Volkswagen's senior SUV gets the industry's longest badge. Is the car it's attached to any good? Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Volkswagen's Touareg range topper is powered by a 262PS 3.0-litre SCR TDI engine that combines a sprint to 62mph in 7.3 seconds with 42.8mpg fuel economy. The R-Line trim is well-appointed and at just over £48,000 it's not bad value for money. The more affordable SE version might just be the better buy though.
In many regards, the Volkswagen Touareg is a product of its times. When it was first introduced way back in 2002, VW hadn't really quite figured out how to manage its portfolio of brands. Its development budget was shared with Porsche's Cayenne and where the Porsche was unashamedly glitzy, early Touaregs always seemed a bit underbaked, Volkswagen fighting shy of equipping the car with the requisite jewellery to make it stand out in the premium SUV market. Lessons have clearly been learned since then. Every subsequent generation of Touareg gets more polished and more desirable. The latest car is no exception, but such is the pace of change in this corner of the market that it remains one of the more discreet large SUVs. There's nothing austerity-era about the latest R-Line trim, and if you've got the 262PS 3.0-litre SCR diesel under the bonnet, you've landed a very special Touareg indeed.
Gone are the days when Volkswagen would sell you all manner of weird and wonderful engines for the Touareg. These days there are really only two; an entry level 204PS three-litre turbodiesel unit and the engine we look at here, the higher-powered 262PS version. Naturally, drive goes to all four wheels, in this case via a very good eight-speed Aisin automatic gearbox. With this transmission top speed is reached in 6th gear, 7th and 8th essentially being used as overdrive gears to improve cruising economy. A healthy 580Nm of torque is available from just 1,750rpm which means that you won't need to thrash the engine to make respectable progress and towing big loads is effortless. Neither the stop/start system nor the coasting function that saves fuel at motorway speeds are what you'd call imperceptibly smooth but both can be switched out if necessary. It's a bit of a shame you can't user-set the defaults for these, but that's a small niggle common across many VW products. The R-Line suspension is 25mm lower than the entry-level SE's set-up, and it is a bit more talkative as a result, especially on the broken bitumen of city streets. That six-cylinder engine certainly has some lungs though. Punch it away from the line and it'll zip 2185kg of Touareg through 62mph in just 7.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 140mph.
Design and Build
The styling of the latest Touareg models definitely has some extra sparkle as a result of the most recent facelift. The styling hasn't been radically altered by the net effect is a sleeker, less macho look. The revised bumpers incorporate grilles with more slats than a Ferrari Testarossa and the the revised alloy wheel designs are also a good deal showier than the utilitarian look of some of the older designs. A revised colour palette also features and the headlight units have been upgraded to incorporate bi-xenon lamps. The lack of a seven-seat option will continue to hinder the Touareg's appeal to family buyers but there's plenty of room for five adults to get comfortable and their luggage should fit in the extremely spacious boot. The Touareg never feels less than well built and although the dash is a little overloaded with buttons, the controls are solid to the touch. The interior doesn't have the elegance of a Range Rover's or the slickness of Audi's Q7 but it certainly isn't put to shame in this illustrious company. Inside, the front seats now come with standard lumbar support, and there are two optional wood trims - 'Sapelli Mahogany' and 'Engineered Ebony', while the optional Nappa leather upholstery in the R-Line model is now available in two-tone Flint Grey and Titan Black.
Market and Model
This R-Line model comes resolutely well-stuffed with gear, as indeed you might expect with a price tag knocking on the door of £50,000. To be precise it's £48,215 before you start adding options. If you want a sharper drive, the BMW X5 xDrive 25 SE trades handling prowess for the equipment of the Touareg, while the Audi SQ5 impresses with raw pace but is a bit more pinched inside. In other words, Volkswagen has done pretty well to position this Touareg in a section of the market where it offers something not delivered by many rivals. If you want something of similar price, capability, size and equipment level, the nearest rival is probably Jeep's Grand Cherokee in Summit trim, although the appeal of the Jeep and the Volkswagen are so different it's hard to see too many cross-shopping these brands, This range-topping R-Line version gets gear like satellite navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth, 2Zone climate control, leather upholstery, and parking sensors common to lowlier Touaregs. R-Line-specific bits include a body kit with bespoke bumpers front and rear, sill extensions and wheel arch extensions, 20-inch 'Tarragona' alloy wheels, lowered sports suspension, LED daytime running lights and a panoramic glass sunroof. Inside there's a black roof lining, bespoke R-Line seats and aluminium-look pedals, a heated steering wheel, an electrically operated tailgate and keyless entry and start.
Cost of Ownership
Despite having 262PS at its elbow, this Touareg doesn't do at all badly at the pumps. The engine develops plenty of low-down torque, so you can make decent progress in one without absolutely crucifying the fuel economy and the overdrive gears really come into their own for effortless motorway cruising. Volkswagen quotes a figure of 42.8mpg and a real world figure in the mid-thirties in attainable without too much effort. Emissions of 174g/km aren't going to put anyone off and residual values for this updated Touareg aren't bad but certainly aren't top of the shop in this sector. That SCR badge stands for Selective Catalytic Reduction and is a means of reducing harmful nitrogen oxide emissions. The R-Line range-topper only compounds this issue, so look carefully at the full pence per mile figures when comparing to fresher-faced rivals and don't be afraid to push hard for discounts off the list price.
If you wanted to be hypercritical of the Volkswagen Touareg 3.0TDI 262 R-Line, you could always cherrypick rivals that do this, that or the other a little bit better. Where this car really scores, however, is as an all-round package. It's a good size, it feels well-built, there's loads of kit included and that engine is a real hauler. Even the price doesn't seem an unreasonable ask given the amount of kit you get. Be realistic with the real-world residual values and you can make an informed decision about this Touareg's comparative running costs. As good as it is, we can't help but think that the SE model with the same engine might just be the smarter buy. It saves around £3,000, rides better, is more capable off-road and helps take the edge off the sting of depreciation. So while we like the R-Line, we'd probably be looking to save a few bob and end up with a car that's actually a bit better still.