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Defiant Volkswagen gives Touareg a new diesel

By Glenn Brooks | 3 January 2019

New Touareg is 4,878mm long (+77mm) and shares its windscreen with the Porsche Cayenne

New Touareg is 4,878mm long (+77mm) and shares its windscreen with the Porsche Cayenne

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Unlike the previous Touareg, the new model won't ever be truly global, as Volkswagen will not offer it in North America. That means the major markets should be China, Russia and Europe. So is it the right size for Europeans and how will buyers respond to the brand's decision to boost rather than reduce the model's diesel engine choices?

Even though a lot of people think of the Touareg as big it isn't exactly super-sized. Larger than the previous model, granted, but at 4,878mm from end to end, that's almost 10cm shorter than a Discovery, while an XC90 is only 50mm shy of the 5m mark. All of which means that the new, third generation Touareg should find itself in a market sweet spot positioned as it is above the Tiguan Allspace and below the Audi Q7.

Why no US availability?

The reason the new generation of Volkswagen's biggest SUV isn't exported to the US is the existence of the Tennessee-built Atlas. That model is not only larger but cheaper too than the prices charged by VW of America for the previous Touareg.

Readers who would point out that this doesn't stop Volkswagen from sending the Touareg 3 to China are correct. The same vehicle as the Atlas is also available there, four-cylinder engine availability plus its name - Teramont - being some of the only differences. Until recently, China was mad for SUVs and the more choices the better. The Touareg, which is manufactured only in Slovakia, is therefore positioned as a low volume, relatively high priced imported alternative to SAIC VW's locally manufactured Teramont.

How is it selling?

Data by model isn't freely available from the SMMT but Germany's KBA makes such information easy to come by. In any case, Volkswagen's home market will likely be one of the countries where the Touareg performs best, so it's worth taking a look at how buyers have been responding to the second generation model since it became available there last July. As at 30 November, total sales were 7,525 which was a year-on-year gain of 20 per cent. For November itself, deliveries numbered 1,178 and that represented a 73 per cent surge (data for December and all of 2018 were not available at the time of writing).

Sole petrol engine not for UK

Volkswagen took the decision to offer the new Touareg solely with turbocharged engines. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are also standard for all variants, the global line-up being as follows:

Petrol-electric PHEV powertrain soon to join the line-up

Even though the new shape vehicle goes back to April 2016, when the T-Prime Concept GTE premiered at the Beijing motor show with what was claimed to be a PHEV powertrain, Volkswagen still hasn't told us when exactly it will make a plug-in hybrid version available. Probably, the PHEV will be officially released at either the Geneva show in March or at the Shanghai show in April.

The UK importer has only been offering the new shape model for a few months and didn't start bringing in the least powerful of a pair of V6 diesels until recently. As can be seen in the statistics above, the difference is marked, with the gaps in outputs being 55hp and 100Nm. In practice, the 231hp version of the 3.0-litre TDI might well be enough for a lot of potential owners, especially if the car is being bought to tow a caravan. The 500Nm of torque is more than adequate with up to 3.5 tonnes being the official weight that both Touareg V6 TDIs can legally pull.

In contrast to so many smaller OEMs, the market leader in both Britain and the region we're part of (the Volkswagen Group has roughly 24 per cent of the European market) is refusing to give up on diesel. For SUVs in particular, only an electric motor (in an EV or a PHEV) can rival the compression-ignition engine for torque, which is what the majority of Touareg buyers will be wanting. As the Tesla Model X is almost twice the price of the Touareg in Europe and is a crossover anyway, electric SUVs are notable by their absence in the D or E segments. The Jaguar I-Pace, which is smaller than than Volkswagen, is also very pricey, as is the Audi e-tron. All of which means that the Touareg's true rivals are the likes of the Discovery and XC90 mentioned earlier.

Suspension: steel or air

The width of the big VW (up 44mm compared to the old model and now 1,984mm excluding mirrors) can be restricting on certain roads and it isn't ideal for British parking bays either. That's no worse than others in the same size class though. Weight is more than competitive, with both TDI V6 variants starting at 2,070kg. Each has the same CO2 output (173g/km).

As with the Land Rover, there is a variety of switchable options for off-roading as well as air suspension, even if that has to be ordered as an extra cost option. With the exception of the pneumatic springing (it also adds 80mm to the steel-sprung car's 500mm wading depth) the 231PS Touareg TDI has a good if not great complement of standard equipment in the GBP48,995 as-tested SEL model grade. That extends to adaptive cruise control; hill descent assist and hill start assist; energy recovery from braking; multi-mode four-wheel drive which includes on-road, off-road, snow and off-road individual; 19-inch alloy wheels; a 9.2[sic] inch Discover Pro infotainment system; full LED headlights; B-pillar vents for the rear passengers; three 12V sockets; and double sun-visors.

Thankfully, High Beam Assist isn't forced upon buyers, it being a GBP130 option and not one I would choose due to its occasional, highly dangerous sudden blinding of oncoming drivers. Two by contrast very welcome pieces of safety tech, headlight washers and tyre pressure monitoring also cost extra (GBP180 and GBP170).

Interestingly, Touaregs with steel springs have lower top speeds than cars with air suspension. For the 231PS variants, the numbers are 218km/h and 221km/h, while for the 286PS version of the engine, it's 235 and 238km/h. The extra power and torque makes quite a difference for 0-62 mph times which are 7.5 and 6.1 seconds respectively. As with the C02 outputs, Volkswagen quotes the same 36.7mpg on the Urban cycle for 231PS and 286PS engines.

The Golf of big 4x4s

The best way to describe the feeling of driving the Touareg is to imagine what a Golf would be like if it became a biggish 4x4. The handling is close to class-leading, everything you touch feels solid, the doors have a satisfying weight to them, the big touchscreen isn't overburdened with too many functions, and no detail anywhere in the cabin is glitzy or anything other than understated and functional. That's not to say that there's no sense of style inside the car or when looking at it from all external angles. Far from it.

Overall, the impression is of a genuinely premium vehicle. The new Touareg can easily compete with not only the Discovery and XC90 but also offers an alternative to anyone who finds that the newest X5, GLE-Class and Q7 to be excessively sized and priced.