The all-new Touareg marks a turning point for Volkswagen. If ever a VW closed the gap on its premium rivals, this is it.
Of course, the new flagship of the Volkswagen range has been blessed with some of the finest DNA in the automotive world. With cousins as good as the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, how could it fail?
Naturally, VW would prefer it if I didn’t mention its bloodline and just talked about the big new SUV, but you can’t ignore the elephant in the room – and I don’t mean that in a bad way.
The weird thing is that they’ve done such a good job with the Touareg, that for some it will be hard to justify the extra outlay for a Q7 or Cayenne, for instance.
Badge appeal apart, it runs both cars close (at their entry level) and it provides formidable competition for the other big beasts of the SUV world – the BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Range Rover Sport.
Longer, wider and slightly longer than its predecessor, the third generation Touareg cuts a fine figure. Gone is the slightly dumpy look of the Mk2 in favour of a much sharper, better proportioned design.
The first thing you notice is the enormous grille. Widescreen with chrome slats and integrated LEDs, it gives the car immense road presence.
The new Touareg has also been on a diet, losing more than 100kg, thanks to greater use of lightweight aluminium.
Climb aboard and it’s clear from the cockpit that this is a very special car. There are three trim levels – SEL, R-Line and R-Line Tech. Opt for the latter and you get VW’s Innovision Cockpit – a dashboard to die for featuring a 12-inch digital instrument cluster (Active Info Display) ahead of the driver, merging into a cinematic 15-inch touchscreen (Discover Premium infotainment system) in the centre console.
The minimalistic centre touchscreen is the Touareg’s nerve centre – not only is it very smart, but it features ‘gesture control’. As you move your hand towards the screen, additional menus miraculously appear, then it’s possible to move around the menus using a right-to-left swipe gesture to switch pages and control media (eg switch radio station).
Starting at £48,995 for the SEL and rising to £58,195 for the top-of-the range R-Line Tech, there’s also a substantial options list which can potentially bump up the price significantly.
My R-Line Tech test car tipped the scales at a mighty £72,975 – extras included head-up display (£1,080), air suspension with rear axle steering (£2,370), ‘Savona’ R-Line leather upholstery (£820) and a panoramic sunroof (£1,260).
At launch, the Touareg comes with a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel producing 282bhp. A 228bhp version of the same engine has just been added to the line-up, while a 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol turbo will follow.
The biggest diesel (3.0 V6 TDI) is capable of returning 42.8 mpg, 0-62 mph takes 6.1 seconds, while the top speed is 146mph. Mated to a slick 8-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox, it’s also equipped with permanent all-wheel drive (4MOTION) and there’s a choice of four driving modes – On road, Off-road, Off-road, Individual and Snow, plus five driver settings (Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and Individual).
The Touareg sailed through its Euro NCAP crash safety test, scoring a maximum five stars and no doubt helped by its massive array of safety and driver assistance tech, including active cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), Night Vision (thermal imaging camera), smart headlights, traffic sign recognition, Park Assist and Lane Assist.
Needless, to say there’s ample space inside for five to travel in comfort, though unlike some rivals, there’s no option for a third row of seats. That said, the luggage capacity is a massive 810 litres, or 1,800 litres with the rear seats down.
Amazingly refined, the Touareg is a seriously sophisticated piece of kit that’s hard to fault. There’s more than enough pulling power from the silky-smooth V6, grip is excellent and it’s superbly composed.
Push it a little on flowing country roads and it’s surprisingly sporty and agile with minimal body lean when cornering.
Featuring a tight turning circle (thanks to four-wheel steering), it also boasts good all-round visibility and light steering, so city driving isn’t so hard either – once you get used to its dimensions.
Verdict: Easy-to-drive, safe, elegant and refined, the all-new Volkswagen Touareg is a big SUV with an even bigger wow factor.