The German Desert nomad
The ‘ almost luxury’ suv from Volkswagen — The Touareg Terrain Tech — keeps its guise but gets empowered with some new off- road Technology
volkswagen’s Touareg has been the easy pick for many buyers for many years now. Affordability linked with ‘ luxury’ was the main selling point, helping the German auto maker sell over 750,000 units globally and some 70,000 last year alone. To help the SUV keep its popularity, they have introduced a range of Touaregs, including the Sport, the R- line and a V8 version. This week, we drive the Touareg Terrain Tech — supposedly the one with the greatest off- road prowess.
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
For starters, the Terrain Tech package thoroughly justifies the Touareg name. The name is, of course, a shout- out to the Berber tribes — the predominant inhabitants of the Sahara — which have a traditional nomadic pastoral lifestyle.
The package relates mostly to technological adaptations that make the Touareg more dune- and dirt- friendly, but since vanity rules all, the question arises: how is this Touareg to look at?
All matters of aesthetics begin with size and, in our eyes, it is just right, providing no alibi for social grievances after an episode in the parking lot or other congested areas. Bumper to bumper, this Touareg measures 4,795mm, while the all- important girth is a manageable 1,940mm, and the height is an SUV- appropriate 1,709mm.
Unlike their neighbouring countries, like France and Italy, that flaunt their adventurous nature in their architecture, fashion and cars, the Germans find home in simplistic style. This face- lifted second- generation Touareg continues to be the elevated persona of its sedan sibling, the Passat. Cutting into the wind is a sharp- ish nose, like its Cayenne cousin, contradicting the slab- sided image of an SUV from a couple of decades ago. Lighting the way ahead are single U- shaped day- time running lamps replacing the double- U dotted lighting that accompany the main xenon headlamps. Another change in the face is that there are four transverse chrome fins now, instead of the previous two, bringing more appeal to an otherwise sober frontal design. Also, as on the new Scirocco R, the lower air intakes now form a stylised “A” instead of a “V”. The once flat door panels have been carved to give it a subtle makeover that contributes to the overall sculpted look. In the rear, the taillamps contain a red dot- matrix design, keeping in line with the rest of the VW family.
The base Touareg runs on 17” wheels and, depending on the trim, you can style it with something as large as 21” wheels. The model we drove came with 5- spoke polished aluminium wheels. For those who want to avoid the basic black and white schemes, VW offers a choice of up to 12 paints including a new silver, gold, metallic blue and brown.
The relatively ornamental mix of plastic and metal in the key fob allows you to carry around the ownership rights of the new Touareg in style. To get onboard, you can either click it open or use the smart key functionality and simply tug the door handle. Once inside, you will find yourself in a black- base Germanic interior, which you can and will appreciate for the materials used and the clutter- free environment. It draws comparisons to its counterparts from Audi.
You can fire up the engine using the push button start, or simply insert the key and twist like the good old days. Once that is complete, you can pilot the mid- size Touareg using the delicately crafted 3- spoke leather wrapped steering wheel with piano black trims. The wheel itself isn’t as thick as the GTI, but
then again, this isn’t a sports car.
Trims of horizontal wood veneer and satin- finish aluminium go across the doors and dash and pep up the otherwise dark tone of the cabin. They look and feel so real that you’ll wonder if they are, in fact, real or not. You also have aluminium metal rotary knobs for the radio and climatronic system, gear adjustment etc. It’s a rather agronomical layout overall, with your eyes being able to spot all things quickly and your hand being able to reach them easily.
More importantly, the front cabin chairs are large, flat and accommodating. Our test car came with soft brown leather with double stitching in a matching colour. It also has many degrees of adjustability, thanks to the 14- way power controls with a memory function. Even the steering column is power adjustable for rake and reach. What all this means is that you can settle into that commanding position nicely, regardless of your size. There’s plenty of space in the Touareg’s back seats as well, regardless of your seat choice. Three of us bunched up together in the rear quite comfortably, with plenty of legroom and headroom. The fact that the rear seats slide and recline helped too.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
Our tester came with VW’S favourite motor, the 3.6L FSI V6, putting out 276 healthy fine- bred horses and a very efficient 360Nm of torque. Its quiet and smooth operating nature makes it a joy to rev. It also emits a throaty exhaust note that is as aggressive as it is civilised. The 6- pot comes linked to an 8- speed tiptronic transmission, which some may think is one too many ratios for any kind of transmission. But the fact that the 7th and 8th gears are fuel- saving overdrive gears and at 120km/ h, you hardly touch 2,000rpm, may change their minds. Although, on paper, the 355bhp V8 seems like an unstoppable force by comparison, on the road, the differences are little. The V6 is just as quick as its V8 sibling, clocking the 100km/ h dash from a standstill in 7.8 seconds as opposed to the V8’ s 7.5 seconds.
However, drag racing is one thing and real- world driving is another. The engine is a gem in its own right; it’s the transmission we had a problem with. Its lack of enthusiasm to kick- down leaves you with an urge to move but no action. Once it shifts though, the V6 Touareg gathers momentum quickly. The ‘ Terrain Tech’ moniker suggests an off- road intent and that must be the reason for the absence of a Sport mode in this Touareg. There aren’t any paddle shifters either. The other concern was the ride quality, which was a tad rough. There was a small but constant sense of vibrations transmitting through the seats. This is quite surpris- ing, considering that this is a comfortoriented premium product running on thick- wall tyres at all four corners.
In an effort to help the Touareg climb further up the dune and travel further down the trail, VW has equipped the 4MOTION all- wheel drive system with, you guessed it, Terrain Tech. As it is, the Touareg comes with 300 approach and departure angles, and a breakover angle of up to 270. Now, with the new tech, it can conquer a maximum lateral tilt angle of 35 degrees and 45 degree inclines. There is an electronically lockable differential, each with up to 100 per cent locking of power to the wheels, and hill descent control. It also has a fording depth of 580mm, which can help you get through a flooded emirate — a rare, but possible phenomenon in this part of the world as we just witnessed.
Courtesy of new added aerodynamic improvements such as air inlet openings in the front of the vehicle, modified door mirror caps, new wheel spoilers, tyre optimisation for low rolling resistance and a stop/ start system, Volkswagen claims a six per cent improvement over the last model in terms of fuel economy, dropping from 10.4L/ 100km to 9.9. But if taken off the tarmac or driven with the spirit of a 19- year- old who just obtained his licence, the V6 will turn out to be a muted guzzler.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
The Touareg offers plenty of practicality with 580L of luggage space. You can also drop down the asymmetrically split seats electronically and access 1,642L of space. Anything bigger can go on a trailer and the Touareg allows for as much as 3,500kg to be hauled behind it.
If music to your ears is the ultimate remedy after a hectic day at work, the optional 620W 10- speaker Dynaudio will be a good add- on. It produces good quality sound at all frequencies. Sharing the technological front is the 8” colour multimedia screen accompanied by a DVD navigation system and a 60GB hard drive. Kudos to VW for introducing larger on- screen buttons, but there is little appreciation for the lag in touch response.
Comfort is augmented by a four- zone climate control, except that we have come to realise that many car owners don’t know how to work their A/ Cs — whether in their cars, or at home, it’s all the same. Cooling up front was powerful, but the rear passengers, without the two privacy shades up, faced a little discomfort. Interestingly, VW offers seat heating, but no seat cooling. This isn’t Germany, VW!
Where safety is concerned, Vwshines bright with a multitude of features like electronic stability control, ABS with brake assist and hydraulic brake booster. VW has also introduced an automatic post- collision braking system, which, after a collision is detected, automatically holds the brakes in order to keep the car from rolling further. You also get a bird’s- eye view camera to help with parking manoeuvres. It also really helps when you are rock crawling or trying to get through a crevice between rocks in a wadi. Cruise control can also be used to give your right foot a break.
The Volkswagen Touareg has always been a practical expression of the SUV — it’s affordable for the high- income bracket, with aspirational value for the masses; it has quality fixtures, space and enoughoomphtokeepyouracingagainst the clock with hope. Now it comes with Terrain Tech, raising its off- roading prowess in leaps. But if ever you plan to get this city slicker dirty, carry some towing equipment and take along a companion car. You know the drill!