Volkswagen’s Touareg has been a long standing staple in the SUV segment. A close look at the recipe and it’s not hard to see why. A generous helping of utility and practicality know how from the folks at Volkswagen, a generous helping of sporty prowess from the engineers at Porsche, and a dash of luxury refinement from Audi, resulted in the spawning of three vehicles – the Touareg, Q7, and Cayenne.
VW’s effort downplays the luxury and sportiness theme but emphasizes utility. When paired with the powerful turbodiesel engine, it was an alluring combination that suited any buyer’s needs, but we all know what happened what happened to those motors with Dieselgate.
Until VW can sort out their diesel-induced headache, Touaregs come in only one engine guise – the venerable 3.6L VR6. Power output is low for the segment, pushing a measly 280 hp when most entrants of this size are over the 300 hp mark (save for the Mazda CX-9). But it’s not really the motor’s fault (metaphorically speaking of course), as it’s a power plant that’s been in the VW family for quite some time – since 2005 in fact.
The second generation Touareg received a major facelift in 2014. Two years later, the car still looks relatively modern when stacked against the competition. While botox and facelifts may work for the outside, the inside of the Touareg is a different story.
Fit and finish is still typical German fair (read: top notch) and there’s plenty of leather, aluminum, and wood grain to dazzle the eyes. But squint a little bit – okay you don’t need to squint – and you’ll notice that the cabin remains largely unchanged since 2010. Not that it’s a necessarily bad thing, there are few touches in there that scream classic VW. Speaking strictly on the aesthetics, the interior overall still keeps up with the industry.
The biggest changes are found in the steering wheel, centre stack, and gear selector which have been refreshed from the Phaeton-esque ones found in the 2010 Touareg. Additionally, the infotainment system has been changed.
Note the word “changed” and not “upgraded” as the RNS 850’s low-res screen and abysmally slow performance have done wonders in squandering any morsel of contemporary trickery stemming from the refreshed trim. You might think that’s some unnecessarily harsh wording – but it’s 2016 and there should be no excuse for VW to spend the R&D dollars to properly adapt the units found across the rest of the line-up. If you think you can escape the infotainment torture with Connected Car options like Android Auto or Apple CarPlay you’ll be in for a rude surprise – the Touareg and EOS are the only two models in the lineup to not receive Connected Car integration.
Luckily, the driving dynamics make up for the massive user interface sore inside. Take a quick spin in the Touareg and Porsche’s influence on the chassis is immediately evident. It’s a remarkably taut feeling vehicle. Cruise along the battered streets of downtown Toronto and it’ll eat up the pot holes with minimal torsional flex in the body.
The stiff chassis inspires a great deal of confidence and if you’ve accidentally gone too fast into a corner, you can rely on the 4MOTION permanent all-wheel drive system to pull you through it as opposed to into the next lane into a bus. Meanwhile, the steering provides ample feedback on what’s happening at the front axles as well as vibrations from the VR6.
Where the Touareg still maintains its competitive edge is in its feature set. At a starting MSRP of $51,960, you get an SUV with a more sophisticated AWD system than its competitors which were designed with an emphasis on crawling over pebbles in the parking lot.
Opt for the mid-level trim (now named the Wolfsburg Edition) and you get almost everything you need including lane assist, park distance control, adaptive cruise control, and autonomous emergency braking for $60,890. Step it up one level further and you get this tester, the Execline, which adds leather seats, heated steering, and a 360-degree camera view for $65,460.
Comparing with the more premium offerings from BMW, Mercedes, and Acura, and the Touareg is an absolute bargain. The biggest problem however is regrettably due to its family lineage, a problem that the ill-fated Phaeton suffered as well. Despite all the premium rich features and engineering stuffed into this crossover, it ultimately wears a badge from a mainstream brand, and as VW knows, it’s difficult to command a high price tag even if it’s roots are shared with more premium names in its portfolio like Porsche and Audi (or in the case of the Phaeton – Bentley).
Thus the Touareg’s biggest threat doesn’t come from above, but rather from potent crossovers like Ford’s Explorer Platinum and Jeep’s Grand Cherokee Summit, which both offer the same features at similar if not lower price tags. They also have more powerful motors to boot.
Ultimately, those looking for a proper SUV with a luxurious interior and competent mechanics should get some seat time in the Touareg. Its admirable driving dynamics and youthful sheetmetal overshadow its lacklustre engine and dated infotainment system.