► New 2018 VW Touareg review
► Third generation of VW’s SUV
► Five seats, V6 diesels or hybrid
The Volkswagen Touareg enters its third generation with more – and better – competition to face than ever before. Like its predecessors it’s a combination of serious 4x4 and refined, roomy, comfortable family transport.
The new VW is longer and wider than before, and more spacious inside. It also sports a bigger, brighter chrome grille, and a feast of technology (much of it optional) for the chassis, infotainment and safety.
When the wraps came off the first one in 2002 it stood alone. Now it’s at the head of a family of VW SUVs that also includes the Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace and T-Roc, with the smaller T-Cross on its way and the electric ID Crozz following in 2020.
But it’s up against a strong and varied field of £50k-ish SUVs that includes the Mercedes GLE and Volvo XC90, not to mention its VW Group rivals, the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7.
Browse VW Touaregs for sale
So it’s more than just a facelift…
The visual changes are quite modest compared to the amount of hardware that’s new.
The body is now 106kg lighter, thanks to its use of aluminium and several types of steel, with the strongest materials employed where they’re needed. There’s a choice of suspension systems, ranging from steel springs to clever air suspension, and wheel diameters ranging from 18in to 21in.
The engine line-up has some crossover with the last generation, but everything’s been refreshed in terms of power outputs and economy. At first there will be two versions of the 3.0-litre V6 diesel: the 282bhp car we drove, and a 228bhp version. In early 2019 they’ll be joined by a V6 petrol and a V8 diesel. We’re promised there will be a plug-in hybrid too, but first deliveries of that have gone to China.
All have permanent four-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic gearboxes. Clever differentials shift the torque to the wheels that can make best use of it.
Plus a bunch of electronic driver aids?
And then some. There’s a giddying variety of advance-warning systems, some of which can also intervene in the control of the vehicle. Active cruise control and traffic jam assist can keep you cruising on the motorway or holding your position in stop-start traffic with minimal involvement from the driver. There are also some smart headlight options that read the road ahead to look around corners, dim themselves, go wider in the city or off-road, and co-ordinate with the infra-red Night Vision system to highlight hazards.
That’s all more or less familiar gear. What’s new (to VW, if not to Mercedes) is the combination of two huge screens, merging together to replace the instruments and the central infotainment screen with a wide, elegant and adaptable set-up that can display and adjust various combinations of nav, audio, phone, vehicle set-up and journey data, and much else besides.
The central touchscreen-based controls worked well for us, and replaces a great many physical switches, helping clean up the cabin. You swipe, scroll and pinch like a tablet, and don’t need to go burrowing down through sub-menus in search of the temperature controls, for instance – they’re where you expect them to be, just on a screen rather than in 3D. And there’s still a physical volume control, and a dial to switch between driving modes.
Sounds great! What’s the catch?
Not a catch as such, but don’t assume that all of the gear mentioned above will be standard on the three trim levels coming to the UK (SEL, R-Line and R-Line Tech). Prices and spec details will be revealed in June, when the car goes on sale in the UK. Prices are expected to start at around £49,000 for the less powerful diesel V6 in SEL spec.
But what we do know for a fact is that the new Touareg is good to drive. It benefits from the optional four-wheel steering, which moves the rear wheels a little in order to give an impressively tight turning circle at low speeds and to aid stability at high speeds.
Very little noise reaches the cabin, allowing you to make good use of the fine audio system. Switch between Eco, Comfort, Normal, Sport and you get different levels of plushness and dynamism, with new anti-roll bars helping keep the car stable.
We tried it on motorways, in town, up twisty mountain roads and on some gravel tracks. It was composed, responsive and agile for something of its size. Very comfortable, too.
Does the VW Touareg have a third row of seats? No, it does not. This is a five-seater only, not a seven-seater.
Much of the original Touareg’s appeal was that it was low-key for such a big car, and that it had much more off-road ability than its big-Passat looks implied. The new one has too bold a grille to be thought of as low key, although the overall design remains pleasingly simple and elegant. The interior is if anything a little too grown-up – it could do with some of the cheeriness of the T-Roc and Polo.
It’s a successful evolution of a big-selling car. It may be a little short on magic and mystery, but it drives well and looks after you.
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Our earlier prototype drive in the new 2018 Volkswagen Touareg (March 2018)
The Volkswagen Touareg has always been a popular, steady SUV choice being neither the best to drive, plushest, smartest, showiest or sexiest. Which has defined its appeal: the SUV for those who really want an SUV, but want people to like them too.
The new third-generation car, due on sale in autumn 2018, may challenge those assumptions. Volkswagen, selling a million of the previous model and with markets like China lapping them up like hot dim sums, has stated that this is now without question going to be its flagship model, and as a result, it gets a raft of newly introduced technology to make it the sharpest-driving, most tech-laden vehicle it offers.
By throwing the boffins’ various kitchen sinks at the Touareg, Volkswagen reckons it has a car the exceeds all others when it comes to infotainment, while offering a wide range of driving talents that go from plush on the motorway to agile on a B-roads, with the car park manoeuvrability of a shopping trolley thrown in for good measure too. It’s a bolder car in every respect.
How can the new Mk3 VW Touareg claim such handling and ride talents?
The new platform has plenty of trick hardware hanging off it: entry-level Touaregs will be underpinned by steel-sprung suspension, but more advanced offerings include air suspension, with rear-wheel steering and active roll compensation.
While the Audi Q7 cousin can offer some of this tech, the new Touareg takes it on to a new level. The rear steering points the wheels in the opposite direction at low speed to help manoeuvring and parking, and in the same direction at high speed to aid stability, while the active roll compensation uses electromechanically stiffened rolls bars front and rear to counter body lean in corners. Reacting instantaneously, the roll bars can be softened or stiffened to counteract mid corner understeer or oversteer.
Such is the width of available parameters, engineers could have set it up so the only body roll came from the tyre walls, but it was felt a couple more degrees of lean made it feel more natural and SUV-ish.
Both roll bars can also decouple for off-road driving, but this is one area Volkswagen is content to defer to Land Rover on. It reckons its SUV is capable on the rough stuff, but it’s not intended as a hardcore off-roader. No change there, then...
Browse VW Touaregs for sale
Allied to this are two new 3.0 V6 diesel engines, with power outputs of 226 and 280bhp, while a 4.0 V6 diesel will be announced later and a petrol plug-in hybrid is coming, although exact dates and specifications are cards held close to chests in Wolfsburg.
Sitting on a new platform, the Touareg is nearly 8cm longer, and more than 4cm wider (and marginally lower) than the outgoing model, with a big increase in bootspace: capacity is up from 697 to 810 litres with the rear seats in place.
There is no seven-seat option (there never has been on the Touareg), unlike the Q7 or Discovery, but rear passengers will have as much legroom as they could desire.
Inside the Touareg: what’s innovative in Innovision?
Car infotainment systems lag (often necessarily) a long way behind the phone in your pocket, but with its new Innovision Cockpit, the Touareg has all but caught up, VW hopes.
The touchscreen is a vast cliff-like edifice dominating two-thirds of the dash, stretching from the driver’s instrument binnacle to the passenger's inside knee, and almost completely negating the need for any buttons. Only a large volume control wheel survives the cull, because this tactile pleasure is one buyers don’t want to lose apparently.
But on the screen, you can corral your key data into tiled sections in whichever way it suits you, have whatever you fancy operating in the middle of the dash or in front of the driver, and even run Night Vision on it too.
Crucial to all of this is the system's UX. It actually swipes, scrolls and pinches like a smartphone, rather than the clunky, half-hearted system before, and because of the size of the screen, you can direct your finger in to operate functions without having to take your eyes off the road at peer at piddly little virtual buttons. Finally, it feels as though the digital touchscreen has come of age, and it also frees up the cabin to be more airy and stylish too.
CAR lived with a VW Touareg: check out our long-term test review
What does the new 2018 VW Touareg look like beneath the camo stickers?
We squinted a bit at it for a while, and what is clear is that the new car has much sharper edges, with some surprisingly curvaceous and wide rear flanks.
There are many more angles and chamfers that sweep through as many as three of four panels than on the outgoing car and the front grille encompasses the whole nose, and certainly gives the impression of increased aggression. Which might be just what the all-important Chinese market wants, but may not play so well in European markets. We’ll find out for sure when the wrapping is peeled off.
Even in slightly rattly, stickered up pre-production models, the new Touareg is clearly a huge leap forward in every respect. To find out just how well it drives (or not!), stay tuned for our full VW Touareg review in the weeks after its world debut in March 2018.
By Steve Moody
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