressive as the front, scoring well in terms of space, comfort and feel-good factor. Cup holders in the doors are decent, and built-in sunshades and snazzy-looking climate-control buttons help with the premium feel. Head room is a little tight and there is a little bit less visibility, thanks to the slight downward rake in the roof line.
There’s no third row in the Touareg to jump into, but you do get a wide and flat storage area of 810L. Underneath hides a space-saving temporary spare wheel and small air compressor. You can fold down the second row via handles in the boot for 1800L of space, and also lower the ride height for easier loading/unloading.
The LandCruiser Prado has three rows stretched across a cabin that feels upright and airy. It’s not exactly the last word in style and design, but it works, and is arguably more practical than the Touareg due to space and storage. But, you don’t think fondly of it like you do with the Veedub.
Being the highest specification, the Prado’s interior is no doubt comfortable and well appointed, although its general look and ambience do reveal the design vintage. I don’t know about you, but fake wood segments on the steering wheel and plastic-masquerading-as-aluminium are a little off the mark these days.
The 8.0-inch infotainment unit continues the theme of dated design, which feels a bit clunky and lacking intuitiveness. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the Prado, despite some models in the Toyota range set to add that functionality soon.
Even with a big frame in the front, second-row space is excellent. While the Prado has a slightly shorter wheelbase (2790mm v 2899mm), the body is longer (4995mm v 4787mm) and noticeably taller (1880mm v 1686mm). Leg room is good, and your head room is massive. General practicality is helped by the sliding second row, with a 40/20/40 split. So, while the third row is relatively cramped, you can free up enough space for adults in all three rows. For short trips, at least.
With the third row folded flat into the floor and out of the way (electric, by the way), the Prado’s load space is huge. While the listed number is only 620L, I reckon it rates much better than that. Although, the beige plastics and carpet are prone to marking.
What the Prado does do well is comfort. There is a variety of driving modes: Comfort, Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+. The driveline and steering don’t ever resemble anything sporty, but the KDSS system does an admirable job of reducing body roll.
The strength of the Prado is undoubtedly its Comfort and Normal modes, where it does a fantastic job of smoothing out bumps and rough surfaces. Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) suspension means the swaybars are hydraulically linked to the body and variable, and allow the spring rate to be nice and cushy for bump absorption.
If you’re looking for a vehicle to eat up big miles across the country, it would be hard not to be happy with the Prado. That is, until you need to overtake that road train doing 10km/h under the limit along the Nullarbor.
While the 2.8-litre diesel engine does feel sufficient around town, it’s certainly not quick. It makes 130kW at 3400rpm and 450Nm at 1600–2400rpm. In comparison to the Touareg, it’s left feeling properly miserable. It’s most noticeable at highway speeds – a lack of grunt forces the gearbox down a couple of ratios, with the engine gargling mournfully near that 3400rpm redline. You’ll overtake, but it takes a while to overcome the inertia of a 2455kg kerb weight.
On the other hand, Volkswagen’s V6 makes 190kW at 4000rpm and 600Nm at 2250rpm from its 3.0 litres. Naturally, it’s much faster than the Prado: 6.5 seconds is the Touareg’s quoted 0–100km/h dash, versus 17.6 seconds in the Prado. And to boot, the Touareg’s driveline is smoother, more refined, more responsive and quieter.
Fuel economy is a close run between the two. The Touareg has a claimed 7.4 litres per hundred on the combined cycle, while the Prado lists 8 flat. Both returned real-world figures close to their claim; Touareg just under and Prado just over the 8 mark.
And while the Prado is comfortable and refined, the Touareg does it all a bit better. Steering is a bit tighter and noticeably more responsive, and Comfort mode in the Touareg makes it feel particularly salubrious. Sport mode does sharpen things up a bit for dynamic driving, and the Touareg does a good job of hustling its two tonnes' worth of mass around the place.
The Touareg is surprisingly good off-road, as well. Perhaps it shouldn’t be; the old Touareg was always a bit of an off-roading dark horse, and the new one shares an engine and gearbox with the Amarok 4x4 ute. Regardless, it proved to us that it’s much, much more capable than what the average buyer will be looking for. Air suspension gives you around 230mm of ground clearance and 530mm of wading depth.
Our tester did very well on some particularly soft sand. The sumptuous amount of torque no doubt helps, and the off-road mode makes traction control more of a help than a hindrance.
The Prado, on the other hard, hardly needs any introduction for off-roading. While the traditional chassis and mechanicals don’t necessarily offer benefits for on-road driving, there is a definite advantage when you leave the blacktop behind. It’s the same old story of ladder chassis, live rear axle and independent front suspension. The body sits up high on the chassis rails, and your off-road ground clearance is good.
The Prado is more LandCruiser than HiLux in terms of off-road mechanicals, with a permanent 4WD system that includes locking rear and centre differentials. KDSS eliminates the impact of swaybars for off-roading, leaving the suspension feeling more supple and flexy.
Toyota’s traction-control system is one of the best in the business, as well. In Kakadu (and VX) specification, Multi-Terrain Select lets you tailor the traction-control system and throttle further to your terrain of choice, making the Prado a real point-and-shoot affair off-road. The beginners and the less experienced amongst us, in particular, would absolutely appreciate it.
The warranty offering cannot be split between the two, with Toyota and Volkswagen both offering five years and unlimited kilometres' worth of coverage. While Volkswagen adds in one year's worth of membership to its roadside assistance program, Toyota lists seven years of 'emergency assistance' covering "expenses related to car hire or towing if required".
Servicing intervals are every six months or 10,000km for the LandCruiser Prado, or every 12 months or 15,000km for the Touareg.
Although it has shorter servicing schedules, the Prado works out to be a little cheaper to keep the service book up to date. Over four years or 80,000km, the total bill works out to be $2604.28. Your first six visits are $240, but the next two bump the total up with $336 and $828.28 in the fourth year.
The Touareg, on the other hand, will cost $2802 over the same time period or 60,000km. The fourth visit is a doozy, with a $1224 price tag.
There’s a lot to like about the Prado. Along with being a proper 4WD with stacks of inherent capability, there are a few core things it does really well. Firstly, it rides quietly, comfortably and painlessly. There’s plenty of comfort and space in the interior, as well, making it an effective family hauler.
And while the Touareg's 3500 kilogram towing capacity is better on paper, it's let down by a meagre 280 kilogram towball mass. That drops to 140kg, when you have five people aboard. The Prado's 3,000kg towing capacity is lower, but doesn't have any
The Prado is let down a bit by its old bones, especially in this comparison. It feels old, which some appreciate, while others cannot help but loathe. That engine is a bit of a sore spot for me, as well. It’s a good enough motor for a $50,000 HiLux or Fortuner, but it feels underdone and underwhelming in this application and at this pricepoint.
The Touareg, on the other hand, really shines from its new, modular bones. It’s refined and svelte on-road, feeling smaller to pilot and look at than most other large SUVs. That high purchase price, which many might struggle to overlook, is offset heartily by the level of inclusions and premium overall feel. The interior is such a strong point, especially in comparison to the LandCruiser Prado. The driveline is smooth and punchy, and all of those active underbody components contribute to a buttery ride over rough surfaces.
While it’s around $6000 more expensive off the bat, not excluding the significant 10-grand bump in options, the Touareg does pack a lot of punch for the money. Beyond the level of inclusions, it is very well made and refined, with a flash interior, great ride, and smooth and eager driveline giving it a premium overall feel.
That being said, the Prado still has its core buyer well catered for. The value proposition improves further down the specification ladder, and off-road capability is still strong without the trick KDSS system. It's the pick for four-wheel drivers by a country mile, although I'd love to see a few more kilowatts under the bonnet and an updated infotainment system.
While the Prado is good, the Touareg is undoubtedly a more compelling and appealing option in almost every way, save for seating seven and serious off-road shenanigans.