Volkswagen Touareg first drive: boosting the numbers

Damien O’Carroll
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Back in 2002 Volkswagen introduced its first SUV, the large Touareg. A joint venture between the VW Group (including Audi) and Porsche (at that stage a separate entity), the platform that sat under the Touareg would also be the basis for the Porsche Cayenne and later, the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus. 

A second-generation Touareg would drop in 2010, followed by a third-gen model in 2018, settling the big SUV into a nice even 8-year life cycle. Which means that this 2023 facelift (it technically debuted last year in Europe) sees the third-gen Touareg heading towards the end of its current incarnation in around 2026.

The Volkswagen Touareg V6S packs a more powerful version of the diesel V6 and is also the only model to get 4WS.

So, what has VW done to keep the Touareg fresh for the next few years? The obvious bits are the new grille and bumper, complete with larger, more aggressive intakes. VW NZ has also opted for the blacked-out version of the grilles, giving the Touareg a far less chrome-y look. 

The refreshed Touareg also gets VW’s trick IQ Light HD LED matrix headlights as standard across the entire range, as well as a light bar connecting the taillights across the rear. That lightbar is accented by a new feature for the Touareg – an illuminated VW logo. Nice.

All Touaregs now get an illuminated VW logo at the rear.

Inside more previously optional kit has been made standard, with VW’s “Innovision Cockpit” with its massive 15-inch infotainment touchscreen and 12-inch dash display. 

The Touareg is landing in New Zealand in a three-model lineup for 2024, starting with the V6 TDI at $111,990. The entry Touareg is powered by a 170kW/500Nm 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 hooked up to an 8-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels.

Standard equipment is generous and includes 20-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto, wireless phone charging, four-zone climate air conditioning, as well as a full suite of driver assists and safety features, including forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian monitoring, front and rear cross traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and park assist.

The Volkswagen Touareg R PHEV tops the range and is the most powerful production VW ever built.

Step up to the $141,990 V6S R-Line and you will get a more powerful version of the turbo diesel V6, this time pumping out 210kW and 600Nm, as well as 21-inch alloys, an exterior black package, an R-Line interior styling package (nicer leather and lots of R logos), 30 colour ambient lighting, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, a heads-up display, air suspension with adaptive dampers and four-wheel steering.

The R is the spiritual successor to the mighty first-gen Touareg R50 from 2007, which was incidentally only the third R model following the Golf R32 and Passat R36.

But easily the biggest update to the Touareg comes in the form of a new R model that is, in fact, the most powerful production vehicle the company has produced.

The R PHEV is powered by a 3.0-litre turbo petrol V6 and a plug-in hybrid system that also allows for up to 53km of electric-only running.

Topping the Touareg line up, the R is the spiritual successor to the mighty first-gen Touareg R50 from 2007, which was incidentally only the third R model following the Golf R32 and Passat R36. But where the R50 packed a 257kW/850Nm 5.0-litre diesel V10, its modern interpretation produces its equally impressive 340kW/700Nm from a 3.0-litre petrol turbo V6 hooked up to a 100kW electric motor and a 17.9kWh battery, all sending its power through the same 8-speed auto/AWD drivetrain as the rest of the range.

Along with the considerable bigger power output, the $159,990 R PHEV also gains 22-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, even nicer leather upholstery, a massage function for the front seats and a Dynaudio premium audio system with 12 speakers, a 16-channel amplifier and a subwoofer. 

The R PHEV does lose the V6S’s four-wheel steering system, however, a compromise that had to be made to fit the PHEV’s battery and electrics.

The Volkswagen Touareg's interior features very high quality materials and is dominated by the huge screens.

Of course, as you would reasonably expect from a $100k-plus vehicle, everything inside the Touareg (regardless of model) is of extremely high quality and is impressively well put together.

The Touareg remains a thoroughly convincing blend of power, performance and comfort that buyers of $100k SUVs expect, with an understated air about it.

The high quality is evident on the move too, with the Touareg showing high levels of composure and competence at open road speeds. The ride is comfortable, steering is precise and nicely weighted, and it is even a pretty sharp handler, particularly for something weighing between 2179kg and 2435kg.

The V6S R-Line and R PHEV both come on air-suspension as standard.

It is, of course, the R PHEV that tops the weight range, but you wouldn’t know it from the effortless performance of the V6 hybrid drivetrain. However, it isn’t quite as seamless as you could reasonably expect from a refined Euro, with some transmission hesitance and a degree of lag before the full system kicks in under full throttle. 

But once it has its act together, the acceleration becomes rather insistent indeed. VW says the R PHEV will hit the open road speed limit in just 5.1 seconds and, once you have things set up right (there are numerous drive modes and combinations), you can easily believe that, despite it not bolting off the line in the same dramatic way the big diesel V10 R50 would.

And, yes, the R PHEV is faster than the R50, which would hit 100km/h in 6.9 seconds. It’s even faster than the mighty petrol W12 model (that we never saw here) that was previously the fastest Touareg and could hit the legal limit in 5.9 seconds. 

This facelift should see the Touareg through to the end of the current model's production cycle.

While the R PHEV is suitably fast, it never actually sounds like a proper R... even the petrol engine is muted and refined, which is nice when cruising in comfort, but disappointing when you want to bogan things up a bit...

The entry level V6 is obviously not quite as ballistic as the R, but it does a fine job of hauling the Touareg around in a refined and satisfactory way, but the sweet spot is likely to be the V6S, with its more powerful V6, air suspension and 4WS providing just the right blend of power, comfort and handling.

The Touareg remains a thoroughly convincing blend of power, performance and comfort that buyers of $100k SUVs expect, with an understated air about it. Possibly a bit too understated in the case of the R PHEV though...

ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 (V6 and V6S) or 3.0-litre turbo petrol V6 and hybrid system (R PHEV) POWER: 170kW/500Nm (V6), 210kW/600Nm (V6S), 340kW/700Nm (R PHEV) GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic transmission, AWD CONSUMPTION: 7.9l/100km (V6 and V6S), 1.9l/100km (R PHEV) (3P-WLTP), CO2 206g/km (V6 and V6S) 44g/km (R PHEV) PRICE: $111,990 (V6), $141,990 (V6S), $159,990 (R PHEV)

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