Large diesel SUVs are getting a bad rap. Could we help redress the balance with three months behind the wheel?
Why we’re running it: To see if Volkswagen’s re-engineered SUV is a fitting flagship – and how well it can do diesel
Life with a VW Touareg: Month 3
We’ve learned some important lessons over nearly 10k miles in our big diesel SUV – 4 March 2020
The weeks have flown by. It feels like it was only the other day that I first slipped behind the wheel of our Volkswagen Touareg, and the fact that it has since amassed nearly 10,000 miles is hard to comprehend.
But what pleases me most, now that the big Volkswagen is about to leave our fleet, is how closely our experiences with the car align with our expectations of it going in. It may look like an off-roader but, in our hands, the Touareg has turned out principally to be an effortless motorway mile-eater. You begin a journey and you arrive with little perception of fatigue in what seems very short order.
True, the 4Motion permanent four-wheel drive system has given us occasional chances to tackle muddy fields and grassy slopes – one especially slippery farmer’s field, safely negotiated, will always live in the memory – but our recollection of the Touareg will mostly be of tackling long journeys, on which you almost never seem to have to stop for fuel.
Indeed, it was a superb performance in this role that made us want to run a Touareg in the first place. A couple of us were late for a flight home from Germany and still 80 miles from the airport. A Volkswagen chauffeur installed us in the back of a gleaming black Touareg (the same 282bhp diesel version as ours) and set off down the autobahn at a secure, stable and remarkably quiet 120mph. We made the terminal in plenty of time…
As is well known, the Touareg has close relatives at Porsche, Audi and Bentley, so its price leads you to believe it’s a very good-value machine, even at an entry price just short of £60,000 and even (in our case) with nearly £10,000 in options. The quality, after all, is very little different from the others.
However, in our hands, the Touareg never really assumed the role of a prestige machine: it was always the one car on our fleet that would take rear passengers in spacious comfort, would reliably eat miles and would rarely need fuelling at the outset of every journey. It was far more likely to have ‘450 miles to go’ showing on that blessed readout in the middle of the speedometer.
Of all the add-ons, the £100 for the option of a big (90-litre) fuel tank was the handiest expenditure – although I must say I’d list the eye-watering £4890 needed for the Professional Chassis Pack (electric roll control, air suspension and supporting gadgetry) that turns the Touareg from an undistinguished performer, dynamically speaking, into a vehicle with ride, handling and stability as another must. In conditions that truly test suspensions, you find yourself silently posing the question: who needs a Range Rover?
The Touareg’s size can be a problem. It really requires its household to also have use of a supermini. True, it doesn’t feel quite as wide as the Bentayga and its comparatively short wheelbase means it can turn better than you expect, but there were plenty of times in congested areas when it was just not pleasant. You wouldn’t call the Touareg a do-anything car in the way the Tiguan is. Enjoy the generous five-seat interior and massive luggage space but be ready to change cars when the going gets tight.
Mind you, away from walls and kerbs and the crush of parked cars, the Touareg is a fine and rewarding car to drive. The steering is accurate and nicely weighted, the roll control is near perfect, the brakes feel powerful and notably easy to modulate and the tyres are quiet on coarse surfaces and grip brilliantly. Not that everything about the Touareg fits the ‘brilliant’ description. It has a huge central touchscreen from which practically all infotainment functions – plus luxury-car stuff like seat ventilation and back massaging – are controlled.
No doubt that a sharp 10-year-old could instantly figure it out, but we found it necessary either to restrict ourselves to oft-used functions and ignore the ones we couldn’t fathom or spend extended periods trying to find explanations in a thick but deeply inadequate handbook.
There seem to be hard keys all over the console and fascia and multiple ways of achieving the single objectives. But from my first day to my last, I had an abiding feeling of inferiority, because I couldn’t operate all the subtle functions controls as I would have liked. Quality? The Touareg absolutely fits the usual Volkswagen reputation.
Our one niggle was a reluctantly closing driver’s door, caused by the partial detachment of a door seal that I hadn’t noticed. After a quick reinstallation in my garage, the issue went away and never returned.
Bottom line? Big SUVs used to be very fashionable, and you often still see parents who bought one four or five years ago, still struggling to manoeuvre them in supermarket car parks and outside schools. Such difficulties, and the rise of Dieselgate, have removed much of the glamour, even though the latest AdBlue diesels are as clean as the best. Our major Touareg finding is that if you’re a two-car household and are attracted to the idea of owning a Touareg, you’ll be wise – and will enjoy it in its element – if your other car is smaller. Then you’re onto a winner.
Remarkable thing, the Touareg. It looks big on the outside, yet it’s actually even bigger than you expect inside. Somehow, though, it’s amazingly manoeuvrable and easy to drive. A wonderfully relaxing, comfortable way to travel, then – tinged with the slight feeling of guilt that inevitably comes from driving a big, heavy diesel SUV in the current climate.
It’s a mile-eater Great seats, supple suspension, stability, big tank and refinement make it a fine long-distance cruiser.
Decent valueOkay, it’s not cheap, but it represents long-lasting value if you compare it with other big SUVs.
Surprising economy Despite its two-tonne all-up weight and mighty frontal area, it can return an easy 36mpg.
Hardly handsome In six months, no one ever remarked on its good looks. They talked a lot more about its toothy grin, though.
Feels its size in town Even though you can manage it, the Touareg is bordering on too big for use in UK inner cities.
Final mileage: 10,140
No solution for slow reaction times – 12 February 2020
I’ve had debates with Touareg owners about irregular sluggishness away from stop lights. The problem is speed of initial response, not the rate of acceleration once it’s rolling. We thought ‘super diesel’ made a difference, but it doesn’t. Varying atmospheric conditions are also under suspicion. The hesitation is some kind of built-in clean-air measure, it seems. SC
Life with a Volkswagen Touareg: Month 2
It continues to be a hugely capable all-rounder – but do give that door an extra shove – 22nd January 2020
The Touareg didn’t do many miles over the Christmas/New Year break, even though it’s the kind of car that might have done, what with the usual twin priorities at this time of the year: toting lots of people and stuff, and coping at times with snow and ice. However, neither need came to pass in our household: we led a pretty sedentary life for 10 days, and when there were miles to do, we did them in smaller cars that better fitted the crowded marketplace car park.
This didn’t stop the big VW from occupying our thoughts, though. It was a golden opportunity to realise how much less smooth and quiet rival cars usually are, and how inefficient their seat heaters appear to be by comparison. One thing that seems to follow you if you get into Touareg ownership are observations by other owners – of new models and old – about how many miles and tasks they’ve put their own cars to.
However, there’s a new thread, too: a tendency for those with smaller models to come over all judgmental about your choice, regardless of the fact that their machine often can’t get close to our Touareg’s near-40mpg average or its low CO2 output. Sure, life’s going to have to change a lot more, but to pretend that efficiency hasn’t already improved out of sight over the past few years is quite wrong.
It’s very odd how gremlins that hardly came to notice in the beginning grow in irritation value, even when you’re talking about a model as all-round excellent as the Touareg. One of these is the way the driver’s door rarely closes completely when you use the same level of effort on it as you do with other apertures (and cars). Use 20% more muscle and it closes perfectly, but the fact remains that it’s different from the others. It illustrates (in a minor way) one of the issues with today’s long service intervals: you live with small irritations for longer than you once did, because they’re not worth a separate visit to the dealer…
Other irritations can lessen with familiarity, though, such as the infotainment system’s tendency to confuse. The screen and surrounding hard keys are large and easy to follow, but there’s precious little logic to the hierarchy you need to operate them. It took me a week or two to know how to adjust the steering wheel heating (I know, we’re damned lucky to have that facility at all) and I’m still fathoming the way conditioned air flows from the dashboard.
I’ve tried looking it all up in the handbook – and in the quick-start guide for that matter – but was driven away by small (or a lack of) diagrams, ill-defined functions (maybe down to translation) or the sheer inadequacies of my own brain. I’ve long since learned the major functions (such as the three-step operation needed to turn off the infernal lane keep assist gizmo) and I even defend this system for its depth of capability when others start complaining about it – but I do have the lingering feeling that pretty soon, car systems and info systems are going to have to strike a better relationship.
Not that much of this limits the Touareg in day-to-day use. Long ago, it became one of those default choices: you nearly always choose it unless you need something unusually small or unusually inspirational. Under normal circumstances, it’s enjoyable, if slightly stately, to go about in and one of its major strengths is that your passengers, elevated and in plenty of space, are almost guaranteed to enjoy it, too.
Looking back over the above, it reads like a somewhat fulsome list of complaints, which is emphatically not what the Volkswagen Touareg R-Line diesel V6 deserves. If I were to be locked up with one do-everything car for the next 100,000 miles, this would be close to the top of my list.
All-round versatility Big VeeDub can do everything short of fitting down ultra-narrow city streets. Fast, smooth, comfortable, durable and even economical.
Infotainment confusion Central info screen gives access to a huge number of functions, but it’s hard to fathom them all. You resort to the ones you strictly need.
Less than a clear view – 24th December 2019
The Touareg has been doing a great job of paddling through salt and slush, doing up to 1000 miles a week aided by superb LED matrix headlights with the bonus of washers that work. What doesn’t work very well, though, is the reversing camera lens. Clean it and you can be sure it’ll be covered in crud again when you reach the end of your journey.
What happens on tour stays on tour. Oh well, if you insist… – 4th December 2019
Not long after Steve Cropley’s Volkswagen Touareg arrived on our fleet, I borrowed it for a rare ‘social’ with three mates to far-off North Wales. Just the sort of test that a large, premium-priced SUV should be suited to.
As chaps of a certain age with families and plenty of responsibilities, we don’t get together as much as we used to. So once a year we block out a few days and head for a remote valley for a weekend of outdoor ‘activities’ (not just involving alcohol, honest). There are four of us from the south-east, with others travelling from Devon, Cambridgeshire and Ireland. The rendezvous is a cottage that becomes our weekend base camp, although this year I was diverting the southeast quartet for an evening of rally action at Oulton Park in Cheshire, as Wales Rally GB kicked off.
I’d promised something comfortable for the journey, and the chaps weren’t disappointed – even Steve and Martin in the back. The big SUV proved the perfect tool for motorway cruising – quiet, refined, powerful, smooth – although it took us literally minutes to find ourselves confused by the giant touchscreen; even Martin, the least ‘analogue’, was left scratching his head on occasion.
Tony, riding shotgun, said: “The ride quality in the motorway setting was like an executive saloon. I’ve got a friend who’s had an Audi Q7 and now has a Range Rover. The VW definitely competes and feels as well built. And he’s had issues with the Range Rover engine management. Wow, expensive to fix… So if you’re not a slave to the badge, this is a cheaper way without giving up on quality.”
Steve was also taken with the Touareg. “As a rear passenger, it provided a great degree of comfort over the six-hour journey,” he said. “Plenty of rear leg room and acres of space for two adults. Technology slightly got the better of us, though, as we couldn’t get the independent rear climate control working.”
From the driver’s seat, the best bit was the sweeping A-roads that led us from Oulton into Wales. After a fantastic evening of spectacular night-time rally action, the sat-nav told us it would take two hours to make our cottage rendezvous – and it was on the nose. On a clear night, the Touareg ate through the miles, proving remarkably agile.
Flat cornering, endless torque and seamless auto changes carried us to the bumpy, narrow track that leads to the cottage, and without a hint of car sickness from the ‘kids’ in the back. We’d become familiar enough with the touchscreen by now to raise the ride height, and the potholes and rough surfaces were reduced to mere ripples.
The convivial weekend passed quickly and far too soon we were departing for home. On that last leg, we discovered the massage function for the front seats. “I loved that,” said Tony. “It helped me out on a long trip and it’s not just a gimmick.”
Bones and joints begin to creak at our age, but the Touareg was always a soothing companion. One refill of diesel was all that it required for a trip that topped 600 miles, too, so that’s a big tick for the Touareg on tour.
Hard-wearing stowage – No carpets in the capacious boot is perfect for ‘outdoors’ living. Swallowed our stuff (and the odd bottle) with room to spare.
Touchscreen trouble – Why is it so hard to find your way around the controls? Buttons are nice. What’s wrong with buttons?
Life with a Volkswagen Touareg: Month 1
Smooth running after a few thousand miles – 27th November 2019
The Touareg is perfectly run in now. When you fill it, the promised range exceeds 800 miles and, despite it being a big beast, fuel consumption’s settled at 42mpg. The right-speed auto feels smoother than ever, too, which reminds me what an engineer once told me: gearboxes also need mileage for perfect operation. This one’s now at the top of its game.
Active assist is actively annoying – 13th November 2019
The constant presence of a lane departure gizmo that actually steers the Touareg away from white lines is a menace and an annoyance. I’ve searched for ways of turning it off permanently, but it seems to me you have to disable it afresh with every trip. This ‘safety’ measure is a truly terrible idea. Maybe there’s a kill setting I haven’t yet discovered.
Welcoming the Touareg to the fleet – 6th November 2019
The plan to run a latest-spec Volkswagen Touareg – complete with top-spec 282bhp V6 diesel – on our fleet came about for two reasons: one born of recent experience, the other of bloody-mindedness.
After a visit to VW’s Wolfsburg HQ to interview a management bigwig, our reporter and photographer were late for their return flight from Hanover. Our hosts packed the pair into a chauffeur-driven Touareg diesel and told the driver to get the hammer down, and he did: a journey that should have taken an hour took 45 minutes and we made the flight, having cruised most of the way on autobahns at 125mph. We were so impressed by the Touareg’s stability, torque and tall gearing – and the ease of our conversation – that it seemed to be a matter of urgency for us to have access to the same at Autocar.
The bloody-mindedness followed hard on the heels of that high-speed experience: opinion today is that we road testers should be speaking less about big diesel SUVs than we once did, because they’re somehow less respectable, yet right now their environmental credentials are better than they have ever been.
This 282bhp 3.0 V6-powered car is now as clean, exhaust-wise, as a petrol vehicle of equivalent power and performance. Yet it produces less CO2 (just 173g/km) than many 2.0-litre petrol cars. It has a smart 4Motion 4×4 system (ideal for the semi-rural dweller, of which Autocar has several) and, in any guise, let alone the R-Line Tech we finished up with, has plenty of equipment. Our example, even with £9650 worth of extras, will look very affordable to many against a similarly equipped, similarly sized Bentley Bentayga.
And it’s off to a flying start. The car arrived eight weeks ago yet the mileage is already close to 4000 because it’s recognised as one of those cars that comfortably conveys multiples of people, luggage and camera kit long distances at the drop of a hat, and it has the instantly recognisable quality of durability that convinces it’ll be up to the job. The basic price of a Touareg R-Line Tech, about the size of a standard Range Rover, is £58,335, which means it undercuts the British offering by at least £20,000. Even our kitted-up version – complete with air suspension and electronic antiroll likely to be little different from a Bentayga’s – still looks great value.
Most ancillary functions are controlled via a 15in touchscreen that, given the plethora of operations it controls, is pretty easy to master – even if it took two good searches and a trip to the handbook to turn off the heated steering wheel. Even this thoughtfully designed system shows that when a car has so many functions, controlling everything by touchscreen is more a convenience for the car’s builder than its buyer.
The Touareg has the unusual quality of modesty in its make-up. Usually size, price and depth of equipment are associated with a pursuit of prestige, but this Touareg is pleasantly free of such a goal. It’s a well-made car but there’s no excess of showiness beyond a somewhat naively styled gap-toothed grille. Otherwise, it’s no more prestigious than VW’s smaller SUVs costing half the money, and we’re fine with that.
What’s warming is the Touareg’s big-car comfort, the precision of its major controls, the excellence of its instruments and graphics and its thoughtful design touches (such as a rear luggage blind that lifts out of the way when you open the tailgate), all created for use rather than ornament.
The on-road ride quality is outstanding: all-independent suspension absorbs bumps quietly, with great wheel control and far less of the high-amplitude body movement that affects other big 4x4s. Our optioned car is self-levelled, of course, so there’s little difference in ride quality whether it’s carrying just you or four adults in its nicely shaped seats. A fifth occupant in the centre spoils things in the rear, though.
The V6 is quiet at idle and torquey and relaxed low in the rev range. With the eight-speed automatic transmission in Drive (Sport tends to hold seventh), you barely see 2000rpm at a 70mph cruise. Fuel mileage can go either side of 40mpg depending on your driving, but it’s likely that an ordinary weekend sojourn with the family will yield 40-42mpg. Fill the car and you’ll have 800 miles to cruise. If you want to go fast, you can crack 146mph on the autobahn, or sprint from 0-60mph in just 6.2sec.
Most surprising to me, a natural born lover of small cars, is the Touareg’s driving ease given its size. It’s big but not too big. It fits down a London street and into a Tesco parking space. On favourite back roads, it’s agile enough for fun. In fact, for many (well-heeled) people, this is surely the perfect family car. I already anticipate a queue of colleagues keen to grab this big VeeDub over the Christmas break.
Economical do-everything cars are always at a premium for the festive season, and the Touareg looks like heading the desirability list.
I have a natural aversion to giant SUVs, but on short acquaintance with Steve’s Volkswagen Touareg, my prejudice was knocked for six. The refinement, smooth ride and sense of calm in the dark cabin made quite an impression, and for a big car, it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre. Dreaded diesel step-off delay was disappointing and the size of that touchscreen is ridiculous, but – damn it – maybe I was wrong about these big buses after all.
Volkswagen Touareg 286 4Motion R-Line prices and specification
Prices: List price new £58,335 List price now £58,335 Price as tested £67,987 Dealer value now £62,500 Private value now £60,000 Trade value now £55,000 (part exchange)
Options:Driver Assistance Pack (accident assist) £860, Professional Chassis Pack (air suspension) £4890, LED matrix headlights £1420, headlight washers £180, active climate front seats £1050, tyre pressure monitoring £170, 90-litre fuel tank £100, keyless entry and electric tailgate £50, luggage compartment tray £81.50, Moonlight Blue paint £850
Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 33.2mpg Fuel tank 90 litres Test average 36.6mpg Test best 40.1mpg Test worst 27.7mpg Real-world range 725 miles
Tech highlights: 0-62mph 6.2sec Top speed 146mph Engine V6, 2967cc, turbocharged diesel Max power 282bhp at 3500-4000rpm Max torque 441lb ft at 1750-2000rpm Transmission 8-spd automatic Boot capacity 810-1800 litres Wheels 9Jx20in, alloy Tyres 285/45 R20, Michelin Kerb weight 2070kg
Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £610 CO2 173g/km Service costs none Other costs £30 (AdBlue, 40 litres) Fuel costs £1512 Running costs inc fuel £1542 Cost per mile 15.8 pence Depreciation £12,987 Cost per mile inc dep’n £1.52 Faults faulty driver’s door close