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First drive: New Volkswagen Touareg offers new hope

GoAuto’s initial impressions bode well for Volkswagen Touareg sales resurgence

Volkswagen logo6 Mar 2019

VOLKSWAGEN Group Australia (VGA) will hope to reverse the Touareg large SUV’s sales freefall when its eagerly anticipated third-generation model enters showrooms in May in 190TDI Launch Edition form ahead of full-time variants later in the year.
 
Sales of the Touareg have declined every year since 2015, when a record 2586 examples were sold, decreasing by 15.6 per cent in 2016 (2168), 25.6 per cent in 2017 (1612) and a whopping 41.7 per cent in 2018 (939). Its year-to-date volume is down 75.4 per cent.
 
While tough economic conditions have made new-vehicle sales harder to come by recently, the Touareg’s 2018 result was well behind the pace of the $70,000-plus large-SUV segment, which itself dipped – albeit by ‘only’ 16.4 per cent.
 
Whether or not the Touareg is able to rebound following its new release remains to be seen, but given the 190TDI Launch Edition starts from $89,990 plus on-road costs, it is fighting an uphill battle as it looks to re-establish itself as a genuine premium player.
 
What does help, though, is that the Slovakian-sourced Touareg now rides on Volkswagen Group’s MLB platform, which is shared with the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus – serious upmarket offerings, indeed.
 
Armed with cutting-edge technology and luxury appointments, the 190TDI Launch Edition undercuts its BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE rivals in price, but time will tell if the Touareg better resonates with buyers in the market for a premium large SUV.
 
So, does the Touareg have the potential to return to its former glory? VGA this week gave us a brief drive of its new model in New Zealand-market 210TDI guise at Luddenham Raceway in NSW so we could find out.
 
In the metal, the Touareg’s exterior design is quite striking, with its large horizontal grille neatly integrating Matrix LED headlights for a full-width look that has some serious presence on the road.
 
However, the real story is happening inside, where the NZ-market 210TDI test vehicle was dominated by the Touareg’s new Innovision Cockpit that combines a gently curved 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with a simply massive 15.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
 
For lovers of technology, this is a hugely impressive set-up, but for technophobes, it can be very intimidating, which is why VGA says it is offering Innovision Cockpit as an $8000 option on the 190TDI Launch Edition. Ouch.
 
While we are yet to sample the Touareg’s more traditional pairing of a 9.2-inch touchscreen with a multi-function display flanked by a tachometer and speedometer, we can safely say we are blown away by Innovision Cockpit.
 
Sure, it is rather expensive, but for us, it is a box that is absolutely worth ticking. After all, it makes the new Touareg feel relatively space-age in comparison to its predecessor that feels very long in the tooth by 2019 standards.
 
Despite the software powering Innovision Cockpit being new, it is still familiar as the German brand has essentially added more layers to its already successful set-up.
 
However, one initial cause of frustration is Innovision Cockpit’s lack of physical climate controls, with this functionality now forming part of the touchscreen’s expanded capabilities. For what it is worth, though, buyers get real buttons if the box is not ticked.
 
The rest of the cabin, as the Touareg’s positioning suggests, is suitably premium, with high-quality soft-touch materials used for the dashboard and door shoulders. With the exception of the cheap-feeling centre console, even the hard plastics on show are good.
 
Fitting with the luxury theme, Savona leather upholstery makes its debut in the Touareg, proving to be very supple when touched. In fact, Volkswagen claims it is of a higher quality than Nappa! No arguments here yet.
 
It would also be remiss of us not to mention the Touareg’s comfortable and supportive front seats that provide the best massage functions we have experienced to date. They are staggeringly good.
 
Measuring in at 4878mm long, 1984mm wide and 1717mm tall, there is no doubt that the Touareg is a large SUV, with this size reflected by its cargo capacity of 810L with the manually sliding and folding rear bench upright, or 1800L with it stowed. That is a lot space.
 
Speaking of which, the second row is also very generous, with oodles of legroom available behind our 184cm driving position, although headroom is limited to about an inch by the huge panoramic sunroof that extends past the wide rear bench.
 
While the 190TDI Launch Edition is motivated by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 engine that produces 190kW and 600Nm, the NZ-market 210TDI test vehicle we drove featured a similarly sized unit with 210kW/600Nm, AdBlue and idle stop-start.
 
The 210TDI is set to be a full-time grade in Australia alongside the 170kW/500Nm 170TDI, with VGA hopeful that the pair will launch before the end of this year. Thus, our brief steer served as a nice taster of what is to come.
 
In typical diesel fashion, a massive amount of torque is available down low, enabling the 210TDI to absolutely hustle when the accelerator is pinned to the firewall.
 
This spritely performance can be impacted, though, by the 210TDI’s often slow response to full applications of the throttle, even with the Sport driving mode engaged.
 
The three powertrains do, however, share their 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission, which is a smooth if not sometimes hesitant operator, offering up relatively quick and timely gear shifts.
 
Like the incoming 190TDI Launch Edition, the NZ-market 210TDI test vehicle we sampled was fitted with air suspension and adaptive dampers – a combination that promises a quality ride.
 
Nonetheless, compliance is difficult to assess without driving on Australia’s low-quality roads, but the perfect surface of a circuit demonstrates the Touareg’s ability to waft with confidence. Even rolling bumps are absorbed well.
 
Handling-wise, the 210TDI cannot shake its proportions, feeling large to drive at speed and leaning into tighter corners when travelling at a slower pace. Body control is improved slightly, though, by changing the adaptive dampers to their Sport setting.
 
While the Touareg’s steering is certainly well-weighted in any mode, it can feel slower than desired, and while its chassis is relatively communicative, it just does not feel too connected to the road. But, as far as large SUVs go, it is not far off the pace set by segment leaders.
 
After our first taste, we have no doubt the Touareg is a worthy contender, but whether or not buyers will view the Volkswagen badge on the same level as that of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi remains to be seen. It won’t be long now until we find out.

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