Can the all-new VW Touareg find the success that eluded its capable predecessor in the Indian luxury SUV market?
The Touareg is now bigger and more striking to look at, but it still keeps a low profile. Make no mistake, it isn't a small SUV — although it is lower by 17mm, it has grown in every other dimension. At 4795mm, it is 41mm longer and the wheelbase has been stretched, by nearly as much, to 2893mm. It is a bit wider too. The design manages to mask the considerable bulk quite well, the soft lines giving this big SUV a gentle air.
The Touareg's new face is in line with the rest of the VW family, uncluttered and understated with just a few highlights, like the chrome-lined grille and LED-laced headlights. A nice technical-looking detail is the chrome separators in the headlights. Actually, it ends up looking like a Passat on stilts, as the headlights and tail-lights aren't very different.
The new Touareg feels richer and more expensive. Except for the dash top, the interiors are all beige, including the leather upholstery, the lower dash plastics and the carpets. The soft-touch dashboard and the wood-and-leather steering wheel exude richness, though the wooden rim for the steering looks out of place in the overall design of the interior.
Interior space is much improved and there's now more width in both rows of seats. Passengers in the second row are better off too as the kneeroom has grown, thanks partly to the longer wheelbase and also because the bench can slide back and forth. It's still a five-seater, but makes up by having 580 litres of boot space.
The standard equipment list is also quite healthy. The touchscreen for the infotainment system doubles up as a monitor for the reversing camera. There is also a massive panoramic sunroof, keyless go, four-zone climate control, fully-powered front seats, leather upholstery, adjustable air suspension, an electronic parking brake and cruise control. On the outside, you get cornering lights, headlamp washers and 10-spoke alloy wheels. Phew! Which is why it is surprising that VW isn't offering a stop-start system.
What lets the Touareg down are the missing third row of seats and an interior that does not feel very special.
On the road, this big SUV is as quick and as light on its toes. The 56kgm swell of torque is routed to the four wheels by the eight-speed gearbox without any hesitation or slurring. Just a light tap on the throttle is enough to get the SUV to spring forward past dawdling traffic. Lighter chassis, drivetrain and suspension components have resulted in a weight loss of 203kg for the Touareg, and this is a big reason for its sprightly behaviour.
Out on the highway, the Touareg showed off the breadth of its abilities . Low triple-digit speeds felt pedestrian in the Touareg, as seventh and eighth are overdrive gears. When prodded for a change of pace, the transmission swapped gears quickly and smoothly, the revs shot up and we were pushed gently back into our seats. The engine didn't sound strained or raucous as we shot down the highway.
At these speeds, the Touareg wasn't a handful either. With air suspension and double wishbones at all four corners, it was quite a pleasure to pilot. Drive enthusiastically in Comfort mode and the body roll is apparent. In Normal or Sport modes the dampers become firmer and the ride height is lowered (down 25mm in Sport), resulting in better body control and better handling. The light and precise steering gives the driver more confidence too. Although the steering doesn't enthral the driver with feel and feedback, it does a remarkable job of pointing this big SUV in the direction of your choice.
Overall, VW has kept the focus on comfort rather than sporty dynamics, and as a result ride quality doesn't plummet in the other Normal or Sport modes. In the stiffest of settings, the extra firmness is only apparent when you hit sharp edges of broken tarmac. Set to Comfort, the suspension was at its softest, the mishmash of tarmac underneath the tyres barely registering inside the cabin. It was only on the narrow undulating country roads that the ride seemed slightly choppy.
Volkswagen had set up an off-road course for us to test out the Touareg's abilities. The course was littered with the familiar challenges — side inclines, axle-twisters, troughs and inclines. However, the degree of the challenges was severe enough to get me all keyed up for my turn. The Touareg boasts an off-road setting for the air suspension, which raises the ground clearance by 80mm to a massive 300mm! Volkswagen is bringing the Touareg 4Motion to India and so it won't get the low-range transfer case or the advanced settings for off-roading.
Behind the scenes, the electronics re-adjusts the ABS, ASR and even the Torsen differential to deal with the loose and slippery conditions. The throttle response also became dull, making it easier to modulate the power being delivered to the wheels as I teetered on two wheels on the axle-twisters; too much power would bring us crashing down, instead of landing gently. The deep troughs showed off the Touareg's 24 and 25-degree approach and departure angles very well. But an interesting highlight of the Touareg's systems is the hill hold function. On a steep incline, the system keeps the Touareg from rolling back even without the driver applying the brakes.
Even in its all-new guise, the Touareg still plays the boy-next-door. However, there is a quiet elegance to it, which will appeal to those who are looking for something discreet. The comfortable and plush interiors will serve customers well too, although it is not high on the luxury quotient. The drivetrain and suspension have an enduring, ready for everyday and everywhere quality that makes up for the ordinary driving experience. The Touareg will walk into the luxury SUV segment this April as the contender with a capable and sensible head on its shoulders. What is to be seen is if VW price (Rs. 55-Rs. 60 lakh - estimated) the Touareg well enough to make it a success this time.