The Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo platform already underpins the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus and Porsche Cayenne, but one model has so far been missing.
Volkswagen SA has now corrected that with the launch of the new Touareg in the country, but it is easy to forget with so many models on the platform that it was the Touareg that predated them all back in 2002.
Back then there was no Bentayga or Urus of course, but the Touareg arrived before Porsche ventured into SUV territory and it proved itself by dominating the Dakar Rally, although the Dakar vehicle was hardly what you could buy in the showroom.
There were some great models in the first generation too like the incredible V10 TDi and a stonking V8 petrol. Those days are gone, with all the claims to big power going to the performance brands. Instead the third generation Touareg sticks with the tried and trusted (perhaps not so much trusted, think Dieselgate) 3.0l TDI.
Overseas there are other engine options, including a 48V mild-hybrid that gets rid of the dreaded turbo lag and VWSA needs to consider bringing this at some point. Instead the Touareg gets the Euro 4 engine that will soon also appear in the updated Amarok V6 TDi with 190kW between 3,250-4,250r/min and 600Nm from 2,250-3,250r/min.
It is the same engine in each of the two models currently available, the Luxury at R999,800 and the Executive at R1,088.200. The Executive is not much more than the old R-Line version, although as well as the R-Line kit it also gets 20-inch wheels, IQ Matrix LED headlights, four-zone Climatronic air-conditioning and Dynamic Chassis Control. All of these are options on the Luxury including the R-Line kit at R35,000.
According to Ryan Searle, head of sales and planning at VW SA, the company did not want to give the Executive higher spec due to price positioning against the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE.
The big talking point with the new Touareg though is an option on both and the Innovision infotainment system does not come cheap at a whopping R70,000. It looks like a great system, with a 15-inch curved touchscreen, active info display for the instrument cluster, multiple menus and tiles and access to loads of features. It’s easy to use on the move too, sitting just on the edge of your peripheral vision meaning you do not have to take your eyes entirely from the road. Apparently it has gesture control, which VW has gone to great lengths to shout about, but while it was present on one of the cars we drove, it did not work.
I tried extensively to get it to work and must have looked like a right idiot heading along the N2 highway from Plettenberg Bay waving my hands around, all to no avail. Technology can be a trying thing sometimes.
Our first drive was in the Luxury model, with its standard suspension which still provided a comfortable ride. It got skittish on a gravel road though, with the ABS kicking in constantly under braking and the car understeering although it was easily collected without any drama.
None of this was apparent in the Executive though with its Dynamic Chassic Control and optional air suspension. The ride was superb, the dynamics excellent and while that air suspension is an option, the Executive did feel like more than just an R-Line kitted choice.
The engine is well proven and although it still suffers from low-down lag, it is great when you get it into the power and torque bands.
Both models feature decent design too, with the Touareg now boasting a massive, angular and slatted grille in the same style as the Arteon four-door. The lights hide behind smoked glass that along with gaping air intakes in the lower valance give it much more presence than the previous two generations had.
The side profile is also more athletic with a bulging flank around the rear wheel arch similar to that on the Bentayga and upcoming Audi Q8 while the rear has more of a bulge to it, translating into a luggage space that has increased by 113l.
Aside from the Innovision option, there is plenty of other tech. There’s a great head-up display and enough driver assistance to make the Touareg almost Level 3 autonomous, including adaptive cruise control and blind spot assistance. It has lane departure too but as we often find with these systems, the road markings need to be to German spec for it to work 100% of the time. The N2 was not always quite up to standard.
We have been in every Touareg since it debuted back in 2002, even the Race Touareg and the third generation is a massive leap forward in design, comfort and equipment. The interior is better than the Q7 interior and overall it offers everything you could want in an SUV and more. It still has a sense of familiarity though, probably because we have experienced most of its MLB Evo siblings and because of that TDi engine, but as an overall package it feels lighter (it is at 106kg less than the second gen), more dynamic and luxurious.
It arrives at a time when people are tightening their belts, even in this segment and it faces more competition, but Searle is confident that will work in the Touareg’s favour.
“We are in the middle of a buy-down trend. Volkswagen will benefit from that,” he says, particularly referencing the Touareg against the Q7 and Cayenne. But the Touareg is only a buy-down in price.
It is a great package that deserves its place as the pioneer in the VW Group