The new-generation Volkswagen Touareg has impressed all at CarAdvice who’ve driven it since its international launch in mid-2019. Critically, it’s managed to dispatch both the mainstream Prado and premium German rivals in BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE in comparisons.
Meanwhile, in singular review, both the handsomely loaded Launch Edition and frill-free 190TDI base versions have rated highly on individual merit. Not once yet has the latest Touareg dipped below an ‘outstanding’ 8.3 out of 10 rating.
Enter the 2020 Volkswagen Touareg 190TDI Premium version supplanting the Launch Edition as the flagship version. At $86,790 list – yes, there’s been recent pricing 'creep' – the Premium is just six-grand pricier than the entry 190TDI and, expectedly, it’s loaded with nicer standard equipment in key areas. You can see that 8.3 coming from a country mile, right, to the tune of familiar superlatives?
Well, not necessarily. Our particular Premium test car ‘benefits’ from $29,000 ‘worth’ of pretty much every option available, for a grand total of $115,790 list or north of $124K on the road. And given I personally rated a cleanskin base version highly for not wanting for goodness in kit, I seriously question how much benefit and worth this test subject’s extra investment returns.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is the nicest Touareg money can buy. It’s also properly premium money that, goodness in merit notwithstanding, still wears a mainstream badge on its grille. Further, it's a five-seat-only non-premium $116K list prospect, when an Audi Q7 with slightly more power and seven seats can be had for $107K-ish before on-roads.
It's not unfair to expect, then, that our fully stacked Touareg ought to over-deliver on goodness to somewhat counter for the badge cachet 'hit'. It ought to feel conspicuously $29K better off than run-of-the-mill Touaregs, too. Or else, why bother?
Those options? Silicon Grey metallic paint ($2000) and a panoramic glass roof ($3000) kick things off, but the big ticket items are three bundled packages at a cool $8000 apiece. The R-Line pack brings sportier appearance inside and out, together with a dynamic lift with all-wheel steering and electromechanical active roll-stabilisation smarts.
The Sound and Comfort pack introduces a surround-view camera system and parking assistance, nicer seating with two-row heating, four-zone climate control, and extras such as 14-speaker Dynaudio sound, electric folding mirrors and a 15L upsize for the fuel tank. But it’s really the Innovision kit providing the most conspicuous eye candy upgrades that include a 12.3-inch digital driver’s screen, a massive 15.0-inch high-end infotainment display together with a driver’s head-up system and 30-colour ambient lighting.
The upgrades on test are so comprehensive that, in review here, we can’t simply ignore them and conveniently attempt to assess this particular 190TDI Premium as an $87K prospect sans goodies. Thankfully, it's not too difficult to isolate the key upgrades Premium offers above the base car for that extra six-grand ask. They do impact the fundamental Touareg experience, other extras notwithstanding.
Premium spec includes high-grade Savona leather seat trim, front seat cooling and massage functionality, IQ Matrix LED headlights, air suspension (instead of steel springs) and 20-inch wheels (up from 19s). That’s pretty good value. In isolation, the six-grand splurge upgrading from base to Premium looks like added investment wisely spent.
Whether the Innovision kit’s humongous dual-screen arrangement is worth the eight grand is down to buyer taste. On one hand, the standard semi-digital dash – analogue roundel gauges, high-definition centre screen large enough to display navigation mapping – and Discover Pro 9.2-inch touchscreen are amply upmarket and fully featured. On the other hand, as one colleague aptly put it, “Once you get used to the Innovision screens, you just can’t go back”.
Incredibly slick and mostly intuitive with some acclimatisation, the conjoined 15.0-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch driver’s display is at once one of the best systems out there, yet also far from perfect. The infotainment’s tiling menu is inspired, though the proximity sensor functionality (that can alter the screen display once your hand gets close to the screen) can make inputs misguided and sometimes confusing.
There’s a little too much submenu digging required – for audio tone controls, say – and there’s occasional conflict between Bluetooth and CarPlay functionality. Why is there no DAB+? Why do I have to dig around in the driver’s screen to turn off lane-keeping? And why is the infotainment screen angled away from the front passenger?
It does serve as the fancy centrepiece to what is a fantastic cabin space: it’s at once chunky and airy, solid and satisfying, suitably premium without being garishly so… Provided you dig around and manage to dull down the heavy-handed mood lighting. The Dynaudio system, too, sounds superb once you learn how to negotiate the convoluted controls for signal processing and whatnot.
For all their multi-adjustable heated and cooled fanciness, the front seat shapeliness and leather quality are very good, if not quite outstanding, though on balance the quality and integrity abound to match anything else from Germany. Particularly neat and convenient are the console rotary dials – one for drive modes, the other for various chassis and suspension settings.
Row two is excellent: as roomy as a limousine and brimming with creature comforts, from the level of climate-control adjustment to the roll-away window blinds. But, against, if there’s one compromise in accommodation, it’s that the Touareg is a purely five-seater prospect amongst seven-seater key rivals. That said, as a five-seater, there’s no shortage of utility, its 40:20:40 split-fold seat backs and sliding seat bases allowing ample flexibility, and its rather large 810L boot space converting to a whopping 1800L when you need to shift large objects such as furniture.
The 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6, with its lusty 190kW and 600Nm, remains a huge drawcard for the Touareg experience. Aussies might be drifting away from the oiler format, but amongst six-figure SUVs it remains an impressive unit, utterly smooth and quiet, yet keenly responsive and effortlessly gutsy regardless of how hard or softly you apply the throttle.
Tied to a well-polished eight-speed torque-converter auto and nicely transparent permanent all-wheel-drive system, the powertrain is capable enough to thrust the big SUV to triple figures from a standstill in the mid-sixes – Golf GTI pace – yet remain placid and dignified while returning a combined consumption figure in the sevens during more sedate driving.
There’s no petrol option, but when the diesel on hand is this good…
While we were quite impressed with the pliant yet controlled nature of the base version’s steel-sprung suspension a few months back, the Premium's air design and its calibration really add another dimension or two. Unlike some German rivals, where the adaptive format can tend to exhibit excessive float and disconcerting body ‘wobble’ in more comfort-leaning settings, the Volkswagen application strikes a neat and well-composed balance between strident body control and pliant ride comfort.
The Touareg isn’t sporty in nature, but this is not dull and ponderous big-SUV fare. It feels taut and well connected to the road surface – a kinship of sorts with its technical cousin, the Porsche Cayenne. In fact, without back-to-back comparison with the Stuttgart machine, it’s hard to deduce which might be the nicer, more satisfying driver’s SUV. Those lower-profile 20-inch tyres and R-Line electromechanical anti-roll smarts certainly seem to pay some on-road dividends.
Its ride isn't simply soft, it's well resolved – smothering impacts with excellent wheel control, and settling the chassis nicely at the tail end of speed bumps. The suspension isn’t noisy, and it smooths out surface ripples and isolates the nasties from the occupants impressively. Combine this with the quiet and polite powertrain, and you’re presented with a package that makes grand touring and road tripping as luxurious and upmarket as any premium-badged rival you can name.
It's really that all-round, on-road quality that anchors our affection for the Touareg Premium. R-Line anti-roll smarts apart, it's all standard issue on options required.
Execution in its driver conveniences is good rather than great. The front parking sensors trigger with driveways and other shallow inclines, while the 360-degree sensory system tends to activate in slow-moving traffic annoyingly. Turning off the aggressive lane-keeping smarts also demands digging through submenus in the driver’s screen to the point of distraction, when a short-cut button in the dash fascia would’ve made deactivation much simpler and easier.
Ownership-wise, the Volkswagen is covered by a more fulsome five-year warranty than the slimmer three years offered by logical premium-badged German alternatives. Servicing is 12-month/15,000km intervals, whichever comes first, and averages out to a considerable $632.60 per service over five years.
Volkswagen’s product strategy is clever enough to make the Touareg an enticing prospect to many buyers. There are just two variants to choose from, both undercutting premium Euro alternatives in the price-value stakes, with enough key upgrades in the high-spec version to make the six-grand step-up look like a bargain. Then it offers optional packaged bundles of opulent features for pretty pennies, if the buyer chooses to splurge on building their ultimate Touareg to taste.
However, throwing every available option at the flagship Premium is diminishing returns at its worst. Stacking $29K of extra stuff doesn’t return anything like $29K of extra goodness. Frankly, the top-spec SUV is such a well-rounded and compelling prospect as an $87K cleanskin, we wonder why you'd bother with any options at all.