Monday, 11 October 2010


Volkswagen’s Touareg, launched here in 2005, ended up selling an average of 60 units per month in the five years VW sold it to South Africans. That’s not bad going for a car that was seen to be largely pointless and too expensive for the brand. Fortunately, unlike its Phaeton sedan sibling, the Touareg never really had serious sales issues. Judging from our drive in the new cars the status quo should remain.

Much prettier than its predecessor, the all-new SUV is a vast improvement on basically every level. Starting with the obvious, the exterior, which gets a makeover. One can still spot the Touareg underneath the skin but the skin is much smoother now, more refined, more upmarket. Also the design is slightly conservative, at least compared to some rivals. Porsche’s Cayenne looks almost identical though, bar some front and rear end items. That could be a bad or good thing, depending on whether the Porsche tickles your fancy or not.

VW’s new face is dominant on the grille which is clearly bigger than others, gets U-shaped LED daytime running lights, foglights, a big VW badge and a small lower lip. The side view isn’t much to chat about thanks to clean sheet metal and side indicator lights with LEDs. From the back only the lights cluster brings out any form of inspiration by Walter da Silva’s team. You’ll find LEDs there too.

Unlike its premium rivals, the Touareg decided to forego otherwise mandatory 21-inch wheels, taking instead standard 17-inch alloys with 235/65 VR17 tyres on the baseline models (18s are optional), and 19-inch alloys with 265/50 R19 rubber for the range-topper. The previous top dog in the form of a V10 TDI was fitted with 19s too but in Mzansi these were optional rather than standard. Imagine that! This time it’s the 20-inch wheel that buyers will have to fork out an extra R5 500 for. Looking at the wheels one feels a little strange because in proportion to the car’s size, they are rather small, especially the 17s. Put it next to a BMW X5 or Audi Q7 and you understand my point.

But to be fair the Touareg is more off-road lifestyle than those two put together. Actually it’s one of only two premium SUVs of its size that I can confidently vouch for as far as taking out bushes and destroying the outdoors is concerned. The other is a Land Rover Discovery 4. Having said that, this new car is definitely not scared of the tarmac either. Previous Touareg was a notorious wobbler on the black stuff, mostly because of its off-road capabilities (independent suspension etc). This time owners will even be able to take corners with more confidence than ever. But I do wonder if that off-road prowess hasn’t been compromised as a result. With only a short gravel detour at the launch down in the Cape Town area I couldn’t assess that well enough. On tar it really felt alive and welded, cushioning imperfections along with passengers with ease.

Driver can select between Comfort, Normal and Sport driving modes. I did try all three and found them too closely matched to detect much difference between them. Mainly the gearshifts were more urgent with Sport mode, while the ride felt cushier under Comfort. It’s all the work of the vehicle’s new lighter air suspension system that also contributes to greater fuel savings.

Three models with three engines will be sold, with two available immediately and the other only from November. At the entry point is a
3.6 V6 petrol whose roots, believe it or not, go back to the old VR6 Golf. Nothing old about this motor though as it pushes out a healthy 206kW and peak torque of 360Nm between 3000rpm and 4000rpm. A fuel consumption average of 12.4 litres per 100km is quoted with C02 emissions of 248 g/km. VW says it can help accelerate the car from 0 – 100km/h in 7.8 seconds and top off at 228km/h.

The 3.0 V6 TDI is quite special as it is the first motor on South African soil to get VW’s fuel-efficient BlueMotion technology. The system incorporates start/stop technologies which are supposed to cut off the engine as soon as the car stops. Regenerative braking is standard too and it recoups energy lost in braking and send it to the battery for recharging, saving the engine’s power for more appropriate functions like moving the car forward.

Maximum power is at 176kW made at 4000rpm, and torque is a nice 550Nm achieved from 2000rpm. Rest assured this engine hauls with the best of them and was never out of sight from a convoy of more potent V8s during the launch. As for the V8 TDI, the last number as it were, a faint familiarity beckoned when I first prodded its accelerator. Although using a smaller 4.1-litre V8 turbo diesel, the V8 TDI is more powerful than the V10 TDI it replaces. At 250kW at 4000rpm and with massive torque of 800Nm available between 1750rpm and 2750rpm there’s no shortage of vuma right from the word go. Performance figures of 5.8 seconds for the 0 – 100km/h and 242km/h for the top speed did not feel far from everyday touch. There is a quoted fuel average of 9.1 litres per 100km (C02 is 239 g/km) which ranks this model amongst the leaders in the performance/frugality index.

All three engines come mated to a new 8-speed automatic gearbox, just as one would expect from a brand new premium SUV from Germany. It’s quite responsive and silky under normal driving conditions, although the thing about 8-speed transmissions, not just in this car but in others, is that when you want to have a more spirited run and change gears through the paddleshifts, changing down from eight to say, third gear is quite a chore.

Inside a good deal of luxury is found, albeit some of it a bit below expectations. A case in point is the SD card port located inside the cubby hole. To access it one has to pull a lever inside the cubby, which brings down the CD changer with the two SD card slots on it. Why not just have it on the dash face like everyone else? Otherwise all else is present, including two-zone climate control (4-zone in the range-topper), satellite navigation, CD player, radio with touch screen functionality, a multifunction steering wheel and a toggle to adjust ride height.

Touareg has moved the game up for itself as well as other aspiring luxury SUVs who don’t want just to be kept on tarmac anymore. It now combines grace, pace and comfort with a multi-Dakar pedigree to offer one of the most competitive packages on the market today. Sixty units per month? Pah! Why not 100?

Volkswagen Touareg Pricing
3.6 V6 petrol (R562 600 – including C02 taxes)
3.0 V6 TDI (R622 000)
V8 TDI (R776 000)

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