Touareg discovers its own identity
Motor News went for an exclusive drive in the third-generation Volkswagen Touareg
It’s either a poor man’s Porsche Cayenne or a rich man’s Volkswagen, or both at the same time.
There are so many things the Touareg does immensely well, but with higher pricing tipped for the next generation that is due in SA in the third quarter of 2018, we wonder whether many people will see the diesel-damaged brand through the premium filter Volkswagen itself does.
It has high levels of tech and equipment and breakthroughs inside and out. So far, so good.
In its third iteration, the Touareg has become its own man. Gone are the Porsche Cayenne doors, replaced by its own doors and carrying over into its own sense of style. Love it or be indifferent to it, but the Touareg finally looks like a machine that’s found a path of its own.
That is odd, because it’s not like that underneath its newly minted unique skin. Beneath all of this sits the exact same chassis as the Porsche Cayenne, with (almost) all of its core powertrain and suspension tricks.
Volkswagen will deliver all of this at a lower price than the Porsche, and it will deliver more again, with its unique Innovision curved multimedia touchscreen dominating the dashboard layout. It’s complicated at first until you get to grips with it. It’s like the first time you used a smartphone or tablet, and it introduces a whole new way to run a multimedia display.
For starters, for the driver, the curved 15-inch screen’s left-hand edge plays host to a vertical column of buttons. But you don’t have to keep them there. If you think you won’t regularly need them, you can swap them out for other preferences.
In some cases, you’ll need to. We tried to find the instrument cluster dimmer switch, which has gone from a dashboard button to deep within the digital curved screen. Using it is a four-touch operation, with a digital slider like that on smartphones. We moved the tile for the dimmer to the fixed-button area to bring it back to two touches.
There are other tricks to it. Swipe one way and you have a home screen page, where you can put any pictures you’d like to upload and choose between digital and analogue clocks.
It works with pinching and spreading fingers, and two and three-finger do different jobs, just like a computer’s track pad.
Unlike its Audi and Porsche siblings, the Touareg’s screen doesn’t give any haptic feedback, but each change has a soft sound to confirm the inputs have been registered. There will be teething frustrations, for sure, but it’s brilliant to use once you’ve got the hang of it.
It’s also less curved than you think it could be. VW designers fiddled with a range of angles before taking a conservative approach with a modest curve. Too big a curve, they say, and it locks out the passenger. Too small a curve and it invites reflections. This way the curve is just big enough to notice arcing back around the driver and it could almost pass for a single, 23-inch screen because it starts where the edge of the eight-inch digital instrument cluster ends.
It’s also cleverer than you give it credit for. Like all modern Volkswagens, the Innovision screen uses proximity sensors to enlarge some tabs as you approach them. Where the Touareg takes it further is by knowing whether it’s the driver’s or the passenger’s fingers that are approaching and highlights the tabs appropriately.
If that’s easy to use (after a familiarity process with only moderate swearing), the rest of the controls are a doddle. The cabin is remarkably free of fixed buttons, with the centre console instead dominated by the driving mode and off-road mode dials and the gear lever.
The steering wheel is familiar fare and driving position is comfortable, with good visibility.
We drove both the 210kW/ 620Nm diesel and the 250kW/ 500Nm petrol Touaregs and found the petrol power to be comfortably the pick of the two (sadly only the diesel is coming to SA).
It will (eventually) score 48V mild-hybrid power on its turbocharged, 3.0l V6 petrol engine and its 3.0l TDI is the same Audi-sourced V6 that has drawn official ire in Germany for continuing to host questionable emissions software in its management computer. VW management assured us those bugs have been worked out, two years after Dieselgate first highlighted them.
China will be the only country to grab a plug-in hybrid version, with 270kW of system power, but it will eventually sneak into other countries, although Volkswagen SA says it has no plans at the moment.
Back to the drive and the issue with the diesel isn’t one of smoothness or consumption, but throttle pickup. Volkswagen’s engineers explained that they knew about the problem, which they insisted related to the exhaust-gas recirculation and other emissions-cleaning technologies taking time to switch off again after the throttle has been closed.
It was something we assumed to be part of the pre-production process, but Volkswagen insisted it was something all diesel buyers (of all brands) would have to grow accustomed to with the new real-world driving rules in Europe.
It’s fine for driving along on highways with a big wave of torque keeping things moving, but it’s more difficult on winding roads, gravel roads, or even in busy city conditions.
Then, when you turn in to a corner and get back on the loud pedal, it remains a quiet pedal for a second before the wave of torque arrives.
The petrol engine doesn’t have that shortcoming. It snaps up the offered big throttle input and turns it into smooth, calm thrust. Immediately. It’s abetted by a smooth transmission and grip that never feels as though it will run out.
The motor is smooth and linear-sounding, too, with more than enough torque to punch the two-tonne Touareg along with surprising enthusiasm. The diesel does, too, and does it even better from lower revs with only a handful more vibrations, but enthusiasm delayed.
The odd thing is that not only will you want to push the Touareg enthusiastically, it acts as though it wants you to. Like the Cayenne, the Touareg takes its array of complicated suspension stuff and turns it into simple, enjoyable, cultured cornering sparkle.
When Volkswagen people tell you it has three-chamber active air suspension, electronically governed active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering, some eyes can glaze over. But tip the big jigger into a corner and stand on the throttle, and your eyes unglaze. It’s so impressive that it makes a big car small, a tight corner loose, a slippery patch grippy and a long road short.
The vehicle is magnificently calm on highways, with scarcely a rustle from the passing wind and hardly a ripple from the suspension or the tyres or the road.
It’s not just that it feels light on its feet (thanks to 120kg that’s not there anymore), but is astonishingly nimble for its size. The rear-wheel steering helps in parking and handling and it all works seamlessly.
There is no situation that we found that turned the Touareg into anything less than a reliable, comfortable and unshakeable companion. Everything that happens beneath the Touareg feels like the Cayenne, but a bit softer and more relaxed.