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MOTORNET: VW Touareg, Fine Off & On The Road

SCOOP MOTORNET: VW Touareg Review:
Just Fine Off & On The Road

By Karl Ferguson
Photos By Neil Mackenzie -

For a split second, the rear tyres scrabble for traction and there's the slightest hint that the Touareg might not make it up the muddy incline in high gear. But then we're over the hump and the big VW is off - no hassle, no fuss. It's the only indication I've had that this vehicle might not be invincible. But hold on a second - invincible? You might well be asking yourself ‘since when do 'VW' and 'muddy inclines' even go together in the same sentence?'

Funny that. The carmaker best known for its solid small car the Beetle and subsequent Golf models has just upped the ante. Volkswagen have been a little slow to join the SUV juggernaut sweeping the nation, but arrive they finally have. And given the plethora of choice on offer to the consumer, they knew when they finally did make it to the party it would have to be with something pretty special if they were to compete with the likes of the Range Rover in the uber-luxury class of SUV. Fortunately, VW fans won't be disappointed.

There's nothing more fun than going off-road in an SUV, especially one you have confidence in. It gives the driver a sense of adventure and purpose that you just can't get from driving your standard four-wheeled box. And one of the best things about the Touareg off-road is that it feels about as indestructible as a bank vault. It has the go anywhere feel of the likes of Land Rover's Discovery combined with short front and rear overhangs lessening the likelihood of the vehicle getting 'caught up'. Approach and departure angles are 28 degrees which means the Touareg can cope with steep angles or inclines without the under body making contact with the ground - or a sharp rock! Ground clearance is an excellent (maximum of) 300mm.

As well, the Touareg comes equipped with all the latest off-road technology including Hill Descent Control and Hill Ascent Control, and permanent four-wheel drive. The electronic differential locks on the V8 mean that when the off-road going gets rough, the entire engine's power can be directed to a single wheel to ensure the best possible chance of traction. Air suspension (standard on the V10, optional on other models) offers six different levels, from as low as 160mm for loading through to 300mm for extreme off-road situations. It's also a lot of fun to drive.

Which is all very well except that people spend most of their time (on average, 98 percent) driving on the road and not off it, and that's where many SUVs come unstuck. Cumbersome, slow, poor handling dynamics and generally unresponsive is how many SUVs could be described on the road. But not so the Touareg. Literally ten minutes after my off-road stint I was on the highway, then back in the city and yet the Touareg couldn't have felt more at home. Compared to many SUVs, it feels like a veritable sports car...

Much of the reason for this lies in the Touareg's heritage. It's low, squat, even muscular appearance may not immediately give it away, but if you've a sneaking suspicion the Touareg might have more than a little in common with another new hulking German SUV, you're not mistaken. It shares not only the same basic platform as the Porsche Cayenne, but also suspension architecture and driveline from the engine back. And while it may not have the lines of a classic 911 roadster, it certainly packs quite a punch in the engine department, at least in V8 guise... Having Porsche heritage won't hurt in the sales and marketing campaign either.

The Audi-sourced 4.2 litre, 40 valves, 228kW/410Nm V8 is anything but short of power. Expect performance figures under eight seconds for the 0-100 km/h dash, while the standing-start 400m is dispatched in a fairly blistering 15.6 seconds (Wheels magazine, November 03) - or the same time recorded by the BMW X5 and only half a second slower than the Porsche Cayenne S.

And while it's quick, on road there's no need to drive like Scott Dixon if you're not in the mood. Tread lightly and the Touareg wafts along with hardly a flicker of revs on the tacho, the creamy smooth V8 barely working as the six-speeder slides sweetly from one gear to the next. Hit the gas though and it's a different story entirely, as the Touareg launches towards the horizon with near-indecent pace, punching through the close-spaced gears like some sort of huge, but civilised sports car.

In truth, the transmission would be just as at home in any modern sports car as it is in the Touareg. It's immediately responsive, kicking down instantly at the urging of the driver. For even more spirited driving, the transmission can be flicked to 'steptronic' mode, or clutch less manual allowing the driver to select a gear and thus have greater control over the vehicle. The test car came equipped with optional F1 style steering paddles. Flicking the paddles shifted the Touareg into manual mode - shift up with the right paddle, down with the left. Interestingly, with this option the transmission reverts to auto if the paddles aren't touched in 15 seconds. While this makes sense on some levels, VW's logic is somewhat flawed in my view as the driver can, for instance, assume the transmission's in third gear when in actual fact it has shifted back to fifth - sometimes right before that tight left-hander! The price you pay for ever increasing sophistication I guess....

In the handling stakes, the Touareg is largely benign with a tendency towards understeer if anything, while mid-corner grip is pretty impressive - though smooth entry and exits will reap the most from the driving experience. Good feedback from the moderately weighted steering helps give the driver confidence on all on-road situations. Handling is similarly helped by the Touareg's relatively low centre of gravity, and funnily enough this doesn't hurt in the styling stakes either.

Put next to most competitors, the Touareg has a relatively low roofline, helping it appear a great deal more compact than it really is. This doesn't appear to have led to any compromises in cabin space though. Accommodation is also first rate with a spacious interior that comfortably seats five (though with no third bench seat option, some potential purchasers may look elsewhere). Front seats are fine, but I personally would have preferred a little more bolster to arrest 'seat sliding' while cornering hard.

Overall, the Touareg offers a pretty impressive package. The levels of refinement are first rate, certainly on a par with BMW and Range Rover rivals. Fit and finish is excellent, and quality and materials are of the same high standard as punters have come to expect from Volkswagen products. Not surprisingly, equipment levels are generous including dual zone climate air, leather upholstery, airbags galore, comprehensive trip computer and a multi-disc CD stereo with 10 speakers that quite literally could blow your socks off.

Where some potential purchasers might choke though is on the price. The basic V6 model will set you back just shy of $90k while the V8 test model is a whisker under $130k. The technical marvel that is the V10 diesel option - currently the most powerful production diesel available - adds an additional 40 grand taking the price to $170k. And while it may be more fuel efficient than the V8 petrol alternative, you would have to do a lot of motoring to make up the price differential....

Speaking of fuel consumption, as the old saying goes, 'if you have to ask, you probably can't afford it' pretty much holds true in the Touareg's case. An average combined cycle of 16 or 17 litres per 100km would not be out of the ballpark making the Touareg a pretty expensive proposition to run on a daily basis. Constant highway motoring can see consumption drop to around 12 litres per 100km, but round town consumption can get into the 20s. Yikes! The 100 litre fuel tank at least ensures you don't have to fill up too frequently but then, at current petrol prices, when you do it's going to hit you where it hurts.

Major niggles? Few really. Potential purchasers don't have much to worry about as long as they have shares in an oil company, but they may be a little dismayed that despite the size of the Touareg, there's no space for a spare. Instead, one makes do with an uninflated space saver with an inflator supplied.

VW might not be the first brand that jumps to mind when thinking of an SUV, but now that the Touareg has made an appearance, perceptions will be changing. The Touareg arrives at a time when the benchmark on SUVs is certainly shifting but in producing a vehicle that feels almost as much at home on the tarmac as it does on the dirt VW has achieved quite a feat - especially when the vehicle in question performs like a sports car to boot. It would seem, regardless of the tricky terrain that is the SUV market, the Touareg is assured plenty of traction.


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