Toureg: Surprise packet raises the bar, lowers the price
The Volkswagen Touareg comes of age
I was having a bit of banter online with an acquaintance and in the course of our interchange I said I hated to admit it, but the large Volkswagen Touareg SUV I'd been driving was a lot better than I'd anticipated.
My friend seized on the phrase "hated to admit it" and asked why I used it. That is just an expression but, to be absolutely truthful, I told him I had thoroughly disliked the last Touareg I'd driven and that impression had embedded in my attitude to this one.
I won't say this generation Touareg is free from flaws. It isn't and I'll come to them. But it does work a lot better. I said as much, grudgingly, half-way through my test of this latest version. I'm happy to say it now I've finished my drives.
Don't get me wrong. There are better - and there are worse - large SUVs. With the same underpinnings as the Porsche Cayenne, this is lighter to the touch, more agile, looks better and - here's the biggie - this revised 2015 version is nearly €6,500 less expensive than its outgoing counterpart.
The revision includes changes to the front and back and a new-look cabin as well as the likes of bi-xenon headlights being standard.
Volkswagen claim they have, in addition to cutting the price, added €10,000 worth of equipment. We'll take their word for that. But it is clear there is a desire and design to get your attention and put this on a more competitive footing.
It probably needs it because I believe the car is still suffering from a bit of a large-SUV hangover from the recession as well as the lack of snob value you get with the likes of a BMW X5 or the new and imminent Volvo XC90 for example.
It isn't as roomy as either, I felt; lacks the driving edge of an X5 and the exceptional cabin of the Volvo. But it was a wonderfully comfortable drive to Belfast and back.
I don't know if you'll notice but all the engines are upgraded, too. The 204bhp V6 diesel I had on test had loads of pulling power (torque) and I thought the 8spd automatic transmission was excellent. It's a grand engine - though there are more powerful ones if you want them. I just liked its ability to sweep up the kilometres and not make noise and fuss about it.
I had it around town a lot too and despite its bulk, I parked it with ease. However, I would prefer a better visual guidance/feedback for that. The Volvo is brilliant in that area.
The other thing I found below average was the stop/start system, which felt clunky and appeared to take longer to kick in than I'm accustomed to. And while I'm at it, the luggage cover gave me trouble getting it to stay doing its job - covering the 'boot' area.
Yet, for a big motor I felt it handled well; they've tweaked the steel-spring suspension; permanent 4WD gave great grip and it was never less than easy to get around in. The electric lumbar support on my driver's was excellent. I also liked the idea of being able to flatten the rear seat-backs by pushing a button in the huge boot.
The leather upholstery gave the cabin a breeze of upmarket and they've kept the dash and instrumentation simple and straightforward. A lot of that stuff is not rocket science but so many over-or-under cook the crucial area where you interact with the car most often.
I came away from the Touareg feeling I'd driven a really decent large SUV. It didn't bowl me over but I was impressed by its ease-of-use and comfort - that's critical.
I'm sure the next brand new one will be much better again but at least I won't be carrying over an embedded preconception of negativity.
There's a lesson for us all in that - things change and sometimes our views don't.
Facts & figures
3-litre V6 diesel (2,967cc), 8spd auto transmission, 204bhp, 6.6l/100kmh, 173g/km, road tax €750. Permanent 4WD.
Price from €69,675. Plus €750 delivery charge; 262bhp versions start from €72,915.
Standard equipment includes: Vienna leather upholstery, 20ins Tarragona alloys, multi-function display, heated front seats, touchscreen radio with MP3/MP4/CD and AUX-IN functions, parking aids, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, front/rear fogs, automatic headlights, bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, Bluetooth, media-in for iPod/iPhone.
My side of the road
For once, I'm not here to give out. I've had one of those weeks where other drivers, for some reason, were exceptionally courteous and thoughtful. Well, no, not in Dublin. Don't know why. Anyway, I could list lovely little gestures (as opposed to the rude one near Heuston Station) from all over. I'm talking about a week where I drove to and through Belfast, Kildare, Offaly, Meath, Westmeath and Laois. I wonder was it the good weather? Or is it an urban-rural thing? What do you think?