The third generation Touareg will be bigger and more stylish when it arrives in SA in the third quarter of 2018.   Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The third generation Touareg will be bigger and more stylish when it arrives in SA in the third quarter of 2018. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

Volkswagen has abandoned the US in favour of China for the new third-generation Touareg, because that’s where the money is.

And you will need money to get into the new Touareg, because it’s a machine-gone-premium, so much so that when it arrives in SA in the third quarter of 2018, it will be considered to be the flagship of the entire Volkswagen range.

A pointer to a hi-tech future with even higher-tech interiors, the giant Touareg adds a sweeping array of safety and driver assistance systems to a chassis borrowed almost completely from the Porsche Cayenne.

It has grown by 77mm in length and it’s 44mm wider, though the weight has come down by 120kg.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Touareg’s development though. Plans for a long-wheelbase, seven-seat version, sitting on the Audi Q7’s mechanical base were thrown out late on the grounds that 5.1m was too long for an SUV. It would have added 100mm to the Touareg’s 2,895mm wheelbase.

IT RUNS A STUNNING ARRAY OF SAFETY SYSTEMS, INCLUDING INFRA-RED THERMAL-IMAGING CAMERAS FOR NIGHT VISION.

Similarly, its development was more expensive than it might have been because it was to be twinned with a second-generation Phaeton limousine, which was cancelled late.

There’s nothing shy about its front end, with its vast grille of chromed horizontal grids. Ripping off its camouflage vinyl has revealed a shape with more integrated curves and swoops than it initially appeared.

The grille dominates its look and is an SUV version of the design that has already been seen on the Arteon (coming to SA in May) and the smaller T-Roc (sadly not coming to SA), with its optional LED headlights seeming to start from its depths.

There’s enough sensor and software work at play in the grille and beneath the car that it can qualify for Level 3 autonomy, if only regional road law allowed it.

It’s a sportier, more organic-looking machine than either of its predecessors, taking the Volkswagen Group’s premium MLB Evo architecture and delivering five seats and a phenomenal 810l of luggage capacity.

The larger rear translates into even more boot space. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The larger rear translates into even more boot space. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

That’s a 110l rise over the second generation, but will shrink down to 650l if customers choose the optional full-size spare tyre (a space saver is standard).

The interior gains the most traction with its new, optional Innovision multimedia screen. The radical, curved 15-inch touchscreen (bigger than an iPad Pro) replaces traditional MMI screens and joins the eight-inch digital instrument cluster to create a 23-inch Innovision digital shield.

It’s also highly customisable, allowing drivers to individually choose which bits and pieces to put into a one-touch vertical row of favourites buttons on one side, cutting four-touch operations down to two. It also takes lessons from smartphones by eradicating back buttons in favour of a home button.

Major other useful options include a sliding rear bench seat with 160mm of travel, a 1,270mm x 825mm panoramic sliding sunroof and 30 colour options for the ambient light inside the cabin.

The first powertrains will be limited to two variants of the 3.0l turbodiesel V6 and a mild-hybrid version of the turbo-fed 3.0l V6 petrol motor, although local engine choices for SA have yet to be confirmed.

The lead diesel will come with 210kW power and 620Nm torque, (170kW for the entry level), while the 48V mild-hybrid petrol V6 boasts the same 250kW power and 500Nm torque the engine produces in other applications.

We drove both a few weeks ago in a Touareg still covered in camouflage and the petrol motor is clearly the pick of the two, with the emissions-cleaning technologies needed to pass the new international Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure testing rules hurting the diesels’ throttle response.

The interior is all new but the big news is the Innovision touchscreen system.   Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The interior is all new but the big news is the Innovision touchscreen system. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

All engines will use all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It is all contained in an advanced chassis with a five-link rear suspension and a four-link front end. The higher-priced models will be available with such tricks as electronically driven antiroll bars, four-wheel steering and active air suspension.

While the first generation Touareg had a low-range box, it’s moved on since then and instead relies on premapped suspension, transmission, steering and skid control packages. They range from push-button Snow to Off-Road Auto, Sand and Gravel settings all the way to Off-Road Expert. There’s also an Off-Road Pack as an option.

The three-chamber active air suspension helps with the off-road work, dropping 50mm in ride height at highway speeds to improve handling and lower fuel consumption, rising 70mm in the car’s off-road mode. It drops further to help people load the luggage area.

It runs a stunning array of safety systems, including infra-red thermal-imaging cameras to deliver night vision, radar and LiDar to give it all the hardware it needs for Level 3 autonomy, although it’s restricted to active cruise control for now.

There’s also autonomous emergency braking 2.0.

The LED matrix headlights can flash to highlight pedestrians or animals to warn the driver of their approach.

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