What Car? says...
Since 2003, the Volkswagen Touareg has offered buyers of luxury SUVs a less blingy alternative to the premium-badged rivals. Or rather it did. That all changed when VW launched the current generation model, which comes with more than a wee splattering of glittery chintz.
Look past the in-your-face chrome grille and there’s a very sensible vehicle underneath, though. For a start it's bigger yet lighter than its predecessor, it comes packed to the roof with tech, and it can tow up to 3500kg.
How is all that possible you might wonder? Well, the Touareg shares a platform with one of our favourite luxury SUVs, the Audi Q7. And as that car also serves as the foundations for the Porsche Cayenne, the Bentley Bentayga and even Lamborghini Urus sports SUV, the Touareg should have the DNA to be a potential world-beater.
Okay, it doesn’t have the same level of performance firepower as the Porsche, Bentley or Lamborghini, but you have a range of engines to choose from: a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel in two states of tune, and a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol. And of course, being a big SUV you get four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox as standard.
But the question is: does the Touareg make the transition from an on-paper marvel to an on or off-road megastar? Keep on reading to find out, because we’ll tell you all about how the Touareg drives, how it looks after passengers and their luggage, how much it costs to buy and run, and whether it’s better at all those things than the competition. Which, by the way, includes the aforementioned Q7 as well as the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE.
If you want to get yourself a good deal on a Touareg, don’t forget to visit our New Car Buying pages.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The entry-point of the range is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 228bhp. It's called the 3.0 TDI 231, and we’d be tempted to stick with it because it offers plenty of low down grunt. You don’t have to thrash the wheel nuts off it to make quick progress or pull your horsebox as a result. The 282bhp 3.0 TDI 286 is quicker if you need more welly; Volkswagen claims a 0-62mph sprint time of 6.1sec, which is perfect for embarrassing hot hatches with your 2.1-tonne SUV.
Both diesels have a slightly coarse note when idling and the mild vibrations through the steering wheel remind you which colour pump they drink from, but once you're on the move, they quieten down nicely. They're very similar to the current Q7 diesels, and more hushed than the four-cylinder diesels in the Volvo XC90.
If diesel isn't your thing then what about the 335bhp 3.0 TSI petrol? It's by far the smoothest engine, staying creamy and quiet all the way from idle to maximum revs. And if you use all the revs it's fast, too — 0-62mph is done in 5.9sec — but it mimics the diesels by pulling strongly from low down as well. Really only the BMW X5 40i petrol betters it for pace among its equivalents.
The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox, meanwhile, slurs smoothly between gears when driven gently, but is a pain at other times. It's so hesitant when pulling off from a standstill and even if you sharpen it up in sport mode there’s a pause before it’ll shuffle down a couple of cogs and give you full acceleration. That's not great when overtaking.
All Touaregs get conventional passive suspension as standard, but it’s way too firm – especially on the stiffer R-Line cars – jostling you over bumps and thumping over potholes. We’d suggest adding the optional air suspension, which also brings four-wheel steering, which we'll discuss in a moment.
The air suspension is a pricey option and won't cure all ills. It still doesn't match the calm suppleness of an X5, GLE or Q7 with air suspension, but it does manage to remove more of the sting from sharper bumps than the standard set-up — oddly, it's especially effective with the bigger wheels fitted to R-Design trim. The trade off is that it’s floatier and allows rather a lot of swaying about on motorways. You can dial some of that out by switching to Sport mode, which ties things down better.
For a big machine the Touareg steers neatly with a better sense of connection between you and the front wheels than an XC90. Add the four-wheel steering, which turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speeds or in the same direction at high speed, and you have a tighter turning circle (only 20cm bigger than a Golf’s) plus greater agility through the bends and more stability at speed.
With four-wheel drive there’s masses of traction and the Touareg grips tenaciously, resists roll relatively well and switches direction with comparative aplomb. That said, you’re still very conscious of its weight during fast direction changes and it’s never what you’d call fun. It’s definitely nimbler than the XC90, but nowhere near as enjoyable as an X5 or Cayenne.
If you really want to push the boat out, you can add the Professional Chassis pack. This brings active roll compensation. Put simply, it automatically adjusts the anti-roll bars in an effort to prevent the Touareg leaning over too much when you’re cornering hard. It’s affective at removing the body roll but doesn’t transform the car into a lithe sports car, and isn't worth the money in our view.