The performance car world is changing, and so is Volkswagen R, as evidenced by the arrival of the 2021 Volkswagen Touareg R, the first-ever plug-in hybrid model to come from the German carmaker’s performance sub-brand.
The new range-topping Touareg indirectly replaces the short-lived Touareg V8 TDI, becoming the first model in Volkswagen’s flagship SUV line-up to wear the R badge since the memorable twin-turbocharged 5.0-litre V10 diesel-powered Touareg R50 launched in 2007 with 258kW and a thumping 850Nm of torque.
It’s not an exclusive Volkswagen R development, though.
The new Touareg R’s petrol-electric driveline is the same as that used by a number of upmarket Volkswagen Group models, including the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, Audi Q7 TFSI e quattro and Bentley Bentayga Hybrid, albeit with some small tweaks aimed at providing it with its own unique character.
Power comes from a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine developing 250kW and 450Nm of torque, as well as an electric motor housed within the gearbox with 100kW and 400Nm. Together, they provide a total system output of 340kW and a generous 700Nm.
This is 60kW and 100Nm more torque than a less heavily tuned version of the same driveline develops in the altogether milder Touareg eHybrid, which is planned to see Australian deliveries at the same time as the Touareg R in 2021.
Drive is sent through a standard eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox with Tiptronic manual shifting capability via steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and a Torsen torque-sensing four-wheel-drive system engineered by Audi. The latter is capable of transferring up to 70 per cent of drive to the front wheels or, alternatively, 80 per cent to the rear wheels depending on prevailing traction.
Energy for the electric motor is supplied by a 14.3kWh lithium-ion battery mounted beneath the boot floor. It can be charged either on the run using the combustion engine as a generator or via plug-in means at up to 7.2kW on an AC wallbox, at which Volkswagen claims a charge time of 2.5 hours.
Economy figures are yet to be announced, though Volkswagen points to an electric range of up to 47km on the WLTP test cycle. The top speed in electric mode, meanwhile, is limited to 135km/h.
The Touareg R gets a sportier appearance than other standard third-generation Touareg models. Among its unique styling touches is a new front bumper, a blackened grille with R logo, blackened front air ducts, black exterior mirror housings, blackened sills and darkened tail-lamp lenses and trapezoidal-shaped chromed tailpipes. The 20-inch wheels with 285/45-profile tyres are standard.
In its default electric mode, it is supremely quiet and smooth in operation with strong step-off qualities thanks to the instant torque delivered by its electric motor. While the battery capacity is not sufficient to provide it with truly extended zero-emissions compatibility, it has been conceived to cover most commutes without the need to rely on the combustion engine.
According to Volkswagen research, 99 per cent of all journeys in Germany are under 100km, and 95 per cent under 50km.
The electric motor provides all the urgency you’re ever likely to seek in urban driving. When you do go searching for added performance with a probing nudge of the accelerator on more open roads, there is just enough start-up vibration and noise from the petrol engine for you to notice it. However, the acceleration remains quite linear in character without any significant interruption in progress as the two drive sources are combined.
There is no shortage of driving modes, with the driver able to choose between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport, Individual, Off-road and Snow beyond the Electric and Hybrid modes. Keen observers will note that it does without the Race mode of other R models, and there’s a good reason why.
Switching through the various driving modes on a variety of different roads, it doesn’t take long to conclude the emphasis here is less on all-out performance than overall comfort and refinement. At typical motorway speeds, the Touareg R feels quite responsive with strong torque qualities that give it outstanding flexibility and the sort of in-gear acceleration belying its 2533kg kerb weight. But it is no fire-breathing powerhouse, and its exhaust note is extremely subdued by Volkswagen R’s usual standards.
This might confuse some prospective buyers expecting something more in keeping with the earlier Touareg R50, which was a true brute. But where sales are concerned, I’m sure the Touareg R will find greater appeal as it is than if it were positioned as a more hardened offering against models from Audi Sport, BMW M and Mercedes-AMG.
Its balance between comfort, refinement and performance is just about spot on, making for relaxed progress, hushed cruising qualities, and a good turn of speed when you go looking for it in Hybrid mode.
Volkswagen claims 0–100km/h in 5.1sec and a top speed limited to 250km/h in Hybrid mode. This compares to the respective 5.0sec and 253km/h of the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, which boasts the same driveline and combined system output at 340kW and 700Nm.
When the battery charge runs low, it is possible to charge it to a preset level by using the combustion engine as a generator in Eco mode. At the same time, the energy regeneration is also increased, providing an added braking effect when you step off the accelerator along with the usual coasting function, which idles the engine on periods of trailing throttle.
Despite the significant addition in weight brought on by the adoption of its hybrid drivetrain, the Touareg R is suitably agile in Sport mode. However, its dynamic properties are far from the whip-crack standard the R in its name implies in other Volkswagen model ranges.
The steering is nicely weighted and quite responsive off dead centre, while the standard air suspension provides the new SUV with well-controlled body movement during all-out cornering. The ride ranges from cosseting in Comfort mode to firm but far from harsh in Sport mode.
To enable it to maintain a level of off-road prowess and 3.5-tonne towing capacity comparable to its petrol and diesel siblings, the new range-topping plug-in hybrid Touareg retains a Torsen four-wheel-drive system. Also, it can be ordered with an optional Off-Road Package consisting of improved underbody protection and added traction-control functions with gravel, mud and sand settings.
Inside, the Touareg’s pleasingly functional cabin is virtually unchanged by the adoption of the hybrid drivetrain. Its highlights include a 12.3-inch digital cockpit instrument display and 15.0-inch infotainment system, which together form part of what Volkswagen calls its Innovision Cockpit.
The only telltale changes are new graphics for the digital instruments indicating electric range and the battery’s state of charge. Plus, additional buttons within the centre console allow you to switch between the various driving modes without resorting to the alternative commands within the infotainment system.
The packaging of the battery at the rear reduces the boot capacity by 70L over more conventionally propelled third-generation Touareg models. However, the floor remains flat, and at 610L it is reasonably commodious (EU figures quotes, Australian volumes may vary).
By allowing its usual focus on performance to take a back seat to factors such as comfort and refinement, Volkswagen R has succeeded in boosting the appeal of the Touareg.
The multi-faceted character delivered by the petrol-electric drivetrain of the Touareg R makes it quite compelling to drive. That's the case whether silently in Electric mode around the city, in Hybrid mode out on the open road, or climbing hills in Off-road mode away from the bitumen.
You’ll need easy access to a charger to take full advantage of its zero-emissions properties, but otherwise it is a very straightforward car to drive despite its myriad driving modes. What it lacks in pure performance character, it more than makes up for in the breadth of its abilities.
But it enters a super-competitive luxury SUV class brimming with newly introduced plug-in hybrid offerings, including the Audi Q7 TSI e quattro, BMW X5 xDrive45e and Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid.
Pricing will be critical to its sales prospects here in Australia, and right now Volkswagen is yet to reveal just where it will be positioned. Our guess is somewhere around $130,000, with the previous Touareg R-Line at $116,300, and the R50 before it bowing out at $134,990 before on-roads.