One of Volkswagen's most famous print ad campaigns simply featured a photo of one of its cars with the tagline – ‘Drivers Wanted'. I was in Pench National Park, a tiger reserve about 70 kilometres out of Nagpur in Madhya Pradesh where four new 2012 VW Touaregs had been lined-up to do some extreme off-roading. With the kind of gravity-defying stunts that the Touaregs were expected to perform on the prepared track, I was wondering if that famous tagline would be what the German instructors will be mouthing while they waited for takers.

I step into one with the metallic brown paint job and gingerly manoeuvre it into the V-shaped burrow (that looked more like a ravine) and later into the alternating pits and the monstrous speedbreaker-like obstacle. The mammoth luxury sports utility vehicle tilts precariously at a 40-degree angle, dives into the pits and heaves over them with just two wheels on firm ground. The new 2012 VW Touareg makes it seem easy….just keep the throttle steady and coming, control the steering by keeping it straight at the key spots and avoid wheel spin. Sitting smug in the cabin with feet off the pedals while inching up or down a slope thanks to hill descent and hill start assists is another experience too when you are at the wheels of a heavy set luxury utility vehicle.

For the onlookers the sight of this huge vehicle leaping out of the woods (figuratively and literally) would have been quite astonishing. Surely, real life situations are rarely if ever as predictably challenging when you are doing some serious off-roading. But, tackling the rocky outdoors and attempting some real rugged conditions with a luxury four-wheel drive SUV will also be a rare occurrence amongst owners.

Design

However, the fact remains that the new Touareg has been purpose built to handle the rough (including the 750 sq. kilometres of Tiger country we were driving in) with the smooth. This is not to say that the previous generation Touareg was lacking in prowess, but the new, second generation certainly feels more comfortable and capable.

The new Gen Touareg looks a lot less rounded and has strong resemblances with other VW family vehicles, very much like the previous Gen Touareg. With this new Gen Touareg, the similarities and shared design lines have now taken to the new generation Passat and Jetta. Walk around the new 2012 Touareg and the platform sharing that VW does with Porsche also becomes evident. The shapely backside of the Touareg bears striking similarities with the Cayenne.

The new Touareg is longer (by 41mm), wider (by 12mm) and sports a longer wheelbase (up 38mm) than the outgoing model. The ground clearance is down by about 31mm to 205mm, but, that is not a handicap (the extreme off-roading we did proved it) because at the turn of a knob, the vehicle can be raised to 305mm. Of course, the steep approach and departure angles of the new Touareg, was another big reason why we could confidently tackle the pits.

Despite its larger proportions, the new Touareg seems a bit more compact due to the sharper lines that adorn its body now. The luxury SUV is also about 200 kgs lighter thanks to weight saving measures. In terms of the exterior design, the most attractive features of the new Touareg are the LED daytime running lights housed within the headlamp bearing the signature VW combination and shape. The dual chrome tail pipes and the entire front end airdam and bumper treatment give it a sporty and upmarket feel.

Interior

VW has also ensured that the new Touareg gets a plusher interior with the cabin now sporting more premium features and getting cosier too. You are greeted by Vienna leather upholstered seats, a wood rimmed multi-function steering wheel, a touchscreen music system with 8 speakers, Bluetooth package, 14-way electric adjustable seats and a nice tinted panoramic sunroof.

Bolstered in all the right places and capable of being adjusted to perfectly match your needs, the seats were the most likeable part, while the cabin has a feel of familiarity with other VW cars. Fit and finish quality is as good as it gets with VW and some more, to match the Touareg's positioning.

Performance

The new Touareg is endowed with the 3-litre V6 TDI engine that can also be found under the hood of the Porsche Cayenne diesel. Compared to the previous Gen's performance characteristics, the 2,967cc diesel engine now delivers higher power and torque. It generates a healthy 245PS of peak power, identical to the Cayenne. That also translates into a power-to-weight ratio of over 100PS per tonne in the new Touareg.

Torque being fed to the wheels is an even healthier 550Nm, with most of it being available within an early, but short, engine rpm band of 1,500 to 2,250. This refined engine has now been mated to an eight-speed auto triptronic, instead of the six-speed auto triptronic that was featured in the outgoing Touareg. The only features absent were steering-mounted paddles (that won't be missed by Chauffeured owners) and a low ratio, though the prepared-track off-road experience showed that it wont be missed too.

With the new performance characteristics and the new gearbox to work with, there is no rasping for more power or torque in the Touareg. Three-digit speeds come up real quick after you have stepped on the pedal and there is no dearth of power or torque available within the average performance range that a vehicle in this segment will typically be faced with.

On the good stretches of the Nagpur Jabalpur National Highway 7, the Touareg behaves like a sedan. Steering feel and response is good, though not in the same league as the Cayenne. The adjustable air suspension is another big plus with the new Touareg. In Sport mode on well-laid tarmac, the Touareg is primed for speed and on-road agility. The highway stretch leading upto Pench was mostly straight sections so testing the Touareg's cornering abilities was not possible, but at a couple of turns that it was put through, the new Touareg steered neutrally and was very much in control.

I liked the way it could be directed with confidence even in some of the very bad sections of the highway, parts where the road had effectively been punched out by the monsoon. Here, the suspension setting had been turned to comfort mode and the Touareg immediately gives a more cushioned ride and the 18-inch wheels manage to sail through all the potholes without it sounding like the underbody was falling apart.

The new Touareg is also loaded with all the safety tech that you usually expect in a vehicle of this class – features like ESC, ABS with BA, ASR, EDL and airbags all around.

Bottomline

The current gen Touareg has not really gotten into the psyche of the luxury sports utility buyer. But, the changes in the new Touareg have managed to push up its appeal and prowess and that could be the key to making its way into the buyer's mindspace. What hasn't changed and continues to be intrinsic to this VW too is its ability to offer great value to the buyer in this segment.

The new 2012 Touareg will be launched by April this year and could sport a price tag of about Rs 45 lakhs.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

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