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Volkswagen Touareg Altitude 4.2-litre V8 TDI

It may not look much different from its predecessor but this 4x4 has lost 200kg for a start

Price: £56,530
Top speed: 150 mph
0-62 mph: 5.8 seconds
Consumption: 31.0 mpg
CO2 emissions: 239 g/km

Volkswagen's second-generation Touareg doesn't look very different to the 2002 original, but in this case appearances are deceptive. The main clues that this is no straightforward facelift or reskin are the increases in key dimensions such as wheelbase and overall length, but perhaps the most significant change is a weight saving of over 200kg.

When the first Toureg appeared on the scene, its weight, typically 2.4 tonnes, was widely commented upon but was quickly matched or even exceeded by that of other big 4x4s such as the Land Rover Discovery 3 and Mercedes GL. That meant that the fuss faded, but all of the SUV makers probably knew that in the interests of fuel consumption and the environment, the next generation of off-roaders would have to be lighter. The latest Touareg is one of the results.

But this car doesn't just rely on weight-saving for better economy; improved engines have a role to play as well. The original Touareg was available with one of the widest engine ranges of any model; six, eight and twelve cylinder petrol engines and five, six, and ten cylinder diesels. The most powerful of these, the 6.0-litre W12 petrol, was good for 450 horsepower; at the other end of the scale, the 2.5-litre five-cylinder diesel, with 174 was a slow but surprisingly pleasant option. The extremes of the Touareg's engine range have been pruned so that the car is now available, in the UK at least, with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel, a 4.2-litre V8 diesel (tested here), and a new 3.6-litre V6 petrol hybrid option.

The V8 diesel is seen as a replacement for the previous 5.0-litre V10; despite its smaller size, it delivers more power and torque, and much better economy, but Volkswagen has still withheld the BlueMotion badge that it applies to models with a full suite of fuel-saving measures. The smaller V6 diesel does, however, qualify because it has a stop-start system and regenerative braking.

On the road, the V8 is excellent; smooth, quiet and powerful, and helped by a very good new eight-speed automatic gearbox; the only real question is whether this much go (the V8 can accelerate to 100km/h, or 62mph in a mere 5.8 seconds) is just overkill for a 4x4 in British conditions. For the rest, the latest Touareg feels very much like its predecessor, which is generally no bad thing. Roomy, understated comfort is what it's all about, and even the interior is very similar to what went before, although there are worthwhile detail improvements in terms of dashboard architecture; the sat-nav screen and controls, for example, are much better than those of the last Touareg I drove a few years ago.

In standard form, the Touareg doesn't have the low-range gearbox that is the mark of a hard-core 4x4, although past versions have generally been considered capable off-roaders. This feature is, however, available in conjunction with the 3.0 V6 diesel as part of the Escape package, which also includes slightly raised off-road suspension, a larger fuel tank and altered trim.

Volkswagen sold more than 500,000 of the first-generation Touareg, a huge figure for such a big and comparatively expensive car; it is unlikely that the new one will be any less successful.