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.
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.
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.
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.