Adventure drive: Volkswagen Touareg

Volkswagens are for family, friends and making memories. The launch of the all-new Touareg gave us the perfect opportunity to break away from Jozi, to find some peace and quiet in the Western Cape.

Before we dig deep into the all-new Volkswagen Touareg, a short history lesson on how this famous marque came to be.

The year was 1937 and the German leaders set out to create a car almost everyone could afford. A car for the people, or directly translated, a volkswagen.

Obviously VW doesn’t often touch on this part of its history, for obvious reasons. Luckily, the brand was claimed back by the people, who went out of their way to transform it from the creation of the biggest spanner who ever lived, into the chosen vehicle of those who’d rather make love and not war.

Volkswagen is synonymous with families and freedom. Remember the Kombi’s famous marketing campaign, featuring the beloved David Kramer. If you’re too young for that, you might remember the various CitiGolf campaigns? Do we remember these campaigns because they used local footage and talent, or does it have something to do with the cars being brilliant? In our opinion, it’s a bit of both.

Our favourite advertisement is more modern that the two mentioned above. It came around shortly after the second-generation Touareg was introduced. You might remember it as well, but in case you don’t, here’s a basic summary; father and son are having a fight about something, so dad decides to take his son on a trip to blow off some steam. This was back before we had kids, but still the message resonated.

The Touareg was built to make memories. Wait, scratch that. It was a car for making memories quickly. Especially if you opted for the V8 turbodiesel…

The local launch of the all-new model in Port Elizabeth provided the perfect excuse to get out of the office for a few days, with no other mission in mind than driving until the fuel and stress gauges dropped to zero.

Erm, it’s quite striking…

Yes, more so than both the previous cars. The first-gen looked like a pumped-up Golf, while the second-gen went about its business in a handsome, yet placid fashion.

The new Touareg is definitely on the bling side of the spectrum, but not so much that it would scare wealthy introverts off. To our admittedly unqualified eyes, this is the best interpretation of an SUV body to ever be bolted to this particular platform.

It manages to stick to Volkswagen’s conventional design philosophy, but it incorporates a host of futuristic, eye-grabbing details. The attention to detail up front is superb and it contrasts nicely with the sleek, minimal taillights. In between those two points it’s sheer muscle, especially with the suspension in its highest setting.

We admired the new car for around five minutes during an impromptu photo session near the old lighthouse, but the raid rudely decided to interrupt.

Port Elizabeth has extreme weather patterns compared to Johannesburg. The rain arrived suddenly and the average wind speed increased from a light breeze to a full-on blast that nearly took the Touareg’s front door with it.

When the locals started running towards their cars, so did we.

In a bubble

The exterior is impressive, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll find on the inside.

Volkswagen is using the Touareg as a vessel to premiere its new Innovision Cockpit, which, in our opinion, is as a giant leap forward as Volvo’s Sensus interior was three years ago.

You might think it’s just the large laptop-like screen, but the optional top-of-the-line Discover Premium infotainment system is only half the story. The other half is the Digital Cockpit 12-inch display where you’d normally find the instrument binnacle.

It’s the way these two work together to form a digital interface from where the driver and passenger can operate everything. It grants you access to operating information, communication, entertainment, climate control, navigation and various car settings. The only functions not included, apart from the gear lever, hazard lights and a solitary volume knob, are the suspension and driving mode settings, which are neatly situated between the driver and passenger.

This may seem daunting, but it’s not. The secrets to its success are the multiple drop down menus and singular home button. It takes a while to find everything, but once you know where it is, you’re good to go.

Because the screen is so large, whatever you’re looking for is easy to find. You change the shortcuts to suite your own needs, which is one of those functions we can’t believe we waited so long for.

With our Touareg individualised for our specific needs, we pointed its nose down the B Roads that run parallel with the N2 in the hopes of finding a spot of sunshine.

According to the weather report, it was not to be. We were looking at 24 hours of rain, even at our final destination more than 300km away. And it wasn’t a peaceful kind of rain either. It was basically constant, interrupted only by huge surges that the wipers struggled to keep up with.

In something less advanced, the rain would have stopped our progress dead, but our Touareg was equipped with a host of safety features that we usually don’t engage with on our adventures.

It has the usual bits and pieces like adaptive cruise control, driver alert system and tyre pressure monitoring, which you can then add to by opting for the Advanced Safety Package. This includes Lane Assist and Side Assist, active four-wheel steering and intelligent LED lights. This package also includes night vision, which sounds a bit gimmicky, but works a charm. On more than one occasion, this system highlighted a pedestrian or dog our human eyes simply couldn’t see. The car can also display the feed from the night vision on the digital display behind the steering wheel, which allows you to glance at it as you would occasionally glance at the rearview mirror.

The weather outside was frightening, but inside the Touareg it was calm and comfortable. The large display was showcasing our route in its entirety, while the binnacle display gave us speed, temperature, time and a map of our immediate surroundings.

The rain was bad for photography, but it certainly highlighted what the Touareg is good at.

It’s a comfortable cruiser with space for five people and over 800 litres of luggage. In addition to that, it’s as safe as houses and as luxurious as they come these days. Throw in some legendary Volkswagen build quality and it’s not hard to see why it costs a million bucks. Heck, it might even be a bargain. Out of all the cars built on this platform, the Touareg is the most affordable, but it doesn’t feel that way.

A bit of off-roading, part one

Peet had been to Port Elizabeth a few months before and knew of a quiet place where we might get some action shots without being interrupted.

Driving along the coast, we wished South African law wasn’t as firmly against beach driving. With a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel and permanent four-wheel drive, the Touareg would have been epic on a dune.

Upon our arrival at said quiet place, we noticed that the ocean had washed away a large portion of the parking lot and had replaced what was left with a thick layer of sand. To get to our location, we’d have to drive over it. Not exactly a dune, but at least something resembling off-roading.

Turning the drive mode dial, we count no fewer than seven settings. As if that’s not enough, the off-road mode as additional setting to choose from that pop up on the centre display. We select sand, and set the air suspension to its highest setting. To say we were nervous is an understatement. If the Touareg got stuck, we were in for a long night. With no traction control button to press, we were at the mercy of the electronics.

We needn’t have worried, for it soldiered through like the champ it is. The “sand” setting relaxes the traction control, which allows the driver to maintain momentum. If anything, it was rather underwhelming.

Peet still wasn’t satisfied with the photographs, so we did it over and over, each time playing with the settings. Each time the Touareg pulled through.

A pass or two

The B Roads between Port Elizabeth and Knysna are amazing, especially when driven in a hot hatch.

But the Touareg is not a hot hatch, but there is a decent amount of performance to be exploited.

Only one engine is available at the moment, but it’s an absolute cracker. The 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel delivers 190kW and 600Nm of torque. It sends the power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Much has been written about this engine and gearbox combination, so we’ll simply state that it’s brilliant. So much so, that we didn’t even miss the previous generation’s V8 diesel option.

The secret to its success is its wide range of abilities. In town it requires no more than a quarter throttle to get over the initial turbo lag. After that it pulls strongly through the gears, all the way to a highly illegal top speed north of 200km/h.

The run to 100km/h is despatched in less than seven seconds, but, on the flipside, it can be surprisingly frugal.

We weren’t interested in frugality. With the sporty driving mode engaged, we wanted to see if the new Touareg’s weight loss, air suspension and all-wheel steering made any difference.

The weight loss is standard across the range. Thanks to a smarter design and aluminium construction, the new model is more than 100kg lighter than the car it replaces. We can’t say whether we felt the difference, because we haven’t driven the previous Touareg in a while, but we can tell you that the new car is deceptively brisk. From a standstill it’s brisk, but it’s only during overtaking manoeuvres where it really starts to shine.

So it’s a joy on long trips, but is there any sort of enjoyment on twisty B Roads? Well, it’s not sporty by any means, but it can cover ground at an alarming rate. Thanks to the air suspension, it corners flatly. The optional all-wheel steering makes for a surprisingly nimble off-roader. There isn’t a lot of joy involved, but we it is amusing to see a large family SUV behave that way. Specifically, a large SUV that can also hold its own on a muddy track…


Off-roading part deux

After 200km, we developed a sort of driving plan. Peet would check the side roads and if an interesting one popped up, we’d give it a go. Not great for maintaining an average speed towards our hotel, but great for finding pretty valleys and muddy tracks.

As the sun was setting, we found a road heading into a valley around 20km from Knysna. After seven hours of rain, the gravel had been reduced to nothing more than sticky red mud and patches of water.

It didn’t take long for the mud to compact into the grooves of the road-biased tyres, which made for an interesting driving experience.

We were essentially driving on slicks, yet the body control remained superb. Inducing power oversteer wasn’t easy, as the electronics preferred to keep the Touareg tracking in a straight line.

In the right driving mode it is possible to have fun, but considering this vehicle’s main audience, we reckon safety and predictability are more important.

We can tell you that it remains exceedingly comfortable on a gravel road. As far as the driver and passengers are concerned, the road surface merely changes colour – quite an achievement for a car on 20-inch alloy wheels.

Forest hopping

With the sun far lower than it should be for photography purposes, Peet suddenly saw something that made him pop out of his seat. We initially thought the seat heater had malfunctioned, but Peet was actually excited about a bad road on top of a hill.

To get there, we had to meander up and down narrow, muddy forestry roads. Not ideal in any kind of off-roader, never mind a luxury barge.

As you can see on the images, we crept through mud, water and drove over large tree trunks.

It was worth it, however, as the clouds finally relented. What followed was a spectacular moon rising. If it temperature hadn’t dropped below zero, we’d have stayed for the full blood moon, but alas.


Where to start with this car?

Would it be a stretch to say that it’s the most complete car we’ve driven this year? We don’t think so.

Just thinking back on our 24 hours with it, there’s not much the new Touareg doesn’t do brilliantly. It doesn’t have the sheer off-road ability of a Prado, but very few cars do. Even fewer actually do the kind of off-roading where it starts to matter.

In every other regard, the Touareg is magnificent. We covered a long distance, both on and off-road, and there simply isn’t anything bad to say about it. The worst we can think of is that it doesn’t display the outside temperature on the digital binnacle when you have it in the dial setting. But then you simply press the view button on the steering wheel and there it is.

Even after dropping Peet at the airport, we still had the car for five hours, so we set off for Port Elizabeth’s city centre to see how it copes in the city. Surprise, surprise, it’s brilliant there as well.

The navigation even shows you the outline of the buildings around you. Setting said navigation is so easy, as you don’t have to go through the motions of setting the house number, street and town. You just type where you want to go and its there.

This car has been in development for a while, but it feels that way. There isn’t a single component that feels like it was glanced over, or rushed through development. A team of professionals, who really understood what SUVs go through on a daily basis, designed and developed this car and it’s all the better for it.


Engine: V6 Diesel

Displacement: 2967cc

Power: [email protected]

Torque: [email protected]

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Suspension front: Five-link

Suspension rear: Five-link

Drive system: Full-time four-wheel drive

Driving aids: Off-road driving modes, four-wheel steering

Ground clearance: 240mm

Fuel tank capacity: 75 litres

Claimed average consumption: 8.1/100km

Price: R1 088 200

Due in South Africa: Available now