Although not a vehicle that immediately springs to mind when thinking of luxury SUVs, the Volkswagen Touareg was one of the earlier models on the market. Co-developed with the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7, the original was an impressive, if slightly dull effort by Volkswagen.
The inclusion of a diesel V10 engine and a shiny chrome grille later in life did give the original Touareg something to shout about, but both of these disappeared with the debut of the second generation model in 2010. Out went the hardcore off-roading kit and chintzy details, replaced by an altogether more sophisticated effort, one which is still on sale today!
As already stated, the second generation Touareg lost the truck-like design of its predecessor, and features a much more flowing design that is in-keeping with the smaller first generation Tiguan as well as the second generation Cayenne. While I don’t think that it looks bad, the similarity to so many other cars means that the Touareg really doesn’t stand out from a design point of view – in fact to me it looks slightly like an inflated Golf hatchback.
Of course as with many other SUVs, wheel and appearance packages can vastly alter the way they look, and so with Altitude (later R-Line) spec it looks a bit more distinctive. This package brings LED running lights, a more aggressive bumper and 20 inch alloy wheels – prices are a little higher but arguably worth it if you want a beefier design. It’s worth noting that the Touareg was face-lifted in 2015 and these cars have a slightly softer grille/headlight design and redesigned bumpers – the earlier cars are arguably better looking though.
The Touareg has always had a smart looking interior and the second generation carried this theme forward – quality is what you’d expect from Volkswagen (i.e. good if not spectacular), and the design is sophisticated without being flashy. Unlike many German rivals, the Touareg uses a touchscreen-based infotainment system; reviews suggest it’s a little simplistic and isn’t the fastest to respond, but at least it isn’t tricky to use. The facelift brought Google-search functionality too, which is nice.
Elsewhere, there’s a large driver-info screen between the speedo and rev-counter, a major plus point in my opinion, given that this can display navigation, media and vehicle information using controls on the steering wheel. I am also a fan of the symmetrical design which Volkswagen have used for the front fascia, although this can look a little dated if the optional wood trim is chosen. It’s also refreshing to see a normal gear-selector in the Touareg – no dials or joysticks here.
In terms of practicality, the Touareg is one of only a few ‘full size’ luxury SUVs which cater only to five people – many try and squeeze an extra pair of seats in the rear, even just as an option. However there’s no such pretence in the Touareg, just a spacious cabin for four adults, with five fitting easily too, despite the raised transmission tunnel. The boot is pleasingly large too, with 580 litres with the rear seats up, and 1,642 with them down. This is slightly less than rivals, but the loadspace is well shaped and has no lip to haul bags or heavy items over.
With the exception of a very small number of hybrid versions, all second-generation Touaregs sold in the UK market were powered by a diesel engine. The vast majority had a 3.0 litre V6 engine, with either 201hp or 242hp, with the latter increasing to 258hp in post-facelift models. An engine of this size and power is pretty standard stuff for vehicles in this class, so likely buyers are unlikely to be too surprised with what they get. The lower powered version sprints from 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds (8.7 seconds post-facelift), whereas the beefier version does the same in 7.8 seconds (or 7.3 seconds post-facelift).
There are no economy or emissions savings to be had by choosing the punier engine, so most buyers just plumped for the bigger one – it’s worth making sure which version you’re looking at though, as 9.0 seconds might feel a bit sluggish for some, as might in-gear acceleration. Those after more oomph will have to look at the 4.2 litre V8 diesel version sold until 2014, which has 335hp and gets from 0-62mph in just 5.8 seconds…very quick, but also these cars are rare. Rarer still is the hybrid version, which uses a 3.0 litre V6 petrol with an electric motor to total 328hp and does 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.
Although the Touareg is not often regarded as offering a highly involved driving experience, it’s worth remembering that it shares its underpinnings and some engines with the much-praised Porsche Cayenne. Of course Volkswagen has tuned its model more to comfort, but the Touareg isn’t an unpleasant steer and can acquit itself perfectly well on most roads – you’ll find it more involving than a comparable Mercedes ML/GLE or Lexus RX, two of its main rivals.
Ride quality is quite good also, although the larger alloy wheels of Altitude and R-Line models do have a negative effect on smoothing out road noise. You can also get the Touareg with air-suspension, but prohibitive costs mean that most customers make do without. However, if you want to go off-road then the air-suspension really helps as it also means a more advanced four-wheel-drive system – Escape models also come with modified bumpers to improve departure and approach angles.
In terms of gearbox choices, as with many large vehicles, all Touaregs come with an automatic gearbox. In this case, it’s an 8-speed traditional automatic supplied by Aisin; unusually this isn’t the same gearbox used in the Cayenne or Q7, who used a ZF gearbox with the same number of gears. Although arguably not as fast-changing as the ZF, the Aisin gearbox is still a solid choice and should prove reliable – it’s similar to those found in Volvo, Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
Value & Costs:
As a luxury SUV, the Touareg comes with a fair amount of equipment as standard – leather, sat-nav, climate control and Bluetooth are found on every version, with heated seats and xenon headlights being common additions. However, it’s now nearly 8 years since the Touareg was launched, and none of this stuff is cutting edge – most can be found on a Hyundai i10! Facelifted versions get Google search, but you won’t find any of Audi’s hi-tech infotainment or safety kit on the Touareg.
Prices for the second generation Touareg start at around £10k for early 2010 cars with high miles – residuals are weak compared to rivals due to the Volkswagen badge, but it does mean that bargains can be had. Around £20k will buy you a top-spec car from 2014, with another few grand bagging you a facelifted 2015 car – that’s pretty good considering that an equivalent X5 or GLE will cost at least £10k more. Even ex-demo 2017 cars are selling for only £32k, which is less than a similarly aged/spec Tiguan.
In terms of running costs, they aren’t actually as horrific as you might believe – both versions of the 3.0 litre diesel return over 40mpg on the combined cycle, with 35mpg being a realistic figure for those without a lead foot. The V8 diesel and hybrid versions were less impressive (31mpg and 34mpg respectively), but are so rare that you might as well go for the V6. Road tax for nearly all versions should be £240-270, though the V8 will be £500+, and post April 2017 cars will have to pay a surcharge for their first 5 years on the road (as with all cars listed at over £40k). These costs are all generally in-line with rivals, though the Touareg lacks a 4-cylinder version as per some others.
There is no doubt that the Touareg is a good vehicle – it’s easy to drive, has lots of room inside and isn’t too painful to keep on the road. However the lack of a true premium badge mean that it is overshadowed by other choices on the market, including others from inside the Volkswagen Group stable. Its image also hasn’t been helped by the Volkswagen ‘dieselgate’ scandal, with constant recalls across the company’s diesel-engined line-up…in fact the Touareg was recalled again just last week!
Still, if you’re after an affordable luxury SUV and aren’t a total badge snob then it could pay to take a closer look at the Volkswagen – rivals such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE are a lot more expensive both new and used, and with a replacement due in 2018, there are likely some great deals to be had on new and nearly-new Touaregs.