Volkswagen Touareg 2021 v8 tdi r-line
launch-review

2021 Volkswagen Touareg 310TDI V8 review: Australian first drive

With 310kW and 900Nm, does this V8-powered Touareg justify the big asking price?
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How do you make a good thing better? You slap a powerful V8 in it, of course.

The 2021 Volkswagen Touareg range is now headlined by the V8 TDI R-Line, which along with plenty of technology inside and out, has a very special powertrain.

Joined by new 170TDI and 210TDI Euro 6-compliant V6 diesel engines, they replace the previous 190TDI engine offering, which is only compliant with Euro 5 emissions, and was used to hasten the new Touareg’s arrival in Australia.

We antipodeans seem to have a healthy appetite for big, powerful, expensive and luxury SUVs, and this Touareg is looking to offer another option in this space, which feels both expensive and good value at the same time. Let me explain.

At $136,490 before on-road costs, this is no doubt an expensive outlier in the broad Volkswagen range. It’s by far the most you can currently spend on a Volkswagen in Australia, although it undercuts other vehicles with similar underbonnet hardware.

2021 Volkswagen Touareg V8 310TDI R-Line
Engine4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8 diesel
Power and torque310kW at 4250rpm, 900Nm at 1750–2750rpm
Transmission8-speed torque-converter ZF automatic
Drive typePermanent all-wheel drive
Tare weight2354kg
Fuel consumption, claimed7.5L/100km
Fuel use on test9.6L/100km
Boot size (five-seat/two-seat)810L/1800L
ANCAP safety rating (year)Five stars, 2018
Warranty (years/km)Five years/unlimited kilometres
Main competitorsAudi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE
Price as tested (ex on-road costs)$139,490

The V8 310TDI R-Line sits $28,000 higher than a V6-powered Touareg 210TDI R-Line ($108,490); however, the comparison isn’t so clean-cut.

Our tester gets a full suite of standard gear, which other models have as options. On top of 21-inch alloy wheels and tyre-pressure monitoring, a Sound and Comfort package is a big ticket – standard on the V8 but optional on the 210TDI R-Line. This includes things like Area View 360-degree camera, Dynaudio sound system, four-zone climate control, rear heated outboard seats, manoeuvre braking and parking assistance.

There’s another piece of V8-exclusive technology called Night Vision. It uses the big digital instrument cluster to display an infrared camera, which can help pick out low-visibility dangers in the dark.

Power is, naturally, well taken care of. Although both new and old V6 diesel engines are certainly no slouches, a 4.0-litre diesel V8 is fed by twin (sequential) turbochargers and makes 310kW at 4250rpm and 900Nm at 1750–2750rpm. It switches from four-valve operation to three valves, cancelling out an exhaust valve at low-RPM operation to improve initial torque development.

That means only one variable-geometry turbocharger is fed exhaust gasses up until 2200rpm. From there, the lazy exhaust valves start working and become fully operational at 2700rpm, feeding a full supply of air to both turbochargers via individual intercoolers.

The same V8 twin-turbo diesel is also used in the Bentley Bentayga and Audi’s SQ7 and SQ8. Although, other iterations of this engine also use a 48-volt electric supercharger, which is another method of improving low-rev response in lieu of sequential turbos and three-valve operation. This gives an edge of 10 extra kilowatts up top, along with an earlier (1000rpm) arrival of 900Nm.

Because only 310kW and 900Nm at 1750rpm isn’t good enough… Said no-one ever. This engine is awesome, and a reminder that big powerful engines go a long way to turn otherwise good cars into something special.

This engine might not give the kind of V8 experience that some crave. Although a hearty dosage of thrust and power is in undoubtedly plentiful supply, there isn’t much in the way of rumble, roar or so-called ‘muscle’ that often comes with a powerful V8.

Instead, it’s impeccably refined and quiet. It kicks over and idles with practically zero vibrations, and is barely audible from inside. Through general driving, there is only a muted whooshing that you can hear.

Typical driving around town gives you the feeling that the V8 Touareg is something like an iceberg. Small throttle inputs yield a lazy but instantaneous and assertive push forward, and you know that you’re only experiencing a fraction of what is available. Underneath the surface, there is so much more.

And when put to task, the engine transforms from an effortless cruiser into hard accelerator: it sits back on the haunches slightly, and thrusts ahead aggressively as those two turbochargers start piling in compressed air. But it’s not peaky or surging as the power develops. Instead, those 310kW come on with a smooth linearity.

Despite reading those daunting figures of 900Nm and 310kW, the straight-line performance of this 2354kg rig still surprises and delights. After all, Volkswagen claims this V8 Touareg can do the 0–100km/h dash in 4.9 seconds, only 0.1sec behind a Golf R. Fast? Yep.

And even when the throttle is pinned, even though the dashboard stability-control light flickers as four tyres scrabble to keep traction, the refinement remains impressive. It’s noticeably quiet, silky smooth and the antithesis of raucous.

The transmission, a well-known ZF eight-speed automatic with torque converter, isn’t befuddled by the power it’s transmitting. It’s smooth and deliberate, but not fast-shifting.

With an active centre differential, the Touareg will move torque delivery between front and rear wheels to aid traction. This is further augmented by the driving modes on offer via the Land Rover-style turn dial near the gearstick, which also has a programmable Individual mode.

The onslaught of features doesn’t stop at the driveline, with Volkswagen leaving seemingly nothing on the table with this top-spec Touareg. Air suspension can be raised for improved off-road ground clearance, or lowered for highway driving and improved access.

All-wheel steering lends a sense of stability to the Touareg at high speeds, and also cinches up the turning circle: 11.19m, impressive from a 2899mm wheelbase.

There is a slight, slight busy feeling to the Touareg’s ride at low speeds on rough patches of road around town. It’s perhaps a combination of more engine weight over the nose to manage, along with larger-diameter 21-inch wheels. But, this critique is bordering on nitpicking as well. Perhaps only because the ride is so smooth and controlled at speed, do you notice some suspension movements translating into the cabin when you’re at low speeds.

On the highway and along fast and sweeping country roads, the Touareg excels. It’s stable, smooth and controlled, and offers every bit of a luxury experience from behind the wheel. Comfort mode yields some added waftiness to the ride, while Sport does tighten things up noticeably. Combine that with an exceedingly quiet and powerful drivetrain, along with acres of digital display ahead of you, and the V8 Touareg is impressive despite the hefty asking price.

Active swaybars, powered by the 48-volt mild hybrid system, also play a big part in the combination of comfort and control that the Touareg has. The 48-volt system also helps with smooth stop-start performance, but doesn't seem to switch the engine off during occasional (or exceedingly rare in our test) throttle-off coasting.

In some ways, the top-spec Touareg is a modest luxury and performance option, with no big badging or exterior garishness. Wolfsburg’s best in sheep’s clothing, I guess you can say. Especially when you compare it to what Volkswagen does with the badged-and-stickered V6-powered Amarok, this is a much more humble rendition of a high-power model.

Aside from subtle V8 badging on the side and bigger wheels, you would need to be a bit of a trainspotter to know this is a top-spec Touareg, which is worth a pretty, pretty penny. And, a real adversary at the traffic lights.

Our test used on average 9.6 litres per 100km. It’s capable of doing 7s on the highway, and I’d expect a number somewhere in the 10s for heavy town usage. This compares to Volkswagen’s claim of 7.5L/100km combined and 8.7L/100km around town.

The interior experience is dominated by the sheer size of digital displays on offer: 15.0 inches in the main display, and 12.3 inches in front of the driver. The system presents well, and proved to be easy to navigate and use during our testing. It’s not the same onslaught of data and features like Mercedes’s MBUX system, but you could argue whether you do or don’t need all of those complex features.

It makes a big first impression, sure. But it also works well as a purveyor of information and entertainment while on the move.

In terms of boxes ticked: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (which does its best to fill the massive screen), native navigation, but no digital radio seems conspicuous. There’s a wireless charging pad, 12V outlet and USB-C port under a handy lidded compartment below the infotainment display, and cupholders alongside the fairway-driver-shaped gearshifter.

In front of the driver, a big digital driver’s display is crisp and adjustable, with that wowing ability to run a full-sized map when you want. However, using smartphone mirroring does negate this ability.

While the centre console looks big (and gives you an idea of the width available inside the Touareg), its flocked storage space is shallow. There’s a USB point here as well, in case you don't have a USB-C cable.

Otherwise, interior comfort is first-rate. Front seats heat, cool, massage, and have memory functions, although the ‘Savona’ leather doesn’t look or feel as sumptuous as other large luxury SUVs.

In the second row, sunshade blinds will appeal to those with kids, as will the ample space on offer. Footwells are deep and wide, with only the middle passenger getting short-changed via the big transmission tunnel. ISOFIX and top tether points allow seat fitment, and air vents in the console, floor and B-pillars ensure comfort on hot and cold days.

Special mention goes to the child locks for each rear door located on the driver’s armrest. It’s a little bit of additional versatility to have if you’ve got kids on one side and big kids on the other.

The ($3000) optional sunroof is big and airy, extending to the second-row occupants. And, of course, the trick adjustable mood lighting throughout the interior is impressive, and will wow your passengers at night.

Another good point in the dark are the headlights. They’re a Matrix-LED headlight, and do all manner of tricks to keep your high beams on without dazzling other road users. But, most importantly, they pack a good punch of bright, even light, with a wide and long throw down the road.

The boot, measuring in at 810L, is big and an advantage you get when you stick to only five seats and two rows. There is a flat load lip, 12V outlet, levers for dropping the second row (which makes for 1800L), and buttons for dropping the rear suspension down.

Underneath the floor you’ll find an inflatable space-saving spare wheel.

While we didn’t assess off-road ability during this launch review, the Touareg Launch Edition did impress a while ago on some soft sand. Air suspension goes up by 75mm, leaving good ground clearance. And with off-road driving modes available, the Touareg is certainly able to get you into plenty of trouble off-road. Although, the 21-inch wheels of this V8 will be your limiting factor.

We also didn’t test out any towing capability of the Touareg because it didn’t have a towbar fitted. And with 900Nm at the ready, it shapes up to be the best thing this side of a Duramax for hauling something heavy… Until you look at the specs sheet.

Although a 3500kg braked towing capacity comes as no surprise for a vehicle of this size, the towing ability is hampered by a low 240kg towball downforce capacity. This looks to be limited by the 1510kg rear axle capacity, accounting for only (just over) half of the 3000kg GVM.

Typically, there is a 10 per cent rule of thumb for towball mass against a trailer's weight, so a 3.5-tonne trailer will have around 350kg on the ball. Sure, you might be able to load your trailer lighter over the nose to combat this, but that’s not a good idea and could lead to serious instability when moving.

Having to account for any towball mass, second-row passengers and whatever else you throw in the boot, the rear end needs to accommodate for more weight than the front.

And because the towball mass needs to be included in your 646kg payload, the numbers don’t stack up for pulling a heavy trailer. Which is unfortunate, because the driveline would undoubtedly be an all-star towing combination.

Along with Volkswagen's five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty, servicing is covered by three- and five-year servicing plans, priced at $1350 and $2500 respectively.

It’s strange to call a Volkswagen worth as much as seven base-specification Polos something of a value buy. But in a way, it’s true. Getting into something with a similar engine will cost either $166,500 (Audi SQ8), $161,500 (Audi SQ7) or $348,300 (Bentley Bentayga).

Volkswagen rolls a lot of standard equipment into this Touareg, including big-ticket stuff like four-wheel steering and active swaybars. There’s plenty of comfort and tech inside, as well.

However, 130 gorillas opens the floor up to plenty of competition, including things like the Q7 TDI S-Line, Toyota LandCruiser Sahara or even Lexus LX450d.

While none can match the stonking power plant that this Volkswagen hides under sheet metal, they have advantages of their own. And importantly for some buyers, they will be better options for towing and squeezing in seven occupants from time to time.

While it might not have the outright cylinder count of the V10 Touaregs and V12 Q7s of years gone by, the sheer numbers of this V8 Touareg mean it's destined to have a future cult following. And for those who opt to buy one new, they'll have something both understated and very special – a good value and very expensive Volkswagen.