VW Touran 2.0 Sport TDI £20,460
Acceleration: 0-62mph 10.6sec
Maximum speed: 122mph
Average fuel consumption: 46.3mpg
Insurance group: 9
A last-minute call-up to play cricket last weekend meant either a) the balance of the side required a No 11 batsman and slow-medium bowler whose bowling average this season is four times higher than his batting average; or b) the team were short of transport and knew I had got my hands on a seven-seater vehicle.
Not a question I wanted to consider, so let's not go there. Let's go instead to Oxford in Volkswagen's new compact MPV launched at the beginning of August, the Touran, with an assortment of cricketers and kit. We don't need all seven seats, so the first move is to fold down the back two into the floor (they don't detach completely) to provide storage space. The work of 20 seconds, even without the manual (which I lost, of course). Which leaves a row of three individual seats, each or all of which could have been removed to provide extra stowage areas.
Years of touring in crowded cars, perched precariously on overflowing cricket bags exuding a faint whiff of mildew, have not prepared us for this luxury. I am enjoying the slightly elevated driving position, the smooth six-speed gearbox (automatic versions are on the way), and the punchy two-litre turbodiesel engine that comes with this top-of-the-range sports model. The bog-standard five-seater Touran is significantly cheaper at £14,535 (£500 more for the seven-seat option, available throughout the range), but those who know about these things claim that its 1.6-litre petrol engine lacks a bit of poke. All I know is that, loaded to the gills, I'm struggling to stay within the speed limit. (These new-fangled diesel engines are just too damned quiet, Carruthers...)
It's time to fiddle with the controls. We all agree that the "2Zone electronic climate control" air-conditioning isn't all it's cracked up to be; whatever choice of settings I choose from the range offered, it still seems to be no more than a reasonably efficient blower system, and a bit noisy to boot; more con than air-con. But I can't find much else to be picky about; the central instrument panel is a model of clear layout and information, most of it useful. The fuel range figures, for instance, tell me that unless I go into complete boy-racer mode, I'm going to get over 500 miles out of a tankful.
After three laps of the Oxford ring road and a visit to Cowley Business Park, I find Brasenose College cricket ground, just south of Folly Bridge on the Abingdon Road. It is tucked unostentatiously behind a narrow entrance, as if not wishing to draw too much attention to itself. The same seems to apply to the Touran; when I sweep up to the pavilion I am not exactly mobbed by curious team-mates eager to know what I am driving. In fact, nobody bothers to ask. For, despite its alloy wheels, chromed roof rails and impressive quality of trim and build, the Touran Sport is not a looker. While it gives its chief rivals - the Vauxhall Zafira, Renault Scenic and Citroen Picasso - more than a run for their money in just about every other respect, it's a shame that it doesn't look a bit less ordinary.
Which is not an accusation that could be levelled at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which I visit the next day (we're on a mini-tour, three games in three days). Getting there is not easy; Oxford seems to be staging a competition to see how many roadworks it can cram into the city centre at the same time. The car has to put in a certain amount of cross-country work involving markets, pedestrian precincts and college quads (sort of Inspector Morse meets The Italian Job). Still, it demonstrates the nimble handling of the Touran - which doesn't take up any more road space than a Golf Estate - and eventually I arrive.
General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers was born in 1827 and, apart from collecting names, liked to collect ... well, just about anything. He claimed to have an overriding theory, that the systematic classification of material objects would reveal the evolution of human culture. In practice, the collection is a magnificently bonkers jumble of stuff with no apparent theme whatsoever. Cases of shrunken heads jostle for space with a display of zithers, and some exhibits defy classification - my favourite is a stoppered bottle with a label which reads: "Obtained from an old lady living in a village near Hove. She remarked, 'And they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let 'un out there'll be a peck o' trouble."
The Touran's many attributes include no fewer than 39 separate storage areas - nooks and crannies of every shape and size - and a hefty maximum luggage capacity of up to 1,989 litres. If the good general were around today and in the market for a motor for his next expedition, he could do worse.Reuse content