Few mainstream vehicles have genuinely been able to compete with established luxury products like the Volkswagen Touareg – largely due to the fact it shares its DNA with them.
Born off the same platform that also saw the creation of the Audi Q7/Q8, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne, the Touareg has long been the understated no-frills version of the German group’s flagship SUV platform.
Think of it as the sibling or relative who is just about as rich and successful as everyone else but chooses to wear smart casual clothing instead of formal wear to family gatherings, and doesn’t have to have their kids in private school.
Since this latest third generation launched this time last year in one trim level, the range has expanded to two variants with an array of high-end options for the model we’re testing here – the Touareg 190TDI Premium.
Is it still a proper contender to rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz? Let’s find out.
The range kicks off with the entry-level 190TDI from $80,790 plus on-road costs, while our 190TDI Premium example on test starts at $86,790 before on-roads.
However, our test vehicle had every single option box ticked, bringing the as-tested price to a whopping $115,790 before on-road costs.
All three main option packages – Innovision, Sound & Comfort, and R-Line – were specified to our tester, each asking for $8000. We’ll get into the contents of these in a bit.
Rounding out the options were the lovely Silicone Grey metallic paint ($2000, yikes!) and power panoramic glass sunroof ($3000).
The as-tested ticket puts our fully-optioned Volkswagen Touareg in direct competition with V6 diesel versions from luxury brands. An Audi Q7 50 TDI can be had from $112,900 before on-roads, and is hardly sparse in terms of standard inclusions.
BMW will sell you an X5 xDrive30d M Sport from $117,900, and Mercedes-Benz’s petrol-powered GLE450 starts at $117,400 while its GLE400d diesel six sibling is a little pricier at $124,400. Food for thought.
Standard equipment in the Touareg 190TDI Premium is pretty comprehensive.
Highlights include ‘IQ.Light’ Matrix LED headlights with dynamic indicators and dynamic high-beam, premium LED tail-lights with dynamic indicators, 20-inch ‘Montero’ alloys with 285/45 Bridgestone Alenza tyres and an inflatable spare, four-corner air suspension with adaptive damping, high-grade ‘Savona’ leather upholstery (VW has previously said it’s softer than nappa hide), as well as heated and ventilated front seats with massaging.
That’s on top of the base model’s electric tailgate, LED daytime running lights, 9.2-inch ‘Discover Pro’ touchscreen navigation system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, and 4Motion rear-biased all-wheel drive with selectable on-road and off-road modes.
If you want the sexy 15-inch Discover Premium central touchscreen and 12.3-inch Active Info Display gauge cluster seen here, they form part of the $8000 Innovision package which also bundles 30-colour LED ambient interior lighting, a colour head-up display, piano black centre console trim, and a volume scroll wheel on the centre console.
Our tester also features the Sound & Comfort package ($8000), adding 360-degree ‘Area View’ cameras, a cracking 14-speaker Dynaudio Consequence sound system outputting 730W with a 16-channel amplifier, electric steering wheel adjustment with memory, electric folding side mirrors with puddle lights and memory, and 18-way electric front seat adjustment with three-position memory and easy entry function.
There’s also four-zone climate control with air cleaning, heated outer rear seats, Park Assist Plus automated parking for perpendicular and parallel spaces, manoeuvre braking, and a long-range 90L fuel tank (+15L).
Finally, the R-Line package ($8000) brings different 20-inch ‘Nevada’ alloys, rear-wheel steering, electromechanical active anti-roll bars (from the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus), R-Line exterior styling with black accents, rear privacy glass, Savona leather trim with R-Line logo and carbon-effect accents, brushed stainless steel pedals, R-Line steering wheel with heating and shift paddles, ‘Silver Wave’ decorative cabin trims, a black headliner, and R-Line scuff plates (illuminated in conjunction with Innovision pack).
Optioned to the nines
You can have the Touareg with a heap of high-end features, if you're willing to pay for them
As mentioned earlier, a panoramic sunroof and metallic paint are also pricey options. For those who want to hitch up caravans and trailers, the Touareg has a maximum tow rating of 3500kg with a down ball weight limit of 130kg with five occupants in the vehicle, or 230kg with two occupants in the front seats – it’s little wonder you see so many Touaregs on the highway towing boats and caravans.
Fully specified, the Touareg wants for just about nothing compared to its rivals. Opting for the related seven-seat Audi Q7 50 TDI with sporty S line package bumps the price up to $119,900 plus on-roads and you still have to pay extra for Matrix LED headlights and metallic paint, settling at a circa-$10,000 premium without the active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering which are at this stage limited to the V8 diesel-powered SQ7.
The also-related Audi Q8 50 TDI, arguably an even more direct competitor than the Q7 due to its five-seat layout and similar size, is more expensive again at $129,900 before on-roads and cost options which the Touareg has as tested – at least $15,000 more expensive.
Beyond the confines of the Volkswagen Group, the BMW X5 xDrive30d requires around $20,000 of optional equipment to match the fully-specified Touareg’s spec sheet, while regardless of whether you choose the Mercedes-Benz GLE450 or pricier GLE400d, you need to spend an additional $22,000 over the respective base prices to get similar inclusions.
So, six-figure as-tested price aside, the Touareg is relatively good value – if you ignore the lack of DAB+ radio and seven-seat option. There’s also a limited range of exterior and personalisation options compared to other markets, something desirable in premium segments.
Further, the Volkswagen Touareg’s Euro 5-certified diesel engine for Australia isn’t as powerful, frugal or clean as Euro 6 motors used in rivals like the related Q7 and Q8. More on the engine in a bit.
The Touareg wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating with 2018 date stamp based on tests conducted by sister firm, Euro NCAP.
Individual category scores were 89 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 72 per cent for vulnerable road users, and 78 per cent for safety assist.
Some feedback from the crash-testing organisation is of note. Chest protection for the driver and rear passenger were only ‘Marginal’ in the full width frontal test (50km/h) and driver chest protection was again ‘Marginal’ in the frontal offset (64km/h) and oblique pole tests (32km/h).
Neck protection for the 10-year old dummy was rated ‘Adequate’ in the frontal offset test (64km/h), while pedestrian impact tests saw ‘Poor’ and ‘Weak’ ratings for areas of the bonnet and windscreen pillars and a score of 0.80/6 for upper leg impacts.
The Touareg also lost marks for its poor AEB performance travelling at interurban speeds toward a heavily braking car with 12m headway – yes that’s specific but it was the one anomaly in the vehicle’s AEB testing.
Standard safety and assistance equipment includes autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning and pedestrian monitoring (5-85km/h), lane-keep assist with adaptive lane guidance, emergency assist, adaptive cruise control with Traffic Jam Assist, blind-spot assist with front and rear cross-traffic assist, park assist, 360-degree proactive occupant protection, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Six airbags are also standard.
As seems to be the case with most new Volkswagen products these days, the Touareg’s cabin presents beautifully when optioned with the big screens, and all the touch points feel of a high quality.
However, poke and prod around a little more and you’ll start to see where costs have been saved. The dash and door tops are fittingly squidgy, but from the belt-line down you’ll find an abundance of hard, scratchy plastics which don’t feel particularly high end in a vehicle costing more than $115,000.
That said, I’m rather critical of cabin finishes at the best of times, and there will be plenty of prospective buyers who care less about interior tactility when faced with the optional Innovision cockpit and its huge 15-inch central touchscreen and digital driver’s instruments, bolstered further by the LED cabin lighting, which looks fantastic at night.
With 30 colours available to choose from, there will be a theme for everyone’s tastes, and it turns the Touareg’s cabin into a rolling nightclub.
Speaking of ‘rolling nightclub’, the 14-speaker Dynaudio sound system is excellent. The audio is crisp and the bass really thumps – just like being at the disco. Even at higher volumes, the cabin never feels like it’s shaking or rattling either.
Up front there’s acres of space giving you the feeling you’re driving a big, expensive, comfortable car. The range of electric adjustment for the seats and steering wheel in this specification is nothing short of fantastic, with plenty of support for your back, bottom and sides. The massaging function with various modes is a neat party trick, as is the memory functions for the driver’s seat, steering wheel and mirrors.
There’s good storage, too, with large door pockets large enough for a 1.25L bottle, a large cubby under the centre stack with a wireless phone charger, USB port and 12V socket, as well as a storage bin under the centre armrest with another USB port. All the cubbies are rubberised or felt-lined as well, so stowed items won’t rattle around. However, the panoramic roof removes the space where a sunglasses holder might usually be found.
In the second row there’s plenty of space for two adults, even behind a taller driver, with ample head- and legroom even for six-foot-one-ish me behind my own driving position.
Three can sit abreast at a pinch, though the kids will be fine. ISOFIX mounts on the outboard rear seats (which are also heated) mean parents with babies are also covered provided you only have two – an Audi Q7 can sit three ISOFIX child seats across the second row.
Rear-seat passengers also benefit from an additional two climate zones in the back thanks to the optional Sound & Comfort package, while two USB ports and a 12V outlet reside in a draw under the HVAC controls.
Further back again, you won’t find a third row of seats but there is a huge 810L luggage area with the second row in place. For reference, an Audi Q7 claims 770L in five-seat form, which is already on the larger side for the segment.
Pop those rear seats down, which fold almost flat, and the Volkswagen Touareg’s boot expands to a cavernous 1800L. With that space you’d be more than equipped to carry the various items from Ikea you’re probably going to buy with the $10,000 you saved from not buying the equivalent Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
In addition to our complaints regarding some of the cabin materials, the sun shade for the optional panoramic sun shade isn’t as hardy as you might expect for a vehicle in this price bracket. Even in Melbourne’s crossover from autumn into winter, the Touareg’s cabin would be noticeably warm if left out in the sun. Worth considering for the hot summer months.
For now, all Touareg models are powered by a ‘190TDI’ 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel developing 190kW of power at 4000rpm and 600Nm of torque 2250rpm.
Drive is sent to a Torsen-style 4Motion full-time all-wheel drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission, which typically runs with a 40:60 front-to-rear torque split. When required, however, the Touareg’s all-wheel drive system can send up to 80 per cent of torque to the rear axle.
The Touareg’s 3.0-litre V6 in Australia is an older iteration of the Volkswagen Group oiler, doing duty in the Amarok V6, as well as previous versions of the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.
For now, the Euro 5-certified powerplant is the sole option for Australia, meaning it isn’t as clean or efficient as the newer version offered in 170kW and 210kW tunes overseas, and in the Audi Q7 and Q8 locally.
Volkswagen claims the Touareg can sprint from 0-100km/h in a Golf GTI-rivalling 6.5 seconds, and return fuel consumption of 7.4L/100km on the combined cycle.
By comparison, the larger, near-200kg heavier Audi Q7 with the 210kW ’50 TDI’ V6 diesel featuring 48V mild-hybrid tech claims to hit triple figures in the same 6.5 seconds while using just 6.8L/100km of diesel.
The Touareg also misses out on fuel-saving idle stop/start technology, and emits a claimed 14g/km of CO2 more than the 210kW Audi Q7. It may not matter to some, but it’s a shame that VW’s flagship vehicle in Australia is using last-generation powertrain technology when related vehicles from the Volkswagen Group are offering the latest, most efficient engines in the same rough price bracket.
Later this year Volkswagen Australia will introduce the hotly-anticipated V8 TDI to the Touareg range, featuring a stonking 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel which shares its bones with the unit used in the Audi SQ7 and SQ8, as well as the Bentley Bentayga Diesel.
The bent-eight oiler will forego electric compressor tech from its VW Group stablemates but still manages to pump out a massive 310kW and 900Nm. We’re excited to test this version out when it hits local showrooms later this year.
In a word, nicely. The Touareg definitely shows its premium underpinnings on the road, helped by the effortless performance of that torquey V6 diesel and the wafty goodness of the 190TDI Premium’s standard air suspension.
Our week with the big VW saw over 600 kilometres travelled across a range of conditions, including plenty of freeway stints as well as running errands in the ‘burbs.
Regardless of the environment, the Volkswagen Touareg is smooth, quiet, comfortable and composed. The 3.0-litre diesel barely lifts a finger around town, effortlessly accelerating while the eight-speed auto shuffles through ratios eventually finding the highest gear.
You may occasionally experience a bit of turbo lag off the line as the turbo spools up to deliver all 600Nm at 2250rpm, but other than the occasional hesitation the Touareg’s powertrain is a delight in urban environments and is so insulated from the cabin some of my passengers didn’t even realise it was a diesel.
There’s no hiding the fact this is a massive car, but the light, fluid steering makes light work of tighter manoeuvres – aided somewhat by our test vehicle’s rear-wheel steering system which turns the back wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at lower speeds to help reduce the turning circle.
Plenty of outward visibility and an array of assist systems means you rarely will get any nasty surprises in your blind post, while the 360-degree cameras and all-round sensors make parking the Slovakian-made behemoth relatively easy to park.
It’s not without its drawbacks, though. Around town we noticed the ride could get a tad fidgety over small road imperfections even in its softest ‘Comfort’ setting, which took away from the wafty ride expectations that come with air suspension. Some of the interior plastics would flex and creak over sharper hits, too.
Eats up the miles
The Touareg excels on the open road with effortless performance and a well-insulated cabin
That said, the air-sprung Touareg deals beautifully over larger speed humps and undulations, showing great body control and isolating the cabin from the various imperfections scattered throughout Melbourne’s roads.
Out on the open road is where the Volkswagen Touareg is at home. It’s here where you realise why the car is so commonly bought by adventurous types.
As the speed hits triple figures and the roads get straighter, the VW eats up the miles. The V6 diesel settles into a near-silent hum in eighth gear, barely ticking over 1400rpm, while wind and road noise are kept to an absolute minimum despite the large 20-inch wheels.
The ride is wonderful at higher speeds too, coupled with a sense of stability and sure-footedness that inspires confidence on the freeway regardless of the weather conditions.
Despite its size the Touareg can be a bit of fun when you hit a twisty back road, especially with our tester’s optional R-Line package.
You can’t defy physics, but the Touareg’s optional electromechanical anti-roll bars help to minimise roll (keep in mind this is a two-tonne SUV with over 200mm of ground clearance) and if you flick the drive mode selector into sport you get sharper throttle response and firmer steering to make everything feel a little tighter.
Slowing down this big beast is no small feat, but the large 350mm front discs with six-piston calipers and 330mm rear rotors with single-piston clampers do a good job – though they could use a little more feel when you first hit the brake pedal.
Overall, the Volkswagen Touareg may not always feel like a $100,000-plus car inside, but it certainly drives like one.
Unlike most of its premium competitors, the Touareg is covered by Volkswagen’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with five years of ‘Assured Price Servicing’.
The first three visits (covering 36 months/45,000km) will set you back $354, $737 and $420 respectively – equalling $1511 over three years of ownership.
If you’re planning to hold onto your Touareg for a little longer, the fourth and fifth services (up to 60 months/75,000km) will cost $1232 and $420, bringing the total cost of maintenance to $3163 for the life of the program.
Alternatively, you can purchase a three- or five-year ‘Care Plan’, which bundles the first three or five services at a discounted rate upfront. The three-year Care Plan for Touareg is $1350 (-$161) while the five-year package is $2500 (-$614). Part of the larger saving for the five-year Care Plan is a free first service.
By comparison, the Audi Q7 will cost $2310/$3190 for three/five years of servicing, while a Mercedes-Benz GLE asks for $2700 upfront for three years or $5200 for five (though the Benz has longer 12 month/25,000km service intervals).
In terms of fuel consumption we couldn’t quite match Volkswagen’s 7.4L/100km official claim, instead returning an indicated 8.5L/100km during our week with the vehicle.
That fuel consumption still allows for more than 1000 kilometres of driving from the long-range 90L tank which forms part of the Sound & Comfort package, meaning you can drive from Melbourne to Sydney in one stint with some juice still in reserve. Not bad.
I came away from this not wanting to hand the keys to the Touareg back. Many who know me have heard me trash the recent rise of SUV sales when passenger cars do an equal if not better job for most people, but it’s different at this end of the market.
The Volkswagen Touareg is a fantastic car, capable of lugging the kids to school, getting mum and dad to and from work, with enough in reserve to tow a caravan across the country for a long weekend. It does so many things so well, and makes it seem so easy.
Better yet, regardless of whether you’re on High Street or the McDonald’s carpark, the Touareg never feels out of place.
The big VW is a true SUV – comfortable, capable, and practical. Better yet, it offers a value for money equation its luxury-branded competitors just can’t match, unless badge cred or cabin tactility are your main priorities. Plus, it has the towing capability to serve as a more premium alternative compared to something like a Toyota Prado.
Personally, I can do without the R-Line pack. The rear-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars are neat but a I’m a firm believer that SUVs look and feel best without sports-oriented styling packages so you’re not pretending it’s a performance car. This is a V6 diesel luxury SUV after all, this kit makes more sense with the upcoming V8 TDI torque monster.
A quick look on the classifieds show there are plenty of good deals to be had. There’s heaps of Touaregs equipped with various options and packages for under $100,000 drive-away. Nab one of these with the big screens and comfort package, and you’re laughing.
Then again, the base Touareg 190TDI with Innovision package is even more affordable ($80,790 + $8000) and has just about everything you need whilst giving you pretty much the same capabilities as the vehicle tested here.
I will say though, the cabin should be finished with nicer surfaces, and it would be good to see more exterior colours and interior themes available here – come on VW, give us the beige, brown and green paints available in Europe as well as the tan leather with open pore wood!
While it may not be as dynamically adept as an X5, or as boldly designed as a GLE, it matches its rivals for engine performance, comfort and technology with understated class.
Is it good enough to challenge the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz? Yes. Should you shortlist it if you’re looking for a vehicle in this segment? Absolutely, unless you need seven seats.