VW Touareg 2018 first drive

PROS

  • Impressive luxury-car refinement
  • Clever new multimedia system
  • Adaptable handling characteristics
  • 3.5-tonne towing capacity

CONS

  • No seven-seat option
  • No hybrid yet, one diesel offered
  • There's no disguising its bulk on the road
  • Another entry in a crowded market sector

Parkers overall rating: 4.2 out of 5 4.2

 

Volkswagen is keen to remind buyers that the Touareg SUV is now, and will always be, its flagship car. It's always been an imposing technical marvel, but since the departure of the Phaeton (remember that?), it now sits alone at the top of the price list – and up against some very impressive rivals.

Considering this opposition includes the Audi Q7, the BMW X5the Land Rover Discovery and the Mercedes-Benz GLE, it's understandable that Volkswagen has thrown its developmental kitchen sink at this car. This explains why it has packed the new model with a range of newly-introduced technology to make it the sharpest driving, most tech-laden vehicle it offers.

On paper, it looks like the Touareg is more than capable of answering the questions posed by its rivals, as well as its interesting, but discontinued Phaeton saloon in-house alternative.

What engines does the 2018 VW Touareg get?

Rather disappointingly for eco-conscious Europeans, the Touareg goes on sale in China in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) form first, but no UK on-sale date has been mentioned, yet. That's a shame because the 365hp hybrid looks extremely interesting.

In fact, when the car goes on sale in the UK, it will be offered with only a single engine option until production ramps up. That engine will be the new 3.0-litre V6 diesel, which develops 286hp and 600Nm of pulling power.

Volkswagen says that a lower-powered 231hp version of this engine will be added in the spring of 2019, along with a 340hp V6 petrol. A 420hp V8 turbodiesel will follow later.

New VW Touareg: bold styling and all-new engineering

Volkswagen Touareg

The new Touareg is wider and longer than the outgoing car, but boot space grows from 697 litres to 810, and there's more room for passengers, too. The good news is that the new Touareg's body is 106kg lighter than the old one.

The third-generation VW Touareg receives an extensive package of all-new technology inside and out. The new look more than hints at the smaller VW T-Roc while the interior takes a huge step forward over what came before. In the metal, it disguises its bulk very effectively, and has the air of a less-imposing baby Bentley Bentayga about it.

The big news is that the new interior's centrepiece is what VW calls its Innovision Cockpit. This is dominated by a 12.0-inch digital instrument display that we’ve already seen in other VW models. This is combined with another even larger display (up to 15.0 inches) in the centre of the dashboard.

Other state-of-the-art technology includes a new roadwork lane assist system, cross-traffic warnings, four-wheel steering, active lighting and cornering roll stabilisation. The height-adjustable active air suspension system and all-wheel steering promise to combine to make this an agile car on the road.

Tell us more about the Touareg's Innovision Cockpit

As you can see from the picture below, it's enormous. It's a pair of screens running from the instrument binnacle and right across the dash, and currently, nothing in its class comes close in terms of scale or sophistication. Being able to group all of this technology behind a screen means the cabin is now clutter-free and elegantly realised with lots of airy space.

The Innovision system takes a leap forward in usability for three principle reasons: finally a car touchscreen operates as your phone might, swiping quickly and pinching accurately, while tiles can be personalised easily to arrange your key data into sections. Because of the acreage, function ‘buttons’ are easy to access without the need to guide your finger home.

Volkswagen Touareg

On top of this, the Touareg offers a head-up display, Night Vision (displayed on-screen) and new matrix LED headlights, which Volkswagen claims are the most advanced it has fitted to any car.

No seven-seat option, but plenty of space for five

There is no seven-seat option (there never has been on the Touareg), unlike its principal rivals, the Audi Q7 or Land Rover Discovery. However, rear passengers are well-served with leg- and headroom – as you'd expect for a car in this class.

Up front, the Touareg has acres of space, and although the centre console is wide, it doesn't encroach too much. There is ample seat travel and adjustment, too, and the steering wheel can be placed to suit all driving positions. The interior is a masterclass of quality materials and precision-fit assembly.

The luggage space is XL-sized as well. Load length is 1,051mm, while the boot space ranges between 810 litres with the rear seats up in place and 1,800 litres with them fully folded. On air-suspended models, the ride height can be lowered by the touch of a button in the luggage area to aid loading.

What's the 2018 Vokswagen Touareg like to drive?

Even before it's turned a wheel, the overall refinement and low levels of mechanical noise are what dominate your first impressions. Considering it's a diesel, from cold start, the engine is hushed and there are no discernable vibrations in a cabin.

Your second revelation is just how compliant the ride quality is. And so it should be – our model was fitted with active air suspension and weighs in at a bump-flattening 2,045kg. Aside from some pattering on broken urban roads and potholes, it's impressively smooth and flat. 

The third positive impression is just how punchy its new 3.0-litre V6 is. It feels a little sleepy to accelerate unless you're in Sport mode, but once dialled in to this soft throttle response, it accelerates very smartly. VW claims a 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds and a maximum speed of 146mph, and we don't doubt it.

VW Touareg: plenty of drive modes to play with

Once familiar with the car, you can play with the various drive modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Normal and Off-Road.

As VW limited the launch to billiard table-smooth Austrian roads, with no chance for off-roading, we'll limit our comments to the first three, by saying that Comfort probably offers the best compromise for UK roads. Sport works well – sharper steering and keener cornering – in the mountains.

In truth, this car feels the most at home on the motorway. It's refeshingly silent to the Austrian speed limit of 81mph (130km/h), with very low levels of engine and road noise. Wind noise seems to be the most dominant irritation.

On A- and B-roads, it feels like the large car it is, and you don't get the sense of agility that you'd hope for (and do get in a Range Rover Sport). It always feels like you're piloting a two-tonne-plus vehicle, even if its handling is not in question.

Rear-wheel steering points the back wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speed to help manoeuvring and parking, and in the same direction at high speed to aid stability. This system really comes into its own in town, giving this full-sized SUV a turning circle similar in size to a Golf, while on the motorway, it makes quick lane changes feel safer.

In short, new and existing drivers will not be disappointed by the way the Touareg drives.

When does the Touareg go on sale and how for much?

Volkswagen hasn't confirmed the pricing yet, but reckon on the range starting at £49,000 when it goes on sale in the UK on 7 June 2018. The model line-up will be made up of SEL, R-Line and a new top-tier model known as R-Line Tech. Exact specs will be announced nearer launch.

PCP rates will also be announced closer to the Touareg's appearance in showroom, but VW executives are quietly confident that it will have competitive resale values, which will help keep those finance costs low.

Volkswagen Touareg


The Parkers Verdict

Based on the early drive of the new Touareg, and the confirmed tech and spec, it feels like a big leap forward over what came before. Its refinement and lack of noise are impressive, and combined with a compliant ride and superb seats, places this firmly in the luxury sector of the SUV market.

Overall, it's a big step over its predecessor, and it's going to cause the makers of its closest rivals, the Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes-Benz GLE, some sleepless nights. The Touareg's motorway talent, high quality, tastefully-designed interior, and supreme comfort, see it competing for overall class honours.

We'll have to wait and see how it drives on UK roads to see if they've actually pulled it off.

The model line-up will be made up of SEL, R-Line and a new top-tier model known as R-Line Tech

Stay tuned for the full Volkswagen Touareg SUV review, and further driving impressions when it goes on sale in the UK