The new VW Touareg? What's different?
Yes, true, the new-look front end is more of a tweak than a full redesign, but VW has changed 2300 individual parts in the new Touareg, including brakes, suspension, anti-rollover safety, and a front and side sensor system which tells you how much room you've got (or haven't) in tricky off-road situations. Or congested Chelsea mews streets… To be honest, FrontScan and SideScan, as VW calls it, was pretty useful as we blasted through tight Norfolk country lanes and squeezed down tight dirt tracks in search of deserted beaches. It's a bit like having parking sensors front and flank - the dash lights up and beeps when things get tight. A couple of feet, and the Touareg dashboard emits amber lights and gentle beeps. When the gap becomes Rizla-thin, it's like Def Con One.
It's a big car, then?
Honestly, you could live in the Touareg. There's acres of room inside and it feels fairly palatial, which is what you'd expect on £50,000-worth of car. It's 4.7m long, almost 2m wide and depending on which suspension you choose, around 1.7m high. VW claims that the Touareg is one of the lowest-profile 4x4s in its class, but it certainly doesn't look any lower than its rivals. And it weighs a whopping 2602kg. Castles weigh less. A good job the car we tested had a muscular V10 TDI engine to propel us.
The V10 TDI? That's a bit much in today's eco-friendly world, isn't it?
True enough, but what an engine! The V10 TDI is incredibly torquey and pulls like gravity. Considering its size and weight, the Touareg catapults forward in any of its six automatic gears when you boot the accelerator, leaving cheeky GTI drivers in its wake. The V10 TDI puts out 308bhp and 553lb ft, which makes it one of the torquiest powerplants out there. It feels fantastic, like you're surfing a wave of power that will take you past things, over things, and quite probably through things. But yes, it's a bit over-the-top in green terms. Okay, it has VW's Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF), which traps some nasties before they escape through the exhaust. But five litres and ten cylinders, however efficient, isn't going to win any favours with Al Gore.
So the Touareg is thirsty, then?
Yes. Thrashing around the North Norfolk coast roads, we struggled to get 400 miles out of a tank - but it was stop-start twisty stuff. There are less thirsty, luxury, big-boot space options out there (not necessarily 4x4s). But compare it with rivals and a different picture emerges. Official figures put the Touareg V10 TDI at 22.4mpg - not bad compared withi similar-spec 4x4s such as the Mercedes ML55 (22.1), Porsche Cayenne Turbo (19.0) and Range Rover 4.2 V8 Supercharged (17.7). We're talking oil-baron territory here.
So who would buy one?
Posh farmers. Rich builders. People who want to pull something really heavy. Anyone who wants serious industrial-strength pulling power, but doesn't want the bling factor of big-power Range Rovers, Porsche Cayennes or Mercedes MLs. The Touraeg is stealth. The only giveaway is the little V10 TDI badge on the back - apart from that it could be just a 'normal' 4x4. But that strength may cap sales; why shell out Merc money on a VW? Yummy mummies, stockbrokers and footballers won't be interested.
A highly-capable 4x4 that's great fun to live with owing to its fabulous engine. Incredible torque makes for an effortless long-distance, big-load cruiser. Big luxury inside. If you need to pull a yacht to the south of France but don't want to draw attention to yourself when you get there, this is the car for you.