Rugged lux­ury

Volk­swa­gen’s pre­mium SUV gets up­dated styling, driver aids and en­hanced safety tech­nol­ogy

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By John Leblanc

MU­NICH, Ger­many – The price of fuel con­tin­ues to be high and our streets are not be­com­ing any less con­gested with traf­fic, but the pop­u­lar­ity of large and lux­u­ri­ous SUVs con­tin­ues un­abated. Wit­ness Volk­swa­gen’s Touareg. First seen in 2002, the Touareg was one of the Ger­man au­tomaker’s largest and most lux­u­ri­ous prod­ucts to date. Along­side the VW Phaeton full­sized lux­ury sedan, the all-wheeldrive Touareg of­fered the room and per­for­mance of much pricier lux­ury SUVs — such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML-Class — but at a more down-to-earth price.

Twelve years, two gen­er­a­tions and more than 800,000 copies sold world­wide later, the Volk­swa­gen SUV con­tin­ues to im­press with its classy com­bi­na­tion of lux­ury and both on- and off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties. And for 2015 — four years after the Touareg was redesigned in 2010 — the SUV is get­ting up­dated styling inside and out and new driver aids and safety tech­nolo­gies to keep it top of mind in a very com­pet­i­tive class.

You’ll have to squint pretty hard to see the ex­te­rior changes VW has made to the 2015 Touareg com­pared to the cur­rent 2014 model. The front grille has a more hor­i­zon­tal theme with bi-xenon head­lights as stan­dard. And there’s a chrome band that wraps around the SUV’s sill line. That’s about it. Inside, the changes are equally sub­tle, with VW say­ing there are some new leather colours, dec­o­ra­tive trims, up­dated alu­minum but­tons and con­trols that used to be il­lu­mi­nated in white now lit in red.

Un­der­neath its fancier knobs and di­als, the 2015 Touareg gains some new high-tech driver as­sis­tance and con­ve­nience sys­tems. For in­stance, there’s Lane As­sist and Side As­sist (which warns of any ve­hi­cles ap­proach­ing from be­hind when chang­ing lanes). Also new are Au­to­matic Post-Col­li­sion Brak­ing Sys­tem (which pre­vents any fur­ther dan­ger­ous col­li­sions after ini­tial im­pact) and Au­to­matic Cruise Con­trol with Front As­sist, City Emer­gency Brak­ing func­tion and op­tional Stop-and-Go func­tion. And, fi­nally, an Area View as­sis­tance sys­tem (which uses four cam­eras to rec­og­nize what’s around the Touareg when park­ing).

What hasn’t changed for 2015 is the im­pec­ca­ble build qual­ity and use of top-notch ma­te­ri­als inside the big Volk­swa­gen.

Com­pared to higher-level Jeep Grand Chero­kees, the Touareg’s fi­tand-fin­ish el­e­vates it to the ma­jor leagues, right up there with lux­u­ry­brand SUVs at twice the price. De­tails such as the high-qual­ity and eas­ier-to-use graph­ics on its touch­screen in­ter­face and its com­pletely rat­tle-free cabin makes the Touareg feel like a bank vault on wheels.

While those look­ing for mini­van­like seat­ing will have to wait un­til VW’s Amer­i­can-made three-row crossover (based on the CrossBlue Con­cept) ar­rives in a few years, the five-pas­sen­ger Touareg still of­fers plenty of flex­i­bil­ity in its cabin de­sign when it comes to haul­ing peo­ple and their stuff. Its 40/20/40-split rear bench seat slides so you can swap cargo room for knee room. Fold the VW’s rear seats down fully, and there’s a gen­er­ous 1,642 litres of lug­gage room.

Although

for­eign

mar­kets

get their choice of eight-and six-cylin­der diesels and gaso­line-elec­tric hy­brid pow­er­trains, for 2015, Cana­di­an­mar­ket Touaregs will con­tinue to be of­fered with a pair of six-cylin­der en­gines.

Car­ry­ing over will be the Touareg’s 3.6-litre gas mill. It makes 280 horse­power and 266 pound-feet of torque, and is rated at 12.3 litres per 100 kilo­me­tres in the city and 8.8 on the high­way. The 3.0-litre tur­bocharged diesel also re­turns. It’s rated at 240 hp and a healthy 406 lb-ft, and is rated at a more eco­nom­i­cal 10.8 L/100 km in the city and 6.7 L on the high­way.

Whether you go for the gas or diesel, both en­gines em­ploy an eight­speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and VW’s 4MO­TION-branded all-wheeldrive sys­tem with adap­tive torque dis­tri­bu­tion. And when the re­freshed 2015 Touareg ar­rives in Cana­dian VW show­rooms in Jan­uary, ex­pect start­ing prices to be sim­i­lar to the cur­rent $50,000 to $65,000 range.

Although VW doesn’t of­fer a high­per­for­mance Touareg to com­pete against V8 brute-utes such as the Grand Chero­kee SRT or MercedesBenz ML 63 AMG, it’s still a very com­pe­tent and con­fi­dent ve­hi­cle to cover great dis­tances in short pe­ri­ods of time.

VW says the 2015 Touareg’s stan­dard steel-spring sus­pen­sion has been “op­ti­mized,” with im­prove­ments to de­liver “more ag­ile steer­ing” and “ex­tra com­fort.” Dur­ing a day driv­ing on both two-lane back roads and un­lim­ited au­to­bahn high­ways around Mu­nich, the big VW SUV al­ways felt nim­ble in a way you would not ex­pect a ve­hi­cle of this size to be.

Ex­ces­sive body roll, the usual mo­dus operandi of th­ese SUV beasts, is held in check, even in tight cor­ners. And the steer­ing ac­tions of the Touareg are sur­pris­ingly crisp and ac­cu­rate, let­ting the driver place the VW SUV with some pre­ci­sion on the nar- row Bavar­ian farm roads we were nav­i­gat­ing.

When the orig­i­nal Touareg ar­rived, it was hailed as a ca­pa­ble of­froad­ing ma­chine. In the time since, the thought of tak­ing a lux­ury SUV off pave­ment has be­come a rar­ity. But VW set up a light off-road­ing course to re­mind us that the Touareg isn’t afraid to gets its knick­ers dirty. And note: with its op­tional air sus­pen­sion, the VW’s ground clear­ance can be jacked-up to as much as 300 mil­lime­tres. Just the thing to deal with an un­plowed Cana­dian win­ter side street, eh?

In fact, the up­dated 2015 Volk­swa­gen Touareg is just the thing to han­dle many driv­ing needs. Lux­ury cross-coun­try driv­ing ma­chine, roomy peo­ple-hauler, off-road SUV: what­ever you need, the big VW seems ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with it.

PHO­TOS BY JOHN LEBLANC / POST­MEDIA NET­WORK INC.

The Touareg’s fit-and-fin­ish el­e­vates it to the ma­jor leagues, right up there with lux­ury-brand SUVs at twice the price.

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