For­get au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles – could dig­i­tal cock­pits be the fu­ture? Elly Strang takes the 2018 Volkswagen TDI V6S Touareg for a spin, and finds out that the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try has fi­nally caught up to mod­ern-day tech.


The brand-new, state-of-the-art Volkswagen Touareg was slightly over­whelm­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence at first. The first les­son I learnt was a lot has hap­pened in tech­nol­ogy space with cars in the past year.

The dif­fer­ence felt so abrupt be­cause for a good chunk of this cen­tury, au­to­mo­bile tech­nol­ogy hasn’t evolved in the same way we’ve seen mo­bile phones go from heavy, brick-like ob­jects to sleek, ul­tra-smart de­vices.

Sure, there’s been ma­jor ad­vance­ments, but ac­cord­ing to Pop­u­lar

Me­chan­ics, a lot of the most im­por­tant au­to­mo­tive tech mile­stones – such as re­vers­ing cam­eras, Blue­tooth in­te­gra­tion and radar-based cruise con­trol – hap­pened in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

The cars I’ve driven and rid­den in to date haven’t got­ten me ex­cited in the same way as the re­lease of a new Ap­ple prod­uct might. But if the Volkswagen Touareg is any­thing to go by, in-built tech­nol­ogy has hugely stepped up come 2018, and feels a lot more on par with the tech we so fre­quently in­ter­act with in our day-to-day lives, like an iPhone or a tablet.

It’s not quite a fly­ing car, à la The

Jet­sons, but it feels like one step closer to that di­rec­tion. In fact, the car’s fu­tur­is­tic dig­i­tal screen and min­i­mal­is­tic in­te­rior made it feel as though I was driv­ing around in a space­ship for a cou­ple of days.

Per­haps the most game-chang­ing fea­ture of the Volkswagen Touareg is the large dig­i­tal screen in the dash­board called the ‘In­no­vi­sion Cock­pit’. You can’t miss it – it’s a dual 12-inch dig­i­tal driver’s dis­play on the dash and a 15-inch screen in the mid­dle of the car that grabs your at­ten­tion the mo­ment you hop into the ve­hi­cle. Volkswagen says it’s the largest dig­i­tal cock­pit in its SUV class, and it sure feels that way.

The ma­jor­ity of the con­trols and switches that would nor­mally be found in a cen­tre con­sole have been re-homed here and in­cor­po­rated into a dig­i­tal in­ter­face. Just like a smart­phone screen, it is slick, so­phis­ti­cated and re­sponds to ges­tures, touches and voice in­stead of but­tons be­ing pushed and di­als be­ing turned.

From this cock­pit, you have free rein to com­pletely cus­tomise the en­tire in-car ex­pe­ri­ence, from tweak­ing the po­si­tion­ing of your seat, to charg­ing your phone wire­lessly, right through to se­lect­ing one of 30 colours for the LED lights that line the in­te­rior. It’s a level of con­trol that will sat­isfy those who like to tweak ev­ery last de­tail of their sur­round­ings, but you def­i­nitely need to spend some time learn­ing to use it.

Once you get the hang of it, you find that the think­ing be­hind its user ex­pe­ri­ence is sim­i­lar to that of a smart­phone.

You swipe side­ways to

It’s not quite a fly­ing car, à la The Jet­sons, but it feels like one step closer to that di­rec­tion.

move through its ap­pli­ca­tions, swipe down for the main menu and go ‘home’ by press­ing an Ap­ple-like cir­cle. It’s well de­signed, as far as car in­ter­faces go.

It’s also within this dig­i­tal dash­board that you get to see some of the car’s im­pres­sive safety fea­tures in play. Night vi­sion mode uses an in­frared cam­era to il­lu­mi­nate pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and even an­i­mals up to 130 me­tres in front of the car’s line of sight, help­ing warn of im­pend­ing col­li­sions.

But one of the stand-out fea­tures for me – a city slicker – is Traf­fic Jam As­sist. I be­came an in­stant fan of it while stuck in bumper-to-bumper to traf­fic on my daily com­mute into Auck­land City. When traf­fic is backed up, semi-au­to­matic driv­ing kicks in and the ve­hi­cle senses when the car in front starts and stops, au­to­mat­i­cally op­er­at­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor and the brake ac­cord­ingly. While un­nerv­ing at first, you wind up whole­heart­edly em­brac­ing it. In a sim­i­lar vein, its Front Cross Traf­fic As­sist fea­ture uses radar sen­sors on each end of the bumper to mon­i­tor the area in front of the car, giv­ing a warn­ing on screen when it senses traf­fic cross­ing. An­other fea­ture I was in awe of (but thank­fully didn’t have to test out) was the Emer­gency As­sist fea­ture, which par­tially takes con­trol over the ve­hi­cle when it finds the driver un­re­spon­sive. If the per­son driv­ing fails to re­spond when the car is­sues a warn­ing, it can at­tempt to re­vive the driver while flag­ging down an­other road user and alert­ing other pas­sen­gers. It’s in­cred­i­ble that ve­hi­cle in­no­va­tion has de­vel­oped to this point and es­pe­cially poignant in the New Zealand mar­ket, where road deaths and car ac­ci­dents are an on­go­ing is­sue. Plus, with the Touareg’s sheer size, safety is para­mount.

I was wor­ried I wouldn’t feel se­cure in a nearly fiveme­tre-long ve­hi­cle, but with all of the safety fea­tures as­sist­ing my drive via the In­no­vi­sion Cock­pit, I re­laxed and felt com­fort­able within the first hour of driv­ing it. Even lit­tle touches like the seat­belts tight­en­ing around your body when the car first takes off add to this feel­ing of se­cu­rity.

It’s worth not­ing that the ac­tual driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence it­self in the V6 tur­bod­iesel pow­ered-car feels light, de­spite what the car is packing. It’s smooth and sur­pris­ingly swift when you do choose to put your foot down, thanks to the pow­er­ful 3.0-litre V6 TDI en­gine.

The V6 model starts at $92,990 plus on-road costs in New Zealand. When you con­sider that the Touareg shares the same clever tech­nol­ogy un­der its body as a Bent­ley, Audi and Porsche, yet is the most af­ford­able out of the bunch, it’s not a bad price tag – es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that this tech­nol­ogy is a game-changer.

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