Every marque needs a flagship, and for Volkswagen it’s the mother of all Touareg large SUVs: the 310kW V8 TDI R-Line.
Spoiler alert: it’s around $148,000 on the road… for mainstream-badged SUV.
That might surprise some, but the Touareg was first conceived, around two decades ago, as a technical twin to Porsche Cayenne. It’s gone on over what’s now 18 years of production to share DNA and many of its parts with exotic metal such as the Audi Q7/Q8, Bentley Bentayga, and Lamborghini Urus.
It’s long been a premium rig with a non-premium – or perhaps ‘semi-premium’, whatever that means – badge, and it has a long history of offering stonking flagship models.
With 230kW/750Nm V10 diesels from inception and 331kW/600Nm W12 petrols (in select markets) in the stable since 2005, the breed has always offered something for enthusiasts. The 2021 top dog with V8 bi-turbo diesel propulsion looks, in the context of its predecessors, downright pragmatic.
Do you really need a V8 bi-turbo Touareg? Volkswagen certainly does, for what it says about its brand if nothing else. But there’s substance to back up the car’s flagship price.
It’s a machine sharing much of the make-up of a Bentayga, including its 310kW/900Nm engine, for a vastly more accessible price.
The ultimate Volkswagen clocks in at $136,490 before on-road costs. Only 200 are slated for local sale. It’s a decent hike from the 210TDI R Line ($108,490 list) and it’s a humongous drop down to the entry 170TDI version ($81,490 list). However…
There’s also an even more exclusive Wolfsburg Edition of our V8 TDI R-Line due in March 2021, with just 100 examples on the ship to Australia with blackout paintwork and soft-close doors. At $139,990 list, it will eclipse our tester by $3500 as the absolute range-topper.
Cast your gaze across the Volkswagen Group to its related cousins and you need $161,500 before on-roads for the Audi SQ7 or $165,500 list for the SQ8 – both of which sharing the bones of their bi-turbo V8 diesels with the Touareg seen here.
You’ll need $341,500 list for the Bentley Bentayga Diesel. Meanwhile, Porsche and Lamborghini’s eight-cylinder relatives are petrol only, the former from $192,500 list for the GTS, the latter effectively double that at $390,000 list for the Urus.
If you’ve got 310 V8 TDI R-Line money and aren’t fussed on cylinder count, let alone fuel (or charge) type, there’s a lot of premium-badged large-SUV goodness that can be had.
Cost options are few. Metallic paint (really?) is an extra $2100 and the sole equipment upgrade is a panoramic glass roof for $3000, as fitted to our test machine. Call it around $150,000 drive-away.
Put the kettle on and grab your slippers, we could be here for a while…
Essentially, virtually everything offered in the Touareg menu – or at least the higher-grade gear – is fitted as standard, including the ‘Innovision’ and ‘Sound & Comfort’ packages offered at extra cost further down the range.
That said, the only real exclusives the V8 TDI R-Line offers over a loaded 210 V6 TDI R-Line are the powertrain, of course, as well as 21-inch Suzuka wheels, an anti-theft alarm with interior monitoring, tyre-pressure monitoring, and Night Vision infrared imaging for the digital instrumentation.
Key highlights outside include LED Matrix headlights, dynamic LED indicators, R-Line styling, privacy glass, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming/heated/power-folding mirrors, auto wipers, and a powered tailgate. Cruise control is adaptive as standard.
Inside, the fully electric seats are trimmed in high-grade Savona leather and offer heating, cooling, massage functionality, and memory in concert with the steering and mirrors. The front seats have 18-way adjustment while the rear pews feature slide and tilt adjustment as well as heating in the outboard positions.
Instrumentation is a 12.3-inch digital format with a frankly humongous 15.0-inch display for the Discover Premium infotainment system. Added to this is a head-up display, 30-colour ambient lighting, four-zone climate control, inductive phone charging, USB-A and USB-C ports, and a surround camera system with adaptive rear view and overhead ‘360’ viewing.
Infotainment is all singing and dancing, with wired Apple and Android smartphone mirroring, gesture control, voice control, AM/FM (but strangely, no DAB+), satellite navigation, Bluetooth audio and telephony, and a top-grade sound system featuring 14 speakers and 730W of power. Park Assist Plus with manoeuvre braking is standard.
The R-Line trim brings with it a number of specific cabin features such as alloy pedals, select trim inserts, stainless scruff plate, black headliner and other sport-styled addenda.
All current Volkswagen Touareg variants have a five-star ANCAP rating applying based on Euro NCAP testing carried out in 2018.
Adult occupant protection is rated at 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, along with the following active safety assists:
- Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection in a 5-85km/h range
- Forward collision warning
- Lane departure warning and keeping assistance
- Emergency assist
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Front and rear-cross traffic alert
- 360-degree occupant protection
- Adaptive cruise control including stop/go functionality.
The R-Line’s inclusion of Night Vision, LED Matrix headlights, tyre pressure monitoring and expansive camera views conspire together to provide the most comprehensively safety-equipped variant in range.
First things first: this Touareg is a five-seater. If you need seven seats, or reckon a rig this size should have seven seats, best shop elsewhere.
It’s a large unit and this pays dividends with the sense of generous interior space. There’s a decent range of front seat adjustment with a choice of high-set bases for good visibility or low-set for a sporty vibe.
The leather grade, craftsmanship and colour choice – lots of medium shades of greys – is oh-so Volkswagen and is very nice, if not quite Audi slick and opulent. You suspect that’s very much by design.
There’s ample material and texture variation to bring a sense of occasion despite the pleasingly minimalist approach to the user interface and the slim selection of conspicuous controls. Some of it, such as the volume ‘roller’ control and Tron-like ambient lighting, heads nicely upmarket. Parts of the rest of it, such as the faux metal plastic trim inserts, are much more mainstream.
Almost all of it is overwhelmed by the presence of those two huge screens presenting a digital panorama across much of the dash.
The 15.0-inch infotainment unit, deftly butted against the 12.3-inch driver’s display, is desperately close to ‘peak screen’ (Tesla’s best efforts notwithstanding). It’s so large I wonder if anything larger might have to present a warning not to view it too closely for the sake of corrupting vision.
Wow factor? You bet, if only to a point. Volkswagen has chosen a clean and uncluttered display design that’s pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate, if not as fancy and garishly overblown as some German premium marques.
For your author’s money, this is a positive. The proximity sensing, that highlights functions as you approach the screen, is neat and the controls are easy to navigate at a quick glance. Strangely though, much of the content – including Apple CarPlay – doesn’t fully embrace full-screen display, which seems a bit of an oversight. And why is there no DAB+?
The camera system is fantastic. It’s huge in viewing size, clear, and quick in response, with swivelling rear view, handy forward view and others driver selectable at a whim.
Complimenting the faux ‘360’ overhead perspective is the trendy ‘drone’-style remote view of a digitised Touareg that, beyond being a party trick, doesn’t seem to offer much real benefit. Meanwhile, the driver’s screen skins are simple, legible, and neatly dodge all that confusing silliness favoured in BMW and Mercedes-Benz systems.
Check out our deep dive on the 15-inch Discover Premium system here.
Elsewhere, the cabin mixes USB-A and USB-C ports, has an inductive charge pad large enough for the heftiest smartphones and offers neat details such as carpeted door bins to stop oddments from rattling.
The dash-located air vents are huge and the four-zone climate system with rear controls is a class act.
A measure of the flagship Touareg’s goodness is how little there is grumble about. It could benefit from wireless phone mirroring, say, and the console bin could be a larger. Nitpicking, right?
Its five-seat only format affords a hugely spacious second row and the tilt adjustment allows an extra level of finely-tuned comfort. Roominess by every measure is excellent and the retractable blinds are a handy addition to keep the sun off dozing kids.
If there’s a gripe in row two it’s that the seat back contours favour the outboard positions so keenly that it leaves a bit of uncomfortable hump in the centre, making the middle spot not terribly compelling for long trips.
The SUV offers quite a utilitarian boot space. It’s a commodious 810 litres of volume as a five-seater, and 1800 litres converted to a two-seater van, though it’s probably not a spacious as the vehicle’s external dimensions suggest.
On the plus side you get a luggage net, grocery bag hooks, a 12V outlet, levers to drop the rear seats, and buttons to raise and lower the load height to suit your whims.
On the downside, the parcel shelf and fabric partition assemblies – two separate units – are a chore to remove, store, and reinstall.
In a nutshell, the V8 TDI R-Line cabin is relaxing, welcoming and suitably upmarket if, in a few areas, just a bit short of being properly premium.
It’s one hell of a nice place to spend seat time in for long trips around town or when grand touring.
The 4.0-litre sequentially twin-turbocharged diesel V8 produces a lusty 310kW at 4250rpm, but the real hero is torque: a planet-shifting 900Nm at 1750-2750rpm.
While it doesn’t offer the 48V electric smarts of the unit used in the Bentayga and SQ7/SQ8, it does have a function that at low revs that keeps one exhaust value per cylinder closed under 2200rpm to redirect gas flow to the first turbocharger to aid response and reduce lag.
This is also the newly-revised Euro 6-compliant version of the engine including stop-start and a selective catalytic reduction system with AdBlue, stored in its own 24L tank. The diesel tank itself is a long-range 90L unit.
Through the (ZF-sourced) eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive, the V8 oiler thrusts the Touareg’s formidable 2.4-plus tonnes from a standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 4.9 seconds. By Volkswagen’s reckoning the big SUV is 0.1 seconds quicker than a Golf R Wagon.
Yes, it’s a hefty bugger. The addition of adaptive air suspension, 48V active anti-roll hardware, four-wheel steering and largest-in-breed six-piston/400mm front and single-piston/350mm rear anchors – plus its lavish spec – makes the V8 TDI R-Line almost 300kg heavier than the base 170TDI version.
Combined fuel consumption is a claimed 7.5L/100km, with a high of 8.7L around town and 7.0L for extra urban.
Real-world consumption on test is a case of how you’re driving. During short trips around town, with lots of stop-starting and without much leg stretching, it’ll return between 11 and 20-plus litres depending on right-foot enthusiasm, according to the in-dash computer.
However, let it run long on a highway and it’ll return numbers as low as mid-sixes.
Right-o. Nine hundred newton metres. Let’s do this thing.
Tap the transmission to Sport, trounce the loud pedal and the Touareg takes a fair moment in pause as is if to ask: are you sure you want to do this?
Thereafter, it sort of lunges in first and nicks into second before it seems to fully unleash maximum output. The thrust is so heady and assertive it noticeably cocks the grille towards the sky. Or so these things seem…
Does it torque limit in first gear for self-preservation’s sake? Not sure. But it swells before it explodes (not literally) and while the sheer acceleration is fierce, the response time to throttle input is a little tardy.
Activate Sport mode, prime it with a few throttle squeezes to set the powertrain to ‘alert’ and response to a sudden full noise trouncing is more immediate. Its appetite to cover ground increasingly quickly is so strong you’ll quickly want to harness those huge and immensely powerful six-pot brakes in a fair hurry.
It’s a glorious engine, smooth and wonderfully quiet most times if unearthing a low, muted thunder when called to march where its considerable mass and associated inertia gets caught in a huge undertow of torque. You actually sense the forces of physics at play from behind the wheel.
Interestingly, the engine and transmission don’t at all fell stressed or strung out, such is the nature of this bent-eight diesel.
Outside of this party trick, there’s little about the large SUV that’s tangibly sporty. As a luxury-performance package, it feels about 80 per cent the former and 20 per cent the latter. And this blend really suits the format well, and does the SUV’s all-round appeal many favours.
In Normal drive mode – of seven, including Eco, Comfort, Sport, Offroad, Snow and Individual – it is, for the most part, a plush and dignified cruiser. The powertrain is silken and effortless, the ambience is nigh on serene and it’s as comfortable as any segment rival this size and at almost any price.
The ride quality is soft and well judged, impressively cushioning without much in the way of wallowy body control and the only time it feels slightly compromised is when the large, heavy wheel-tyre combo thud across potholes.
It does feel big and heavy, though the sheer torque of the engine does mask the mass to some degree. Lightly-weighted steering paired with four-wheel steering smarts makes it seem quite manoeuvrable and a more agile than it otherwise would.
Conversely, the active anti-roll system doesn’t tangibly bring that much to the party. It helps the chassis sit flatter and perhaps grip up more assertively if you chuck the SUV through a corner but, as I’ve experienced time and time again, clever tech just doesn’t overcome lateral inertia when it comes to big ‘performance’ SUVs.
To that point, it might have some decent handling chops deep down in the dynamics package but little about the Touareg really entices you to unearth it.
Other on-road highlights? Again, the camera system is brilliant and parking is surprisingly easy in tight spaces.
Those Matrix LED headlights are remarkably effective and the way the cabin introduces a bit of soft white ambient light when you park up is convenient and helpful.
If there’s one reason why you might steer towards Touareg and away from its Audi Q7 cousin, it’s warranty – the former offering an extra two years of surety with its five-year/unlimited-kilometre coverage.
Servicing intervals are a typical 12-month or 15,000km, whichever comes first, with quite reasonably-priced packages of $1350 for three years and $2500 for a five-year package upfront.
The V8’s thirst could prove more excessive in outlay than what some owners might bargain for. Tyres, too, aren’t going to be cheap if you’re planning on clocking up plenty of mileage.
The Touareg nameplate has really hit its stride in this third generation and all variants thus far have tended to garner favourable critical review.
True to form, the flagship and fully-loaded V8 TDI R-Line is an easy rig to like and a hard machine to hand back.
But does its more is more expensive application to an already fine formula make it a better example? I’m not totally convinced.
With 900Nm on tap, the Touareg will make Golf R drivers nervous at the lights.
Its 900Nm is a wonder to experience but it’s not something so addictive, in a 2.4-plus-tonne SUV at least, that I couldn’t live without it. From my experience, the V6 is utterly satisfying, no less refined, and more frugal.
Still, every marque needs a top dog. That the Touareg V8 TDI R-Line is such a nice luxury rig and the fact you could go hunting Golf R Wagons at the drag strip – if that’s your poison – does, in some not terribly pragmatic manner, justify the steep outlay once you plant one in you driveway.
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