The new Volkswagen Touareg is finally here. Sure, the third-generation model has been on sale since 2018, but Australia has missed out on the good stuff until now.
Our Touareg launched with a variation of the turbo-diesel V6 from the Amarok dual-cab as a “contingency that enabled Volkswagen to bring the Touareg to Australia in a timely manner”, and shared ute technology in an SUV designed to cause BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz sleepless nights never really felt right.
Good news is, Volkswagen Australia has given its flagship family hauler a high-tech heart transplant for 2021. Gone is the Amarok engine, replaced by a cleaner new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 that meets the latest European emissions standards, and packs more grunt in 210TDI guise.
You can get behind the wheel of the 2021 Touareg for $81,490 before on-road costs, and the more powerful 210TDI starts at $99,940 before on-roads in Elegance guise.
Our 210TDI R-Line tester comes in at $108,990 before on-road costs without options, but the as-tested sticker is $117,590 before on-roads when you add the $2100 premium paint and $6500 Sound and Comfort package.
That’s serious money and puts the Touareg between the BMW X5 xDrive25d and xDrive30d, or the Audi Q7 45 TDI and 50 TDI closer to home – read our review of the Q7 45 TDI here.
It’s worth considering the Touareg offers six-cylinder power where the entry-level X5, and GLE only pack four cylinders, and the list of standard kit on the 210TSI is far from skint. But the Touareg isn’t ‘premium for the people’ so much as it’s ‘premium for slightly less’ in this particular trim.
Volkswagen hasn’t skimped on the standard kit in the Touareg at any level, let alone near-range-topping 210TDI R-Line guise.
The base 170TDI Elegance model features niceties such as keyless entry and start, wireless phone charging, front seat heating, dual-zone climate, adaptive cruise, a powered tailgate, and parking sensors.
Stepping up to the 210TDI Elegance adds IQ.Light Matrix LED headlights and the Innovision Package, with a 15.0-inch central touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument binnacle, along with air suspension, 20-inch alloy wheels, premium LED tail lights with scrolling indicators, and higher-grade leather trim for the seats.
Opting for the R-Line on test here brings active roll stabilisation, a unique R-Line bodykit, R-Line front seats with adjustable bolstering, a powered steering column, stainless steel pedals, a heated R-Line steering wheel, and black interior headlining.
Our tester was fitted with the Sound and Comfort Package ($6500), which bring a surround-view camera, a Dynaudio premium sound system, four-zone climate, memory for the front seats, heated outboard rear seats, parking assist plus, and reverse autonomous emergency braking.
Some of those features really should be standard. Sure, the punchier sound system is worth paying more for, but reverse AEB feels like a feature that should be fitted to your flagship SUV.
The Touareg has a five-star ANCAP safety rating with a 2018 date stamp, based on tests conducted by Euro NCAP.
It scored 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.
Standard safety and assistance equipment includes lane-keeping assist with adaptive lane guidance, blind-spot monitoring with front and rear cross-traffic alert, and front, side and curtain airbags.
The standard autonomous emergency braking features pedestrian and cyclist detection. Should it detect one of these road users, it’ll apply the brakes at speeds between 5 and 85km/h. Vehicle detection and braking works at speeds from 10 to 250km/h.
Our R-Line also features reverse AEB and a surround-view camera as part of the Sound and Comfort package.
If you like screens, you’ll love the cabin of the Touareg.
The Innovision Cockpit in the big Volkswagen is a technology nerd’s wet dream, combining a crisp 12.3-inch digital instrument display with a massive 15.0-inch central display.
Even as a tech-savvy millennial the sheer amount of real estate is slightly overwhelming to start with, but then the sheer amount of customisation on offer means with some fiddling you can have it set up so everything you regularly use is within easy reach.
The setup we landed on was a large navigation display, with smaller phone and media tiles sitting alongside.
It’s not perfect, the big screen. For one, the air conditioning controls would still be better if they were physical buttons, and if you aren’t good with screen it’s going to be incumbent on dealers to walk less tech-savvy customers through the system, set it up for them, and show them how to get home from its various corners and rabbit holes.
Is the learning curve too steep? Not quite, but it’s not what you’d shallow either.
The corollary is the excellent Virtual Cockpit, which is crystal clear and blends the best of classic dials with the best of modern tech. It’s not quite as flashy as the system in the latest Audi Q7, but it’s not far behind.
Volkswagen’s screen technology is backed by the general cabin design, which blends plenty of gloss black plastic with patterned ambient lighting to make the Touareg feel more like a bespoke luxury car than anything else in the range. Given it shares its bones with the Bentley Bentayga instead of a Golf, that’s no surprise.
Beyond the high-tech sizzle, the Touareg’s cabin is fundamentally excellent. For starters, everything you touch feels high quality. The seats are trimmed in supple leather, the centre console buttons all have a well-damped action, and the plastics are all expensive.
It’s a shame Volkswagen has committed so hard to haptic touch-based buttons in its new cars, though.
The new steering wheel in the R-Line looks sporty and is nice to hold, but it’s a magnet for fingerprints and its haptic feedback lacks the tactility of proper switches. It’s far too easy to make the cruise control jump 10km/h instead of one, for example.
The driving position is nigh on perfect, and the R-Line armchairs feel like they’d carry you to the end of the earth and back without a numb bum. That they’re massaging, heated, and cooled just improves things.
With a storage bin under the dashboard (home to the wireless phone charger), cupholders on the centre console, a decent bin under the armrest, and spacious door pockets, there’s plenty of nooks and crannies for snacks, devices, and keys on long road trips.
As for the rear? It’s similarly excellent, especially with the optional seat heating and four-zone climate control included in the Sound and Comfort Package.
There’s an abundance of legroom – even six-seven me can sit behind six-four Mike Costello with space to spare – and toe room is a highlight. You’ll get chunky winter boots under the seat in front without stress.
Headroom is accomodating for lanky passengers, although the dark headliner and C-pillar position mean outward visibility isn’t quite as good as maybe it could be. Then again, that’s really nit-picking.
Boot space is a claimed 810L with the rear seats in place, and 1800L with them folded.
It’s a broad space, complete with remote releases for the rear seats and a luggage cover that slides automatically up when you pop the boot to make loading big items easier.
Our tester was fitted with a cargo net, too, which is a good idea if you’re often loading above the seats but eats into the usable space somewhat.
Gone is the Amarok-derived V6 engine from the pre-update Touareg, replaced with a new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 that meets the latest Euro 6 emissions standards.
The same engine is used in both 170TDI and 210TDI guises, albeit in different states of tune. The more expensive version fitted to our car here packs 210kW of power and a healthy 600Nm of torque, the latter on tap between 1750 and 3000rpm.
It’s worth noting the same 170kW and 210kW diesels are fitted to the related Audi Q7 but with 48V mild-hybrid technology.
An eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive are standard, and claimed fuel economy is 6.8L/100km on the combined cycle. We saw 8.4L/100km during our time with the Touareg, and new for 2021 is the standard fitment of the long-range 90L fuel tank that makes for a cruising range more in keeping with private aircraft than the average car.
Volkswagen says the 100km/h sprint scoots past in just 6.1 seconds.
Diesel has been a bit on the nose since, well, you know what.
No matter how good petrol engines and mild-hybrid systems get though, there’s something perfect about a torquey six-cylinder diesel engine in a big SUV.
There wasn’t much wrong with the 190TDI engine in the pre-update Touareg, but the new 210TDI V6 is on another level again. It has 20kW more than the older engine, and peak torque comes on 500rpm earlier, but the real strides have been made when it comes to refinement.
The older engine wasn’t what you’d call raucous, but the new mill is whisper quiet in all conditions, and is honey smooth by the standards of most turbo-diesel engines when you rev it beyond the 1750 to 3000rpm torque band.
It’s effortless to drive almost all the time, as you’d expect of such a torquey engine mated to a clever eight-speed automatic. The claimed 100km/h sprint time of 6.1 seconds feels on the money, because the way the Touareg picks up off the mark and surges through the lower gears gives you a hot hatch-like shove in the back.
In-gear response is equally impressive, although the economy-minded eight-speeder can see you in a higher gear than would be ideal on occasion. You really need to squeeze the right-hand pedal to make the car kick down in Normal or Comfort mode, but once it does there’s always a surfeit of performance on hand.
Hauling a family and trailer on the highway? The Touareg makes a strong case as a tow rig for people with a bit of cash to splash.
The silken powertrain is matched by a sophisticated chassis developed not only for the Touareg, but also for the Bentley Bentayga, Audi Q7, and Lamborghini Urus.
The big Volkswagen rides on air suspension capable of raising or lowering the body, and stiffening or loosening the ride based on drive mode.
Ride quality is never less than excellent, especially in Comfort Mode where it irons out everything from little cracks and creases in the road to big dips without breaking a sweat.
Even flicking into Sport doesn’t ruin its composure, although it does lend the ride an extra sense of purpose and weights up the steering.
Along with the air suspension, the R-Line has active anti roll-bars capable of propping up the body for sharper handling in the corners.
If you’re turning right, the system can actively support the left-hand side of the car to stop the body leaning too much. It’s subtle in its operation – the car doesn’t feel as though it’s playing games beneath you – but the result is a big SUV that doesn’t feel like a lumbering barge when the road gets twisty.
With an array of cameras, large glasshouse, and good rear three-quarter visibility, the Touareg doesn’t feel out of place in the city. It’s dead quiet at all speeds, and the air suspension can be raised or lowered from the boot to make unloading school bags or shopping an easier task.
Volkswagen’s auto start/stop system works smoothly and quietly, and the steering is light enough to make parking a breeze – provided you can find a spot big enough, of course. Big cars have become easier to drive, but they haven’t become smaller.
A five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is standard, as with the wider Volkswagen range.
Maintenance for the Touareg is required every 12 months or 15,000km.
A three-year service package is priced from $1350, while a five-year package will set you back $2500.
The Touareg has a quality interior that more than justifies its price
There’s no question the Touareg 210TDI R-Line is expensive, but it’s good enough to get away with that price. It’s a worthy flagship SUV for Volkswagen.
It feels every bit a premium rival for the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE and offers more kit and power for your money, especially when you consider it shares its bones with the Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga.
In other words, the only reason to ignore it is brand snobbery.
We’ll have to spend some time behind the wheel of the 170TDI and the cheaper 210TDI Elegance to see whether the R-Line is worth the extra money, but it’s a damn impressive rival to the best from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz in the meantime.
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