First Drive: Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 V6 TDI BlueMotion Tech R Line 5dr Tip Auto
Another blink-and-you'll-miss-it VW facelift?
Yes, but actually quite a successful one for the VW Touareg, we think. Wolfsburg's big ol' luxury tank has emerged from its mid-life refresh with sharper-edged lights (bi-xenons with smart LED running elements are standard up front) and redrawn bumpers with slimmer, wider grilles.
The idea is to make the Touareg look bigger, more imposing, and more expensive. It works - a bit too well, actually. Judging by the reaction to our chrome-festooned test car around London, some other road-users judge believe VW has overdone it on the ostentation front. Terribly nice of them to ‘wave', though.
The Touareg's not that offensive though, is it?
Not so much. Underneath, it shares its skeleton with the much more divisive Porsche Cayenne, but aims to offer similar five-seater accommodation and a 580-litre boot, allied with more comfort-focused set-up. It's also massively cheaper than the Porsche, and the equivalent BMW X5 or Mercedes ML (soon to be GLE).
The Touareg starts at £43,000 for the 201bhp V6 turbodiesel, but for this higher-powered 258bhp R-line version, you'll need £47,500. At the time of writing, VW has lopped £5000 off the price of all Touaregs. If one's on your shopping list, chop-chop.
More power, you say?
VW's powertrain magicians have unlocked a 17bhp power bump over the pre-facelift Touareg, meaning it'll hit 62mph in 7.3 seconds and 140mph. However, thanks to a friction-reducing ‘decoupling' system that disconnects the engine from the transmission when you're coasting, to erase engine braking, fuel efficiency is up from 39.2mpg to 42.8mpg.
Unlike its Mercedes or BMW rivals, VW doesn't offer a basic four-cylinder Touareg, so at 174g/km it's far from being the cleanest member of the class CO2-wise. Though if you're buying a two-tonne 4x4, we suspect carbon emissions are unlikely to be disturbing your sleep.
How does it drive?
Much as before. The Touareg errs towards the relaxing, idiot-proof side of SUV motoring against the more focused Range Rover Sport and X5. A Cayenne would leave it for dead on the North Circular, yet alone a North Yorkshire Moors B-road, but somehow that's not a disappointment.
Instead you leave the eight-speed automatic gearbox to politely shuffle between cogs, embrace the prodigious 479lb ft of torque, and marvel at how a 2200kg behemoth is as easy to pilot as a Polo. Except it's quieter, comfier and faster - and better off-road. And so it should be, for nigh-on fifty grand.
So it'll manage off-road?
Like its Porsche cousin, the Touareg can be a flipping accomplished off-roader - but if you're so inclined, you have to be spec-sensitive. Our test car got a simple on road/off-road switch that toggles ESP settings and whathaveyou. It's surely destined to be the least-used piece of car switchgear this side of an Audi Q7's indicator stalk.
To really unlock the mud-plugging potential, there's the ‘Escape' model, which gets the full compliment of underbody shields, adjustable suspension and locking differential cleverness.
Seems like quite a handy all-rounder?
There's more. Although it's not in the first flush of youth, the Touareg's cabin is a paragon of ergonomics. The standard-fit eight-inch touchscreen is better many younger rivals' efforts - take note, Land Rover - it's a cinch to use on the move, and snappy in operation.
Besides the media screen, the cabin's general control layout is so logical, you wonder why any carmaker that borrowed a Touareg for benchmarking opted to try something different. Sure, that means there's nothing in the way of surprise and delight - even the new knurled knobs and buttons aren't as funky as the old car's shiny bits - but in terms of maturity, the Touareg is way up there.
What don't you like?
The standard-fit electric tailgate beeps like a microwave when it's on the move, and there's no seven-seat option, which means you've got to be an awfully dedicated fan of extra ride height not to just go and buy an equally capable, cheaper and better-driving Passat wagon.
And while the ride is well-controlled above, say, 25mph, slow-speed maneuvering - or even crawling in traffic - causes this weighty car to lurch a little on its springs.
Doesn't sound like a dealbreaker...
It isn't. The Touareg really is still the Golf of SUVs. Not outlandish, nor the most entertaining to drive. But as an inoffensive, high-quality all-rounder, you just know it'd do its duty every day you asked it to.