Tuesday 18 June 2019

Touareg-de-force in power stakes but watch the space

SUV hits the right notes - for a posh-car price

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Sometimes driving a car can be like going to a concert. It's as much about the overall sensation as the performance of individual parts. I came to that blasé conclusion after struggling to find a way to convey opinions, positive and negative, on this week's review car - the large Volkswagen Touareg SUV.

Help came from an unexpected source: an evening immersed in memory and music with legendary tunesmith Paul Simon. It was his farewell show and my privilege, after too many decades of arms-length wonder, to have two tickets for it thanks to a most thoughtful birthday present.

After listening to, 'singing' and grappling with the guitar chords of 'Homeward Bound' and 'The Boxer' (forget 'Bridge over Troubled Water', it's impossible) for a lifetime (I have desisted for years now), I enjoyed parts of his evening so much I know I will never forget how vividly I was affected. Equally, some parts bordered on best-forgotten self-indulgence.

I could say something quite similar about the Touareg. It is a large orchestra of engineering and technology that, like concert tickets, doesn't come cheap if you want a good seat.

And like the Simon song-list there was much that is modern and less that was traditional.

This third generation five-seater SUV is more expansive, smarter, far more composed on the road and extensively equipped than before. It's better looking without being radically different.

There is definitely more room, technology, infotainment, pulling power and boot space. It is not, though, as Volkswagen contends, the "biggest leap forward" in SUV history. But there are glorious amounts of interior room. Which begs the question: why not 'go' for it as a seven-seater? Rivals, such as the Volvo XC90, Mercedes GLE, BMW X5, can offer three rows (=seven seats). There is huge demand for such vehicles. Given the excess of boot space (up from 113 litres to 810) and seat room, it would have been feasible.

Sadly, there is no commercial version planned, due to changes in legislation. That's a big decision: a bit like leaving 'Homeward Bound' off Paul Simon's song list (he didn't).

And there is the matter of price. Entry level is fine as far as it goes but add a few extras or 'packs' and you're into posh-price territory. My car had the 286bhp 3-litre diesel and all sorts of safety/comfort items but it costs nearly €20,000 more. Would I pay €85,000 for a big VW five-seater against some of the snobbier names just outlined? Tough call.

Yet the Touareg's attempts at posh are mostly successful; nowhere more eloquently than in the interior where its modern playlist of dash design, central infotainment screens and quality materials are in tune with modern expectations. The double-screen 'Innovision' system gives you sight and control of so much. It's a joint effort of 15ins infotainment touchscreen (controls smartphone integration, air con, etc) and a 12ins digital instrument cluster.

My passengers soaked up that cabin; the room, the sense of plush. I had a wonderful driving position; as ever a key reason for all SUV popularity.

What I really liked, however, was even when swinging in and around Dublin traffic, parking in tight spots (plenty of help from systems for that) it was so easy to place. There was reasonably good rearward visibility but cameras and aids imbued confidence.

Such elements are core necessities that buyers need to be happy about first and foremost - before the Touareg tour-de-force kicks in.

That came on the open road where, pushed hard, it was memorably powerful and pacy. The big diesel cranked up power with a semi-silent whoosh. With all-wheel-drive we covered surfaces of various qualities without intrusive noise or disrupted driving rhythm - testament to excellent engineering of handling, ride and stability. The 8spd DSG auto transmission was seamless though, maybe, it could have given me quicker kick-down when I wanted to accelerate. Overall, however, this was quality on the road.

One little quirk was the system prompting me to put my hands on the steering wheel - when they already were. I think the lane departure warning system may have been oversensitive. Or maybe I hadn't a tight enough grip (I considered it to be normal). Question is: who determines that? By the way, there are nearly two dozen driver-assistance systems on board - including the excellent adaptive cruise control. It's a showpiece of such technology.

All in all, I have to say this new Touareg was like a good concert.

It had individual segments of real highs (interior, drive ability, technology, space) mixed with interludes of not-so-high (accelerating, price and just five seats). Either way I reckon it's well worth sampling.

Facts & figures

Volkswagen Touareg large SUV, R-line Design 3-litre diesel 4M, 286bhp, 8spd auto, road tax €750.

Entry price €65,395 (+€775 delivery). Car on test €84,970; with options €86,151 (incl delivery).

Spec included 20ins alloys, heated front seats,'front assist', Park Assist, lane-keeping system, adaptive cruise control, start/stop system with regenerative braking; rear-view camera, forward collision warning, auto headlight control, panoramic sunroof, App Connect (Apple Car Play/Android Auto), 'Dynaudio' sound system, electric-folding trailer hitch, R-Line bumpers, active info display R-specific.

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