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

WKND - - On The Road - By Ge­orge Ku­ruvilla • The lowdown on the hottest rides in town

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.

VER­DICT

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!

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