There’s a notion that suggests that you’re better off with a basic version of a quality vehicle range rather than a high-spec take on an ordinary model.
The logic is that it’s tough to pull goodness out of inherently good stock to arrive at an enticing price point. Tougher than, say, simply adding bells and whistles to arrive at different pricing.
The Volkswagen Touareg is an ideal case in point. So much of its shared DNA needed to work suitably in the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, and the Volkswagen certainly benefits in core areas even whittled down to a price band palatable for the mainstream relative of the otherwise premium family.
But the real test case is the entry Touareg 170TDI. At around $82,000, it costs just 60 per cent of the outlay of the flagship 310TDI V8 R-Line, a device I reviewed just a couple of months back.
I can tell you one thing: the base 170TDI far better than merely being 60 per cent as good in its core role of comfort-focused upmarket SUV, regardless of how much difference there is in specification.
Spoiler alert: the Volkswagen Touareg 170TDI is a damn fine machine. And it’s not a stretch to consider it the ground floor from which you can scale right up to the $390,000 Urus, via all of the Q7s, Cayennes and Bentaygas in between, depending on your budget and whims. You still maintain some fundamental kinship, integrity and inherent quality found further up the tree, in theory.
Clearly, you must surely lose out on goodies and lots of them. In this review we’re keen to see what’s been lost and what’s maintained for $90,000 on the road, which is either serious mainstream SUV money or a bargain compared with some of the related luxury family haulers listed above.
The entry point to the Touareg range clocks on at $81,490 before on-road costs or just under $90,000 drive-away according to Volkswagen’s online configurator sans options.
It’s a fair step to $99,490 list for the 210TDI Elegance before scaling up to the 210TDI R-Line ($108,990 list) and V8-powered 310TDI R-Line ($136,490 list).
So far so thrifty, but evidence suggests the 170TDI is a bit of a downgrade. Up until the recent 2021 powertrain update a more powerful 190TDI was the base version and undercut the current 170TDI with a list price of $80,790.
It did feature an old Euro 5 version of the V6 diesel rather than current Euro 6 update, but the cleaner option is still down on advertised output.
How does $82,000 sit? On one hand it’s more than the rather excellent flagship Kia Sorento GT-Line diesel ($63,070), which unlike the Touareg is a seven-seater. On the other, you’ll need $103,000 to get into an Audi Q7 and around $122,000 for a basic Cayenne if you want to keep it in the family, of sorts.
Options? Hold onto your wallet and purse. There are two packages, the Sound and Comfort Package and the Innovision Package, both of which command $8000. More details below.
There are four metallics and one pearl effect finish that want for a $2100 premium outside of solid white. Add both packs and a nice colour and the 170TDI clocks in at just under $110,000 drive-away.
Suddenly, the 210TDI Elegance, with its luxury fit out and air-suspension, looks like a much more pragmatic prospect in everything from key features to resale value.
Our tester, with the Innovision pack option and standard Pure White paint, tallies up to $98,177 drive-away using the Volkswagen configurator.
Outside, key specifications are 19-inch wheels and steel suspension – variants further up the range have air suspension and 20- or 21-inch rims. Lighting is LED for headlights, tail lights and daytime running lights with auto on-off.
There’s also rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless go, front and rear parking sensors, and a powered tailgate.
Inside, the 170TDI features heated electric front seats with electric lumbar adjustment, ‘regular’ Vienna grade leather trim, dual zone-climate control, four USB ports, wireless phone charging, and an inflatable space saver spare.
Instrumentation is analogue while standard infotainment is a 9.2-inch Discover Pro grade touchscreen affair with proprietary sat-nav, radio and smartphone mirroring. You also get a reversing camera, of course, and even this base variant fits adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist. Nice.
Those option packs? The Innovision pack adds the impressive 12.3-inch digital driver’s screen and huge 15.0-inch Discover Premium infotainment system in a tandem widescreen array that looks the bee’s knees. It also bundles a head-up display, 30-colour ambient lighting and roller-style volume control. All and sundry are loaded in higher-grade variants.
Is it worth the $8000 – or roughly 10 per cent of the vehicle price – outlay? We think not, but that’s highly debatable. Will the fitted pack add an extra eight grand of resale down the track? Don’t bank on it.
The $8000 Sound and Comfort suite adds tricky Area View surround cameras, higher-grade Dynaudio sound, four-zone climate control, fancy memory functionality for the driver controls, rear seat heating and Park Assist Plus with Manoeuvre Braking. Arguably less of a crucial extra investment than the Innovision pack on a base 170TDI, we reckon.
All third-generation Touareg variants have a five-star ANCAP rating derived from Euro NCAP assessment conducted in 2018.
Adult occupant protection was rated 89 per cent with child occupant protection at 88 per cent. Vulnerable road user scored 72 per cent (with a low 0.8 out of 6 for upper leg impact) while safety assist returned a 78 per cent result.
Standard safety and driver assistance includes six airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection in a 5-85km/h range, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, emergency assist, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear-cross traffic alert, and 360-degree occupant protection.
What you don’t get is the LED Matrix headlight trickery offered in all other Touareg variants and the nifty Night Vision feature that’s exclusive to the flagship V8 R-Line.
That debatable $8000 Innovision pack? Well, it certainly makes a strong case for itself the instant you climb into the Touareg.
The 15.0-inch infotainment and 12.3-inch driver’s display combination is humongous, pin sharp in resolution, and chock full of eye candy and features, with the exception of digital radio. This really is a head-scratcher of an oversight when DAB+ features in lower rungs of budget motoring.
Meanwhile, the driver’s screen skins are straightforward and handy for quick glance information to a degree that makes BMW and Mercedes-Benz systems, to name two, seem overbearing. I like the minimalist Golf-style wheel, less so the new wheel controls that seem clunkier than they need to be, though this is a bit of a nitpick.
The camera system is good, if lacking the 360-degree and dedicated forward view in the absent Park Assist Plus (part of the Sound and Comfort pack), and as we noted in Touareg reviews past the small Apple CarPlay display tile that doesn’t fully embrace the large screen size seems like a missed trick.
What’s tough to conclude is whether the fancy screens are worth so much extra dough – I’ve experienced quite a few third-gen Touaregs to date and none of them have fitted the standard analogue gauges as an otherwise handy reference point for comparison.
Despite the large and quite ornate dash fascia there’s a real airiness to the ambience. Lots of front seat adjustment means you can tune in captain’s chair or low-slung and sporty seating positions, and ergonomics are quite sound.
It does feel hefty and solid, with exceptional suppression of outside noise, which really becomes central to a premium vibe regardless of how you view the Volkswagen branding.
There’s a real dignity to the thing, where nice material choice and impressive fit and finish rule over an absence of frills, optional mood lighting notwithstanding.
The plastics are sturdy and pleasing, and perhaps the nicest and most upmarket interpretation of that Volkswagen X-factor leaves it feeling a few cuts above other mainstream SUV offerings. Even the basic leather is more sumptuous than some of the fake hide you find in some premium European offerings.
The cabin features an array of USB-C ports if with a handy USB-A tucked in the centre console if you need it. Ports are available in row two as well, and rear air vents are fitted – this base set-up doesn’t want much for the nicer and optional four-zone climate control of the Sound and Comfort Package.
The inductive phone pad is big enough for the largest of today’s phones and there are thoughtful touches around the cabin, such as the flocked door bin bases to stop oddments from rattling about, and the retractable blinds on the rear windows.
It is, of course, a five-seater for a nation seemingly obsessed with the need for seven or more in a device this large. If that isn’t enough pews best shop elsewhere – but jeez, isn’t it a fine fiver in terms of spaciousness as a measure of inherent luxury and comfort.
The commodious rear accommodation benefits from seatback adjustment and there’s just a welcoming sense of plus-sized space in every measure. There’s a decent heft to the doors, too, which bring a subliminal sense of surety. As a long-haul machine for adults, you could really do far worse.
Its 810 litres of bootspace offers excellent depth from the tailgate to the seatbacks, which fold in a 60:40 array to liberate 1800 litres of volume that suffers a little in that the rear seats don’t really stow as flat as they should. You do get a handy grocery net and a 12-volt outlet in the driver’s side wall, grocery bag hooks and remote levers to drop the rear seats.
Given how much more affordable the 170TDI is compared with the 310TDI V8 I reviewed recently, I was expecting some conspicuous cost cutting in the cabin and something of a much lower-rent result.
Needless to say, I’m quite surprised as to just how upmarket the basic Touareg is, even considering that some of the cost-optional Innovision trickery is sprinkling about a fair amount of fairy dust.
As mentioned above, powertrain upgrades for 2021 put the old Amarok-derived 190TDI V6 diesel to pasture. Today’s choice is the 170TDI as tested here, or the lustier 210TDI tune further up the range.
The 170TDI pumps out – you guessed it – 170kW at 4000rpm with 500Nm at 1750-3000rpm. This newer, cleaner 3.0-litre oiler V6 is not only down 20kW on the old base engine but it’s also lost 100Nm against its effective predecessor and the 210kW/600Nm tune in today’s 210TDI versions.
It’s hooked up to full-time all-wheel drive using Volkswagen’s Torsen-based system that’s torque variable between the axles with up to 70 per cent front and 80 per cent rear bias when required.
Transmission of choice is a ZF-sourced eight-speed conventional auto, with a choice of four drive modes (it misses out on a Comfort mode offered in the air-suspended variants).
The downgrade in power means that the 170TDI’s 7.5-second claim is one second slower in 0-100km/h acceleration to the old, dirtier 190TDI. Something’s got to give.
That said, its 6.8L/100km combined fuel consumption claim is an improvement over the old engine’s 7.4L/100km figure, which is about what the current claim is for the mighty V8 TDI flagship (in theory at least). Such is progress.
Real-world consumption is quite honest, in the middle sevens throwing in long highway stints and low nines running around town outside of peak periods.
There’s nothing cut-priced about the 170TDI on road. It feels substantial and solid – there’s that word again – but what really underpins the experience, as a driver or passenger, is the level of overall refinement. You’d have to back-to-back test it against premium gear to find shortcomings (if any).
The updated (if output-reduced) oiler is quite a decent engine. There’s a faint tick to remind you it’s a diesel at idle and it does show its stripes under load, but during sedate driving rattle and vibration is virtually nonexistent.
The V6 is slightly blunted in initial throttle response in normal drive mode that a tap of transmission controller (for Sport) amends off the mark, but the torque swell from low revs is quite satisfying. Even a hasty march is relatively stress free.
There’s a real smoothness to the entire powertrain and the slick-shifting eight-speed serves the Touareg’s premium aspirations well. It’s not entirely silken, with a few nips here and there, particularly at low speed, but nothing any more unruly than more expensive SUV stock.
While it’s no powerhouse, what this 170TDI offers is ample for many owners and you don’t sense that you’ve been short-changed. It does weigh a little over two tonnes but, for what it’s worth, it’s a quarter-tonne lighter than the 310TDI R-Line and feels more lithe than I remember of the flagship version.
The steering is nice and direct, the front end feels engaging and there’s a certain connection with the road via the steel-sprung suspension that you don’t get with the many air-suspended designs. I wouldn’t go as far as calling the handing ‘crisp’, but it’s far less ponderous in changing direction or hooking through a corner than you might expect.
The ride quality, too, is really quite good. It perhaps lacks the ultimate plushness of the air system in its most comfortable setting, but it’s compensated for to some degree by the large-profile rubber fitted to the 19-inch rims that seem to add an extra sheen of compliance.
The damping cushions speed hump hits well, there’s nothing unruly across road acne, and the ride comfort and handling balance offers impressively taut body control. That said, there remains a bit of thumping over cat-eyes and road joints that’s fairly typical of big SUVs.
On the open road, it’s rock solid and does a fine job of suppressing road and ambient noise.
There’s no all-wheel steering, no fancy active anti-roll, no monstrous 21-inch wheels fidgeting about with excessive unsprung inertia and no driver adjustable ride height trickery. And if anything the 170TDI seems to benefit from the bulk of omissions here.
The Touareg is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is decent by mainstream SUV measure if certainly more enticing than the slim three-year surety you get if you’re temped by Audi’s Q7 as an alternative.
Servicing intervals are a typical 12-month or 15,000km, whichever comes first, with Volkswagen’s Care Plan packages priced at $1350 for three years and $2500 for a five-year package up front.
The packages extend the complimentary roadside assistance support from a basic 12 months to the duration of whichever Care Plan you choose.
Strike me impressed. I didn’t have to spend much seat time in the 170TDI to start to question why you want to spend more to climb further up the Touareg tree.
The big question mark embarking on this review was whether this comparatively cheaply priced variant was going to feel cheap in the experience, both in an overall sense and specifically in the areas of spec and equipment where Volkswagen has trimmed some fat. The answer is: most definitely not.
The powertrain shines where it ought to for a luxury SUV, more than making for a lack of punch with its polished execution.
Inside, it feels properly premium even if its key bells and whistles require a handsome extra outlay.
I doubt the Touareg would feel measurably more downmarket if you decide to omit its in-cabin widescreen display ornamentation, though that does remain to be seen in direct comparison.
I wrote in my review of the top-dog 210TDI R-Line of not being convinced that variant’s more-is-more approach makes it the finest example of breed. And sampling the impressive less-is-more approach of the 170TDI certainly doesn’t alter my opinion on that one bit.
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