► Most powerful and expensive VW driven
► It's the Touareg's only hybrid option
► Does it make any sense?
How do you electrify VW's R performance division? Wolfsburg seems to think it was easy: start with the biggest car it makes and use a handy powertrain that already exists in the Group.
But is it that simple?
Well? Is it?
Let's start with the basics. The Touareg R is the most expensive and most powerful car Volkswagen makes, clocking in at more than £70k before any options and having 456bhp on tap from a twin-turbo V6 and electric motor. All of that shove is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed auto. VW claims the R can hack 28 miles of e-range (if charged for a minimum of two and a half hours) on a full battery.
If that sounds familiar, it's because that's the exact same powertrain as the Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, with the Touareg R being just a tenth slower to 62mph – mainly due to around 200kg of extra weight on board compared to the Porsche.
Also looking more closely at the Touareg's Porsche sibling, it's relatively good value for money. Despite having the same list price, the Touareg R has adaptive air suspension, dynamic headlights that turn into corners and a whole load of safety and driver assistance tech thrown in for the list price. All of these are optional extras on the Cayenne e-Hybrid.
But it's tricky to place against rivals. BMW's X5 45e claims 54 miles of e-range and is around £2k cheaper in M Sport spec against the Touareg, but it's around 100bhp down on power. Mercedes, meanwhile, offers the GLE 350de – a diesel hybrid – that, too, is around £2k cheaper than the VW but, again, is more than 100bhp less powerful.
What's different inside?
The R gets the R-Line Tech's IMAX-like central touchscreen as standard, with specific graphics on the digital dials. Other than some badging on the steering wheel and some thickly bolstered, R-branded seats, there's little else that'll drop any hints as to what you're driving.
It's all very well built and solid. As for the technology, the massive screen is arguably less fiddly to navigate than the Golf 8 and ID.3/4's new infotainment system, but the haptic controls on the wheel really do take some time to get used to. There's also no R button here, which is weird, as the latest Golf R and Tiguan R have it.
CAR lives with a VW Touareg
How does it drive?
Very much like a heavy SUV; the Touareg R is almost 2.5 tonnes dry. Having some electric assistance certainly helps hide that – so much as you have some e-power in reserve, the Touareg R certainly isn't slow, with a gravelly V6 growl underpinning the surge of progress. It's not whipcrack quick, but there's plenty on tap if you flex your toes.
The car's air suspension does have to be commended, too. It manages to hide inherent crashiness expected of the large 22-inch wheels, particularly at motorway speeds. If there's enough charge, the R will happily use its e-power at these speeds too. Doing so, however, shines a spotlight on tyre noise, with the rubber regularly roaring on anything less than a perfect road surface.
Get more aggressive with your driving style and the R tries to keep up. This platform's 48v anti-roll technology works overtime here, killing as much tilt as possible mid-corner. But the steering is a little slushy and the automatic gearbox has trouble making a decision sometimes if you leave it in auto. Switching to manual mode allows you more control, but we'd like some more tactile paddles than the thin plastic ones attached to the wheel as standard.
Are you starting to cotton on? Nothing here is screaming excitement. It's commendable, assured and solid, but not that much fun. It's far better suited to cruising along peacefully – something an R model shouldn't prefer to do by default.
VW Touareg R: verdict
Let's just call it out now: this isn't a true R product.
So why is it branded this way? That letter, to VW, is designed to show the driver that this really is a proper performance weapon that's also easy to live with – something well communicated in the latest Golf R and Tiguan R.
The Touareg R has plenty of power, a comfortable ride, usable (if not stellar) e-range and is arguably decent value compared to other plug-in hybrid SUVs. So, it has the easy-to-live-with bit well catered for. But it's not nimble or exciting enough to wear its R badge with pride; giving an SUV more poke, massive wheels and chunky seats doth not a performance SUV make. VW even has a variant name in its repertoire that seems far more fitting, and yet it hasn't used it: GTE.
Besides getting hung up on the Touareg R's own identity, BMW's X5 45e offers more e-range if you're after a wafty and refined plug-in hybrid family bus and not sold on having tonnes of excess power and Porsche's entry-level Cayenne e-Hybrid, meanwhile, will be a sharper-handling offering with a little extra brand prestige to boot.
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