SUVs. I have a genuine belief that their success can be attributed to the blinkered reliance on American ideals, particularly when it comes to motoring trends. The consensus that indicates that these large, roley-poley, high-riding, dreary, middle-class shopping trolleys provide something that a station wagon cannot, is laughable. I, for one, believe that the ‘Utility’ part of SUV is wholly undeserving and blasphemous. I have never liked SUVs. I think that they emphasise the quotidian nature that motoring doesn’t have to be. So, when I heard Dad was looking to buy a new car, you can imagine my confusion when he began talking of Jeep Cherokees and VW Touaregs. The unfortunate thing was however, that as a somewhat young family at the time, the parents still wanted to go on bush-bashing road trips, with a trip to Lake Mungo in NSW’s southwest having been in planning for some time now. So, despite my pleas, a new SUV it was.
The decision to go for the Touareg was put down to nothing more than reliable German engineering and brand loyalty (we had previously bought a 2013 Comfortline Golf and continue to thoroughly enjoy it). Test driving a mid-range Grand Cherokee revealed an inexplicable amount of rattling, squeaking and creaking, overall amounting to an uncomfortable place to be for extended periods of time, especially in the ruggedly tough back seats. The Touareg, on the other hand, seemed to rise to the occasion of the test drive. According to Dad, the 3.0-litre V6 smoothly delivered its diesel power to all four wheels with ‘effortless grace’. The interior was typically German as well. Leather seats mated to a well decorated dashboard with generous room. It was, however, the clever air suspension that sold the deal. Self-leveling and constantly adapting to conditions, it showed its true design merit off road.
Our trip to Lake Mungo was both picturesque and insightful. Educational in the sense that we were walking the same ground that 42,000 years prior had been occupied by the now famous Mungo Man and Mungo Lady. Insightful also in the sense that we learnt the Touareg’s true capabilities. Extremely soft sand couldn’t throw the big European, nor could some very decent inclines. 550Nm of torque more than makes up for a somewhat lacklustre 180kW as you explode towards your destination, rather than sprint. However, as with most diesels in that capacity range, getting past 3000 revs sees the VW tire, clinging to the next whoomph of power coming from its proceeding gear, of which there are a total of eight.
Another aspect of the TDI that was exposed on our trip was the startling absence of a spare wheel. And as far as puncture locations go, the barren ridges of the horizonless sands in the Mungo District are not ideal. Unusually, Wolfsburg's initiative had let us down there. The irony was not lost on us in that the lowered 2012 FG FPV Falcon we passed on our trip back up north did indeed have a spare wheel. However, apart from my witty repartee, the drive was pleasant and uneventful.
So, that was three years ago and since then I’ve received my licence. Initially, I thought Dad was insane giving a 17-year old the keys to a $70,000 car. What I would come to realise however, is that the Touareg is one of the easiest vehicles to drive. This being said, easy is not necessarily good.
The steering is light and lacking in feel. In its Comfort setting the suspension perfectly emulates a 1920s tug boat enduring a tsunami within the Bermuda Triangle. However, this can be fixed by selecting ‘Normal’ or ‘Sport’. The engine runs out of steam after 3000 revs. The traction control is a strict disciplinarian, sticking its nose into anything deemed as irresponsible. Turning it off will alleviate the problem, but in the back of your head you begin to ponder if it has the capacity to put itself on its own roof if you take a corner a bit too quick. Traction control therefore stays on.
Fuel economy, clearly designed for travel on the Autobarn is 8 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and roughly 6L/100km on the highway. For a vehicle of 2.1 tonnes this is fairly impressive. And truthfully, driving around the suburbs or through the city you won’t experience issues with the traction control, the steering won’t pose a problem unless you want that strong road feel and you won’t be accelerating past 3000 revs unless you are deliberately trying to provoke it.
So then, the Touareg has softened me in my thinking towards SUVs. I still believe their purpose falls short of any genuine logic, especially the metropolitan areas in which they mostly occupy. The thing is, learning to drive in this car, as well as my experience with it alone has truly confirmed my beliefs that this vehicle’s form can indeed match its function. The unadorned culture of SUV then, evidently, has a weak link.