Volkswagen, clearly deciding that its sporting R brand needs a range-topper, has put the mighty Touareg through the R academy.
Even though there was a V8-engined Touareg on sale, albeit a diesel, this isn’t that plus some bigger turbos and a fat exhaust.
Not only is the Volkswagen Touareg R powered by a V6 plug-in hybrid, but it is also essentially a Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid with a VW body, badges and cabin.
Can that badge – and the R experience – stack up at this level?
We don’t know yet. Volkswagen Australia has yet to confirm that it is bringing the Touareg R here and, although it is more or less a done deal, we don’t have a price yet.
Based on the way R prices have shaken out in Europe, expect it to be in the $140,000 ballpark — about the same as the limited-run Touareg V8 TDI. For reference, the same-engined Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid asks for $147,400 plus on-road costs in Australia – though assume the VW will be fully specc’d.
All of this assumes, of course, that government promises to improve the quality of petrol sold here carries through — decent gas is going to be pre-requisite for Touareg R sales.
While $140,000 is a substantial chunk of cash to be asking for anything with a VW badge, the Touareg R should compensate with lots and lots of equipment.
Although Aussie specs aren’t yet confirmed, going by European and UK experience, the Touareg R won’t lack for standard spec, and there won’t be much of an options list.
Our test car, for example, came with:
- Panoramic roof with tilt/slide function
- Innovision Cockpit
- 12.3-inch digital instruments
- 15-inch touchscreen
- ‘Puglia’ perforated leather seats with R logo
- Active front climate seats (heated/ventilated)
- 22-inch ‘Estoril’ alloy wheels
- 18-inch performance brakes with perforated front discs
- R body styling kit
- Keyless entry/start
- Ambient cabin lighting
- IQ. Light Matrix LED headlights
Added to all of that, our car was enhanced with a few options, adaptive air suspension (with variable ride-height, off-road settings and a Sport mode) and a ‘Winter Package’ that gives you four-zone climate control, heated rear seats and heated-and-cooled front seats.
Considering that we were driving in the midst of a short northern European heatwave, those cooled seats were especially welcome.
Allowing for the fact the Touareg R hasn’t been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, and that its crash performance — thanks to the weight and location of the hybrid system’s battery pack — might differ slightly, the regular diesel Touareg (evaluated in 2018) scored a five-star ANCAP rating based on Euro NCAP tests.
That included 89 per cent for adult occupant protection, 88 per cent for child occupant protection, 72 per cent for vulnerable road user protection (impressive for such a hulking great thing as this) and 78 per cent for safety assist. Although the likes of the Genesis GV80 and Toyota Kluger have some slightly higher specific scores in some areas, the Touareg is well and truly in the same safety pack.
Standard safety kit for the Touareg R includes:
- Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Active bonnet for pedestrian protection
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Front, side, and curtain airbags
- Lane-keep assist
- Seatbelt reminder (visual + acoustic)
- Traffic sign recognition
- Travel Assist (adaptive cruise + lane guidance)
It’s pretty lovely inside.
Forget the fact that the VW badge in the middle of the steering wheel can’t quite give you the same warm and fuzzy feeling as would the four rings of Audi or the bronzed crest of Porsche. The Touareg’s interior is probably its all-out trump card.
Primarily, there’s that screen. At 15 inches across, it’s only now that rivals are starting to offer screens of comparable size, and while we’d normally complain about car makers adding endless functions to touchscreens — especially heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls — the Touareg R makes a solid fist of doing just that.
Yes, it’s more distracting than physical buttons would be, but the sheer size of the screen, and the concomitant size of the buttons on that screen, make it much easier to find your way around, and with a little bit of practice you will soon get into the swing of it.
While some switchgear is carried over from other, lesser VW models, overall levels of quality are just excellent, and some of the buttons and rotary dials (especially those that adjust the driving modes and suspension height) are really pleasantly tactile.
The digital instrument panel is not quite as customisable as some more modern systems, but it’s big and clear, and pretty simple to use. Our only bugbear is with the ‘haptic’ buttons on the steering wheel that can be a little tricky to use at times, and there were some parts of the big screen menu — such as how to turn off the ‘comfort entry’ seats function — that we just never quite managed to track down.
Speaking of seats, the Touareg’s pews are magnificent. Undertaking a non-stop six-hour journey might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Touareg R’s ‘ErgoComfort’ seats mean you can do it with nary a twinge of complaint from your nether regions.
The ‘Puglia’ leather also feels of really high quality. Not entirely sure that Audi or Porsche can accurately claim to make a cabin that’s objectively better.
Your rear seat passengers will be just as happy, with plenty of leg- and headroom even with the panoramic roof fitted. They’ll enjoy having their own climate controls too.
Behind the second row, there’s a massive 655-litre boot, which expands to 1675 litres if you fold down the back seats. As with the rest of the Touareg range, there’s no seven-seat option, but even if there were, it would likely prove impossible to package along with the plug-in hybrid setup.
The Touareg R shares a powertrain with the Audi Q8 TFSI e and the Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid. All three cars get the same 3.0-litre turbo V6 petrol engine, paired with a 100kW electric motor, which draws power from a 17.9kWh battery pack.
Combined, the two power sources produce a fairly hefty 340kW and 700Nm of torque. That’s substantial stuff, and good enough to hurl this 2.4-tonne SUV to 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds.
Of course, that’s then counterbalanced by the Touareg R’s ability to run on silent, electric power if you fully charge up the battery (which will take around eight hours from a domestic socket, less from a 7.4kW charge point).
Do that and you can go for a claimed 45-47km without ever wakening the V6 beast under the bonnet. The official CO2 emissions rating of 61g/km is rather good, too.
This is one of the hurdles that the Touareg R kind of trips over. The standard Touareg is a car we like, precisely because it doesn’t bother trying to feel sporty.
It’s a big, practical, comfortable thing that excels on long journeys and in being a usefully big family car.So, what happens when you try and add R-badged sportiness into that mix? Well, it becomes more mixed…
Keep the Touareg R on a wide road, with long, sweeping corners, and it excels.
The air suspension keeps things under enough control, and the steering has enough weight and accuracy that you can quite enjoy getting the big, blue, behemoth to mildly misbehave.
Make use of that immense hit of half-electric torque, and the Touareg R will happily fling itself from corner apex to corner apex. While it’s not what you’d call rewarding or dynamic in a true sports-car sense, it is entertaining to see just what a car this big and hefty will do when asked.
The problem is, when you get it onto a truly challenging road, with proper corners and bumps, it all comes a bit undone.
You see, the instinct is to crank all the settings over to maximum-attack Sport mode. This is a Volkswagen R vehicle, after all. If this were the smaller Golf R, you’d have an absolute ball.
The Touareg R just isn’t happy doing this, though. Part of the problem is that in Sport mode the suspension just stiffens up too much, so the Touareg can’t flow with a rumbly road surface, and instead starts to skip and fidget.
Another, bigger, part of the problem is keeping that 2.4-tonne mass in check when you’re trying to convince the steering — which you are now starting to realise is a touch numb and not particularly quick — to flick that big heavy nose from one direction to the other.
It is less than satisfying, and you just end up slowing down and changing everything back to Comfort mode. Not as quick, but far less frustrating.
At least the powertrain itself is immensely pleasing. That low-down torque is always a pleasant thing to call on, especially for rapid overtakes, and there’s never anything less than comically wonderful about seeing just how far and hard the Touareg R can fling itself at a distant horizon when you ask it to.
Actually, there is one problem here — it’s not loud enough. Given the R badge, the paint, those 22-inch rims, you’d expect the Touareg R to be a bit more boisterous in the sound department. But it’s not.
On the upside, that means overall refinement is excellent (allowing you to make the most of the impressive stereo) and in Comfort mode, the air suspension does exactly what it says on the tin, ironing out unpleasant road imperfections with ease.
The answer to that is going to depend hugely on how, and where, you drive it. Obviously, that’s the case for any vehicle, but it’s especially so for any plug-in hybrid, and especially so again for one as big and heavy as this.
The official fuel consumption figure is 2.7L/100km. If, and only if, you are utterly religious about charging up the Touareg R’s battery, and equally sacrosanct about taking it only on short urban hops, within its 45km electric-only limit, then you might get close to that magic figure.
If you’re taking the Touareg R on longer hauls, as its cracking cabin comfort and refinement would bid you to do, then you’re looking at more like 11.5 litres per 100km or thereabouts.
Now, being fair to the Touareg R, that’s not a bad return, as you wouldn’t get much better, if any better, from the outgoing V8 petrol model, and the R is quicker, more engaging to drive and has that electric-only ability. It’s just that you have to remember that achieving decent economy in a plug-in hybrid car is a task, not a given.
Volkswagen offers a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on all vehicles that it sells in Australia, along with a one-year roadside assistance programme, and we assume that the Touareg R will be included in that if/when it arrives.
There’s no denying the atavistic appeal of both the Touareg’s emotive, motorsport-related badge and the simpler joys of a handsome car in sexy blue paint with massive alloys.
Objective we need to be though, and the truth is that the Touareg R ends up as something of a mixed bag. Yes, it is handsome, and yes, the cabin is pretty wonderful (not to mention practical), and yes, the Touareg R is as refined as it is comfortable, and it is extremely comfortable.
The thing is that you could say that about any Touareg, and the Touareg R just doesn’t quite do enough to justify that R badge and status.
Well, actually that’s not quite it — it’s more that the R badge, and the baggage of expectations that go with it, just don’t sit well on the Touareg. The Golf R is a great car, and VW has managed to work just enough R magic on other models in its line-up — the T-Roc, the Arteon and the Tiguan — to justify them.
The Touareg just doesn’t feel comfortable in its R getup, though. You can tell it’s just not as sporty as it’s trying to be.
Click the images for the full gallery