Volkswagen Touareg SUV review: Greenpeace's worst nightmare

VW’s latest beast is surprisingly nimble as well as responsive, but it’s still hard to fathom why anyone would need a monster truck like this

Sean O'Grady
Friday 07 September 2018 13:37 BST
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The plus side of this plus size car is that you get yourself a small apartment to travel in
The plus side of this plus size car is that you get yourself a small apartment to travel in (Photos VW)

If there one thing driving Volkswagen’s latest Touareg instilled in me it is a renewed respect for bus drivers. Yes, it’s that big. You need patience, fortitude and a great deal of intelligent forward planning to manoeuvre it through narrow country lanes and congested streets, all, ironically enough, rendered that much less navigable by the rows of inflated modern cars parked on either side, like a build-up of silt on a riverbank. It’s not just children who are growing in obesity.

So, respect to the men and women in charge of public service vehicles.

Should we grant Volkswagen’s designers that same degree of deference? Yes and no.

I notice that Greenpeace recently organised a picket at VW’s UK HQ in Milton Keynes to protest about the “dieselgate” scandal. Obviously they were right, but only up to a point. The other point is that people want to buy behemoths such as the VW Touareg, and that means diesel is the best solution for them – especially if they clock up lots of miles.

A big, heavy four-wheel car, such as the Touareg, needs a big diesel with plenty of low-revving pulling power to lug it around, or else it would require an even bigger even more polluting (in carbon dioxide terms) petrol engine (petrol and hybrid versions of the Touareg will follow). Rather than chastising VW for their past sins they should be yelling at SUV drivers past and future for their choices. Well, they do that too I suppose, from time to time.

(VW)

For what it’s worth, I find it hard to believe anyone actually needs a monster truck like this to get around in, but the roads are full of cars and the world full of stuff people don’t actually need, a commonplace fact that lies at the heart of much of Marxian economics, as it happens. The plus side of this plus size car is that you get yourself a small apartment to travel in, including a vast boot with 810 litres of capacity, but, oddly enough, no seven-seat options.

The downside is that you simply cannot use it in many places because it is too darn chunky.

Confronted – it is an apt description – with the Touareg for the first time, I was awed by its size, the long purposeful sturgeon-like snout (fish not SNP leader), and its perpendicular styling.

(VW)

It has creases along its flanks like it’s been in a Corby trouser press, and you could almost cut your finger on them. The lines break up what would otherwise be a rather blobby shape, which past Touaregs have been. It’s still fat, but, say like Donald Trump, it has good tailoring to disguise the fact.

Without the well-recognised styling cues available to say Range Rover’s designers, or the likes of Alfa Romeo and BMW with their distinctive grilles, VW have gone for full-on full-width grill and a general air of Bauhaus.

The stark lines are carried on inside with an unusual dash that slides away from the passenger, of a kind last seen in a Morris Marina, but wholly clad in a tasteful leather and piano black finish. There’s nice ambient lighting all round, which reflects a bit too readily into the door mirrors, and the biggest screen outside a branch of Curry’s.

The spec

Price: £56,300 (range starts at £48,095)
Engine capacity: 3.0-litre petrol; V6-cylinder; 8-speed auto, AWD
Power output (PS): 286
Top speed (mph): 146​
0-60mph (seconds): 6.2
Fuel economy (mpg): 42.8​​​
CO2 emissions (g/km): 173

It is a sumptuous interior, this, with that special perfume you only get in top end luxury cars, higher quality leather, expensive carpentry, quality plastics. It’s the smell of money on wheels.

It’s great to drive, too, surprisingly nimble as well as responsive, especially when you opt for the selectable “sport” mode, as opposed to comfort or economy – four-wheel steering as well as four-wheel drive helps. It has adjustable air suspension you can play with. You treat speed bumps with disdain.

The Touareg has impressive power, relentless surges of it delivering a more than adequate performance in every condition, plus all the usual driver aids to make long drives relaxing, almost a pleasure.

I was frankly amazed that under the vast prairie of a bonnet was a “mere” 3-litre V6 diesel punting me along with such majestic ease. It proves the point about the latest Euro 6 standard diesels, because it will do all this and get you most of the way up Kilimanjaro, for that matter, and you’ll still get 30mpg out of it. VW have taken weight out of the car by making it almost half-aluminium, so the technical sophistication is more than skin deep.

(VW)

The only remote fault in its engineering is the combination of the automatic gearbox with stop-start ignition and the automatic hold on the parking brake, which is electric, of course rather than a manual lever. As in other cars I’ve tried with this collision of high-tech it can make squeezing through gaps a little more nerve wracking than it needs be, especially with all the warning bleeps going off. I don’t like electric handbrakes anyway. Who does?

Back to size. I was expecting in my extensive background research to discover that the Touareg is one of the very largest passenger cars on the market, but no. It is beaten by quite a few others, including the other Touareg variants built on the same VW group componentry, namely Audi Q7 and Q8.

(VW)

Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus are all longer and wider – loaded up with even more kit and luxurious trim.

I was also staled to discover that VW make an even bigger version of the Touareg for the US market, called the Atlas, a sort of automotive diplodocus. “VW Diplodocus” actually sounds quite catchy, don’t you think?

You could think of the Touareg as a poor man’s Bentayga at close on £60,000. There is some of, if not all, the driving pleasure, but rather less ostentatious.

My conclusion, therefore, is that in fact you’re doing the planet and your finances a favour in opting for this relatively frugal and modest way of standing out in the Asda car park... but just try telling that to Greenpeace.

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