I think 'new' might be stretching the truth a bit. The front lights are clearly new, but what else has changed?
In truth, not a great deal. Those lamps have been reshaped to resemble those of the Eos two-seater convertible, and they’re now bi-xenons and adapt to the corners of the road as you turn the steering wheel. The interior gets some fresh upholstery, the centre console styling has had a bit of a tweak, and there’s a socket to plug your MP3 player into the audio system. But essentially it's the same seven-seater Volkswagen launched in 2003 to take on the Vauxhall Zafira and its ilk.
It doesn’t sound like much of an upgrade so what’s all the fuss about?
The clever bit is a new optional extra called Park Assist. It’s technology that essentially means the Touran can park itself. Yes, you read that right… it can park itself. While the recently launched Citroen C4 Picasso can scan a parallel parking bay to see if the car will fit, VW has gone the whole hog and will actually put the Touran in the gap for you.
That sounds like a great idea. How does it work?
You spot a parallel parking bay that you reckon is big enough for the car. Before you reach it, push the Park Assist button that’s located near the gearstick to activate the system. Two sensors mounted in the front bumper scan the space as you slowly pass it, and a diagram will appear on the information screen between the dashboard dials. It will either give you the okay, or suggest you keep looking. If the car will fit, you select reverse gear and simply let go of the steering wheel. You need to work the foot pedals – either manual or automatic set-up – and the Touran does the rest. You just have to remember to brake when the rear parking sensors start bleeping.
So is it a gadget or a gimmick?
Sitting there with your hands in your lap while the steering wheel twirls away isn’t as weird a scenario as it sounds. It takes a bit of getting used to, but after the first couple of goes it seems perfectly normal. However, the system isn’t perfect. You’ve got to remember to flick your indicator on so it knows which side of the car to scan, plus it’s not great if the kerb isn’t straight and can leave you badly parked. Also, it only works in reverse and not if you need to shunt forwards again. At £500 Park Assist isn’t cheap, but if parallel parking is something you’ve never mastered it will soon pay for itself because there will be no more dented bumpers.
What’s the Touran like to drive and use?
The third row of seats fold flat into the boot, and while occupants don’t get masses of legroom, they’re fine for kids. More than 85 per cent of cars sold in the UK are diesels, and that’s not surprisingly given the quality of the VW engines. They’re some of the best in the business, offering impressive torque and fuel economy. We drove the 1.9-litre TDI 105bhp version which will be the best seller costing around £18,000. It’s smooth on the road, handles well and there’s very little to criticise, although it's hardly rapid, taking 13.2sec to reach 62mph. If you want more pace and are willing to up your budget, VW's newer, more powerful twin-cam 2.0-litre TDi engines are also available in 140bhp and 170bhp forms. Or there's the unusual turbocharged and supercharged 1.4 petrol that gives the performance of a much bigger engine.
This is about as minor a facelift as we can remember in terms of what’s actually changed. The Touran is still an excellent family car with a very versatile interior. The big news is the Park Assist, and as a convenience feature it will probably appeal to a percentage of buyers. But if you want to save yourself £500, take a few cones to a quiet bit of road and learn how to manoeuvre the old-fashioned way.