Volkswagen Touareg

PRE­MIUM OP­TIONS BLUR THE LINE BE­TWEEN MAIN­STREAM AND LUX­URY

Wheels (Australia) - - CAR OF THE YEAR 2020 - BYRON MATHIOUDAK­IS

IF YOU’RE GO­ING to have an iden­tity cri­sis, then best make it a fab­u­lous one. Case in point: the Volkswagen Touareg.

Is it a more-af­ford­able Audi Q7? An ev­ery­day Bent­ley Ben­tayga? A Porsche Cayenne in drag? Or a bit of every­thing? Af­ter all, these four dis­tinct large SUVs share the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo mod­u­lar lon­gi­tu­di­nal ar­chi­tec­ture.

So, is the Touareg – now in its third gen­er­a­tion, and priced from $79,490 for the en­try-level 190TDI – a con­spic­u­ous bar­gain as a re­sult of such rar­efied genes? Or is it just an ex­pen­sive Volkswagen? The answers are a qual­i­fied yes to both, since our top-spec Pre­mium model – nor­mally from $85,490 with stan­dard air sus­pen­sion, heated/vented/ mas­sag­ing front seats, Ma­trix LEDs, ges­ture con­trol, QI phone charger and 20-inch al­loys – ar­rived wear­ing a $114,490 price tag due to nearly $30K of ad­di­tional op­tions.

Fore­most of these, if you value driv­ing and com­fort equally, is the $8000 R-Line pack, due to the ac­tive roll bars and four-wheel-steer­ing tech it in­tro­duces. Both bet­ter con­tain and con­trol ex­cess body wal­low for taut, pre­cise han­dling at speed, while 4WS al­lows out­stand­ing ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity. Com­bined with the air sus­pen­sion’s plush, iso­lat­ing ride (this was the qui­etest car at COTY, de­spite be­ing diesel), and it’s easy to sur­mise that Bent­ley engi­neer­ing knowhow some­how plays a part here.

Step in­side the lofty and spa­cious cabin and another $8K op­tion stands out – the ‘In­no­vi­sion Cock­pit’ with its

15.0-inch touch­screen and 12.0-inch dig­i­tal in­stru­ment clus­ter, en­velop­ing the driver. Along with a head-up dis­play and other am­bi­ence-en­hanc­ing good­ies, they usher in a Q7-like – rather than the stan­dard set-up’s Pas­sat-like – el­e­gance.

Still, the Touareg’s pack­ag­ing fun­da­men­tals re­main spo­ton. There’s su­perb fit and fin­ish, loads of legroom front and rear, firm yet sup­port­ive seats, and am­ple ven­ti­la­tion. Fam­i­ly­fo­cused func­tion­al­ity was clearly a de­vel­op­ment pri­or­ity.

A mi­nor gripe is that Ap­ple CarPlay/An­droid Auto don’t make full use of the enor­mous dis­play. Some of the switchgear is scat­tered or awk­wardly sited, too, and the sun­roof re­duces head­room. The ESC cal­i­bra­tion on gravel also cries out for more fi­ness­ing.

Plus, where are the elec­tri­fied op­tions? The torquey 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel may de­liver its punch in a smooth and muted man­ner, mak­ing this Touareg a re­lax­ing lon­g­legged tourer, but it isn’t es­pe­cially spry from take-off

(un­like BMW’s bound­ing X5 30d) and diesel isn’t ex­actly this mil­len­nium’s en­vi­ron­men­tal poster­child. What would Greta say? Adding the Cayenne’s hy­brid smarts would help.

Nev­er­the­less, with some deft op­tion tick­ing, the 190TDI makes a com­pelling case to side­step the usual lux­ury-seg­ment sus­pects. Yet, even with all the ex­tra kit, the flag­ship VW

SUV still un­der­cuts the con­sid­er­ably more bare-base X5 30d equiv­a­lent. It doesn’t skimp on ad­vanced safety gear ei­ther, in­cludes free Ap­ple CarPlay/An­droid Auto, and of­fers a fiveyear war­ranty. Un­like the other Ger­mans.

Unad­ven­tur­ous though it may be un­der the bon­net, the mid­dle-class SUV from Wolfs­burg is nonethe­less bet­ter be­cause of its blue-chip breed­ing else­where. Such di­verse DNA only serves to en­rich the Touareg’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. And iden­tity.

“Great re­fine­ment is its most im­pres­sive at­tribute” JOHN CAREY

Above: who would have tipped the qui­etest ve­hi­cle at COTY would be a diesel SUV? Be­low: much of what catches your eye here is from the op­tions list

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