The new Volkswagen Touareg does just about everything tremendously well and there’s barely a conceivable situation where it can be convinced to behave poorly. It’s sophisticated and cultured and quiet and smooth, yet it can also whip around corners with disturbing — but easily controllable — alacrity.
Volkswagen plans to lift the price this time around, and that will be the only realistic impediment to its success when it launches in SA in July.
There’s a point, while following a moderately driven Boxster S through the Austrian Alps, where the road straightens for just long enough before the corners start again. It’s enough to show both the best and the worst of the Touareg in 1km.
The worst is this: you stomp the throttle expecting the thump of 600Nm of torque from the 3.0l, turbocharged diesel V6 and then you wait. And wait.
It’s like late 1980s turbocharging, forcing you to think about what you need a second or two before you need it. It’s nothing to do with the eight-speed automatic transmission, either, because it kicks down promptly in Sport mode.
It is, Volkswagen insists, something we’re all going to have to get used to in the coming world of real-world driving homologation and European emissions laws. It’s a by-product of the exhaust scrubbing-technology of exhaust-gas recirculation and VW says every diesel engine and, to a lesser extent, every petrol engine will soon go the same way.
But after the extended delay and the punch past the Boxster, comes the corners, and the Touareg shines a surprisingly bright light in the bends.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. The Touareg shares its MLB Evo architecture with the Porsche Cayenne, the Audi Q7 (and A6 and A7) and even the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga and they all go around corners spectacularly well.
The engine’s pickup issues aren’t so noticeable when the car is at less than 80% of its performance envelope, but it’s a bit annoying when you’re punching hard for a small overtaking gap. Cruise along and the lag is less noticeable, so what you’re left with is a, strong, dignified impression from the diesel.
It’s a smooth engine, with the underlying strength of all that torque, but an earlier prototype drive showed us the 250kW mild-hybrid petrol motor was the pick of the powertrains, without the throttle lag of the diesel. There’s also a 310kW/900Nm biturbo V8 diesel on its way.
There’s no solid evidence of the Touareg V6 TDI’s 1,995kg of mass when you turn the steering wheel. Instead, it’s an almost casually stage-managed concert of high below-decks technology working its bytes off to get the jobs done before you run out of road. There’s a conflagration of stuff going on down there, but all the driver ever knows is that if he/she brakes and turns and accelerates again, the car will follow along the same general line of thought.
That goes for when you’re driving in a straight line or in bends or over rough roads or on dirt. It doesn’t care. It just gets on with it in a way that you simultaneously understand is incredibly difficult for it and incredibly easy for you. Just like with the Cayenne, the Touareg takes its bewildering assortment of complicated under-body stuff and turns it into enjoyable, cultured cornering sparkle.
The ride quality is sublime, regardless of the surface, and the body stays flat and level, even when you’re pushing through bends or flicking through switchback corners.
It’s brilliant, bordering on majestic, in its behaviour on any road surface, at any speed.
It shares its chassis with the Cayenne, the other three MLB Evo SUVs are a touch longer, and most of its technical tricks in either standard or optional form. There’s a three-chamber air suspension as an option, along with an electronically controlled rear anti-roll bar that can stiffen or soften, depending on the need beneath the steed.
The rear-wheel steering helps a lot in corners, too, effectively shortening the wheelbase on tighter bends and lengthening it on faster corners, as well as helping in tight car parks.
It’s even useful off-road, with the standard system lifting the body 25mm in Off-Road mode. It also lifts it 70mm in Off-Road+, drops it 15mm in Sport and drops it 40mm to help people load their luggage or shopping.
Most Touareg buyers tow stuff, so it’s now scored a Trailer Assist package that uses self-parking technology to let the driver set the trailer-reversing angle on the Innovision screen, and the Touareg does the rest.
It has a bigger footprint than its predecessor, with another 77mm of length (4,878mm), an extra 44mm of width (1,984mm) and a sporty 7mm reduction in height (1,702mm). It also finally gets its own doors (it shared the Cayenne doors for the first two generations) on a body designed to cope with 18-inch to 21-inch wheels.
It has been stripped of 106kg of mass, while gaining 113l of luggage space, which has ballooned out to 810l. While luggage space is impressive, the headlines will be all about the Innovision cockpit, with its curved screen. Unique to Volkswagen (at least for now), the Innovision screen takes the traditional infotainment setup and turns it into something more like a smartphone or a tablet, and it’s operated in the same way.
It takes a while to know where everything is and how to use it all. But on the highest-priced versions, the curved 15-inch screen’s left-hand edge hosts a vertical column of buttons which replace fixed buttons or dials in the old car. That’s for favourites and you can slide them (with your finger on the icon, just like a phone) in and out as you please.
We expected it to be a big curve, but VW insists they tried that and its testers didn’t like it, so they gave it a more modest curve so the passenger doesn’t feel isolated from the display. It joins up to the eight-inch instrument cluster to create a 23-inch solid wall of digitised information and artwork.
The cabin has been stripped of plenty of its buttons, so the ones you can actually see have fairly distinct and important jobs. The centre console instead is dominated by the driving mode and off-road mode dials and the gear lever, and that’s about it, while the steering wheel is still a bit busy.
It’s a calm, connected steering wheel, too, though it never feels heavy to use. It feels accurate and has a way of taking any urgency away from the driver’s movements, no matter how frantic the situation.
It’s the tip of the sword; the driver’s entry point into the simple language of the complicated stuff going on downstairs.
As a huge car, it’s light on its toes in corners, calmly planted everywhere else, easier to park and load, stupendously well equipped and we found no situation too demanding for it.
It’s at once Volkswagen’s flagship and a softer Porsche Cayenne, with a warmer interior touch.