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Named af­ter the eth­nic Ber­ber in­hab­i­tants of the Sa­hara, you’d think that the VW Touareg is a leg­end in the sand. Cyril Klop­per takes it to the dunes to find out how well it fares.

Go! Camp & Drive - - DRIVING IMPRESSION -

The Dakar Rally was dom­i­nated by the Volk­swa­gen Touareg from 2009 to 2011. Giniel de Vil­liers, Car­los Sainz and Nasser Al-At­tiyah each fin­ished first af­ter plough­ing thou­sands of kilo­me­tres through the Ata­cama desert with a Touareg.

Granted, those Touaregs and the one in Wool­worths’ park­ing lot have vir­tu­ally noth­ing in com­mon, but the con­nec­tion re­mains.

We re­cently at­tended a launch of the new Touareg and have al­ready shared our first im­pres­sions with you (go! Drive & Camp #14), but af­ter Volk­swa­gen dropped off a test model at our of­fices we were able to per­form a thor­ough test.

The sand mon­ster

It’s a beau­ti­fully bright morn­ing in the At­lantis dunes out­side Cape Town. The sand is still damp from the night be­fore and we don’t an­tic­i­pate that the Touareg is go­ing to strug­gle. We nev­er­the­less re­duce the air pres­sure in the 19” tyres to 1.2 bar. We don’t dare go any lower be­cause the plan is to take ac­tion shots of the Touareg kick­ing up big waves of sand.

But im­me­di­ately you re­alise that the Touareg and sand are not friends. Ev­ery­thing goes swim­mingly when you drive in a straight line, but as soon as you turn sharply, the on­board com­puter cuts en­gine power and brakes the spin­ning wheels. This causes the Touareg to lose mo­men­tum and you can feel the 2-ton ve­hi­cle sink­ing into the sand.

The Touareg is hes­i­tant to do any­thing naughty, not un­like that school friend who as­pired to be a pre­fect. Ca­jol­ing doesn’t help and you have to trick him into steal­ing avos from the house­mas­ter’s prized tree. The same goes for the Touareg: You have to put pedal to the metal and jerk un­ex­pect­edly on the steer­ing wheel to briefly kick up a shower of sand be­fore the trac­tion in­ter­venes to put a stop to the fun.

Halfway into a turn up the lee­ward side of a low dune, the trac­tion con­trol de­cides to cut power to the four-wheel-drive sys­tem. If some­thing like this hap­pened on a tall dune, a ve­hi­cle could eas­ily roll over and end up on its roof, but luck­ily for us the Touareg sim­ply lies down flat on its stom­ach.

Be­cause you can’t turn off the trac­tion con­trol – and also not lock the dif­fer­en­tials – the wheels with the least amount of grip turn use­lessly while the wheels that should be dig­ging refuse to do any work.

A good Sa­mar­i­tan in a Toy­ota Hilux of­fers to tow us out. A dune buggy the Touareg clearly is not.

Dirty mind

Be­cause the trac­tion con­trol is such a head boy in sand, we de­cide to tackle a dirt road next. Here the sus­pen­sion nul­li­fies small­ish pot­holes and stones and the trac­tion con­trol def­i­nitely helps if you ac­ci­den­tally round a bend too fast or if you swerve to avoid killing an en­dan­gered tor­toise.

If you drive like a ma­niac, though, you’ll soon feel the trac­tion con­trol reach its lim­its. Un­like in the dunes, here it ap­pears that you can eas­ily wipe out in a Tourareg if you have a bizarre de­sire to do so.

The en­try-level Touareg is shod with 18” tyres (our test ve­hi­cle had 19”) but we do >

The Touareg is hes­i­tant to do any­thing naughty, not un­like that school friend who as­pired to be a pre­fect.

pre­fer the pre­vi­ous 17” wheels – they might not have looked par­tic­u­larly cool, but the ride was ex­tremely com­fort­able. The new Touareg is also avail­able with 21” tyres, but then you’re lim­ited to tar roads.

In short: The Touareg fares well on dirt roads, pro­vided you can re­sist the urge to chan­nel your in­ner Colin McRae. It’s by no means danger­ous (it cer­tainly has bet­ter grip than a bakkie), but a Subaru Out­back will fare bet­ter.

Harder is bet­ter

The Touareg is a dream­boat on tar. There’s vir­tu­ally zero noise in the cabin, you can barely hear the hum from the tyres, and the V6 diesel en­gine growls con­tent­edly when you ac­cel­er­ate.

Even the shrill sounds of a street mu­si­cian’s trum­pet at a traf­fic light can’t un­der­mine the Touareg’s su­perb sound sys­tem. A 730-Watt Dolby 7.1 am­pli­fier pow­ers 12 speak­ers and the per­for­mance is so sharp that even Vi­valdi’s toes will curl up in sheer de­light.

The in­te­rior is classy, and af­ter only a few min­utes be­hind the wheel a feel­ing of con­tent­ment will wash over you, some­thing you sim­ply don’t ex­pe­ri­ence in a cheaper ve­hi­cle. And be­cause the body is now 77 mm longer and 44 mm wider, Volk­swa­gen was able to in­crease the boot space by 113 ℓ (from 697 ℓ to 810 ℓ) so you can now load an ex­tra suit­case for that well-de­served hol­i­day at the beach.

Con­clu­sion

The new Volk­swa­gen Touareg is less com­pe­tent in the rough than its pre­de­ces­sors, but it’s dex­ter­ous on dirt and a tsar on tar.

BRAINS & BONES. The driv­e­train is bet­ter suited to dy­namic driv­ing than off-road­ing.

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