"It's a decent road car, but underneath the smooth bodywork and luxurious interior lurks the mechanicals of a serious off-road machine."
The Volkswagen Touareg SUV has been around for nearly a decade, though it got a significant update in 2010. The Touareg comes in six main specifications – the entry-level SE, followed by the Altitude, the Escape, then the R-Line, Hybrid and top-of-the-range R-Line V8. It's major focus is on luxury, but it does have the ability to tackle more extreme conditions than most drivers ever hope to experience. The current model is much lighter than the original, despite having bigger dimensions, and this weight reduction brings a notable improvement in fuel economy across the whole range. The Hybrid model is the newest member of the range, although the TDI diesel engines still offer the best blend of economy and performance, making us wonder why the hybrid was introduced. All in all, the Touareg is a decent SUV that suffers a little for its age, although it still holds its own in terms of comfort and luxury to some degree.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Volkswagen has worked hard to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions across the entire Touareg range, with a lot achieved by reducing the car's overall weight. The 200bhp 3.0-litre V6 TDI 4MOTION offers the best fuel economy, returning a claimed 40.4mpg and emitting 184g/km. At the other end of the scale, the 335bhp 4.2-litre V8 TDI 4MOTION diesel emits a hefty 239g/km of CO2 and returns a so-so 31mpg, but has a top speed of 150mph. Interestingly, the Hybrid model can only manage CO2 emissions of 193g/km and 34.4mpg in fuel economy, which hardly seems worth the extra outlay to buy it in the first place. Volkswagen offers fixed-price three-year or 30,000-mile servicing plan so that owners can predict their costs and hopefully save some money in the long run. As well as avoiding the Hybrid, we’d also steer clear of the V8, thanks to those huge costs.
Interior & comfort
The 2010 update deliberately enhanced the comfort levels of the Touareg. That means newer, more comfortable seats, covered in leather in all models that are supportive and comfy even over longer journeys. The updated Touareg also comes with a lot more space inside than before, creating much more room for passengers to stretch out their legs. However, the middle seat in the rear is very flat and the passenger who drew the short straw to sit there has to deal with a raised floor thanks to the transmission tunnel, making this seat easily the least comfortable.
Practicality & boot space
The Touareg is properly big, so it starts out as pretty spacious right from the get-go. The interior is quite flexible, thanks to a back seat that slides back and forth, with a tilting backrest, so it can either provide extra legroom for passengers or provide more boot space, depending on your needs at any given time. With the back seats in place there's 490 litres of luggage capacity, which expands to an enormous 1,642 litres with the back seats folded down flat – which is really easy to do, just by pressing a button located in the boot. There's lots of room in the back for passengers, with the rear seat either slid right back or in the normal position. The middle seat is a bit cramped, but you can still get three adults in comfortably in the back, including three six-footers. Rear parking sensors are fitted as standard to help you more easily park its substantial dimensions.
Reliability & safety
Volkswagen came firmly in the mid-table in the manufacturers rankings in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, placing 16th. This is an improvement of two spots on the 2012 poll, which saw VW come 18th, a generally disappointing performance for a carmaker of such world renown for its reliability and durability. The Touareg itself didn’t feature in the top 150 cars, but its predecessor built up a solid reputation for reliability and build quality – as is the case with most Volkswagens. The current model feels as if it's made to a higher standard inside, and all the engines – with the exception of the newer hybrid model – are tried and test in other cars across the VW range. The Touareg is equipped with front, side and curtain airbags (there are nine airbags in total) as standard, as well as a complex and capable traction control system. The Touareg still hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, however.
Engines, drive & performance
VW developed the Touareg specifically to be driven on the road, where it will be used most of the time. That means it's comfortable rather than exciting, proving stable through tight corners. Interestingly, given its massive dimensions, it doesn’t feel as big to drive as you’d expect. That's mainly because of its nicely shaped steering wheel, which caps off a good high driving position that gives lots of visibility. The eight-speed automatic gearbox also makes smooth gear changes and the interior is well insulated from exterior sound. For maximum performance, it's a surprise that the Hybrid 330bhp 3.0-litre V6 TSI 4MOTION performs so well, going from 0-62mph in only 6.5 seconds, but the 335bhp 4.2-litre V8 TDI diesel is the fastest, with a 0-62mpg time of 5.8 seconds, which is quicker that most hot hatchbacks and, arguably, more speed than most people interested in an SUV really want or need. If you’re feeling sensible, the 200 or 242bhp from the 3.0-litre is all the power you’ll ever really need.
Price, value for money & options
The Touareg used to be very good value, especially compared with its then-contemporary rivals from other premium manufacturers. The entry-level SE still comes with alloy wheels, a leather interior, climate control, cruise control, heated seats, parking sensors and a touchscreen sat-nav system as standard, but its age does place it behind equivalent specifications from BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Audi. You do get a good level of equipment for your money, but optional extras – like LED daytime running lights – can get very expensive. And while most VWs have strong resale values on the used car market, the Touareg doesn’t do as well as some of its rivals.