Can SUVS be green? Well, maybe light green. That’s what Volkswagen has set out to achieve with the Touareg 3.0 TDI BlueMotion… a sports utility vehicle with a conscience.
The latest Touareg qualifies as being allnew even though under the bonnet is the familiar 3,0-litre common-rail turbodiesel – a regular in the Volkswagen/Audi stable and the powerplant of choice in a number of other products. It has been uprated for this applicati on, but most interesting is the BlueMotion monikor it carries. That means it has a bunch of fuel saving features, the most obvious of which is a stop/start function, killing the engine when you’re stationary. This is claimed to help the BlueMotion version achieve average fuel consumption of just 7,4 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 195g per kilometre. That’s an impressive 1,9 litres and 49g less than the previous generation 3.0 TDI Touareg. This focus on efficiency is apparent in other areas. For example, an eight-speed automatic gearbox allows for a dramatically overdriven top gear – some 34% higher than sixth – reducing engine revoluti ons significantly when cruising. New bodywork has reduced the drag coeffi cient from 0.38 to a more svelte 0.35, and a base model is now 208kg leaner than before, thanks to the use of lightweight materials. Despite this, torsional rigidity has improved and VW claim the chassis is stiffer than that of any other SUV. Despite its rather conventional styling, dominated by horizontal lines, the Touareg looks elegant and compact, though it has grown (modestly) in most planes. Largest gains are in length (41mm), and wheelbase (38mm) while width is up by a centimetre or so, and overall height down by a similar amount. It has short overhangs and with the inflatable spare under the boot floor (rather than a full-sized rearmounted item), there’s nothing to spoil its lines.
★★★★ Features and equipment
A sizeable chunk of the weight saving comes in the suspension department and the coil-sprung suspension has shed 47 kilos. But VW has gone one better for this press unit and it boasts proper air suspension – a R31 500 option. Also fitt ed was satellite navigation, bumping the price up a further R28 229. Options totalled R134 870, but apart from those already mentioned, the only other essential is the electrically-released fold-out towbar (R8090). As with a number of other 4x4s, buyers need to make a fundamental decision at point of sale: lowrange, or no low-range. Or in Volksie speak, 4Moti on (with a Torsen differential between the axles) or 4XMoti on with a pukka, lockable centre diff and a reduction ratio of 2.69:1. In both instances 17-inch “Sonora” seven-spoke alloys and 235/65 V-rated tyres are standard, though there’s a long list of wheel/tyre options. The engine is rated at 176 kW and 550 Nm and while these aren’t quite the towering numbers being quoted by the likes of BMW and Land Rover for their oilburners of similar displacement, it is impressive nonetheless.
VW interiors are instantly recognisable, and there’s a nononsense look and feel about this one. Quality radiates from the surfaces and stalks, and while it may not have the ability to raise your pulse rate (or give you a sense of driving an SUV rather than a Passat), it is wholly satisfying. The opti onal Comfort seats were fi tt ed and they lived up to their name, though lighter occupants suggested that they were overly firm (considering the name) and that the side bolsters were too stiff . There’s a sense of generous space to the cabin with the transmission tunnel particularly compact (so plenty of space in the footwells), and extra room atop it thanks to a switch-activated electronic handbrake that incorporates an auto on/off function. The facia is extremely classy in terms of materials, with a piano black finish for the centre console and soft -touch slush mouldings for the main dash. Instrument lighting and the menu graphics of the driver information interface are impressive, especially the three-dimensional compass. All Touaregs have a touch screen centre console but when SatNav is fitted there’s an upgrade to the sound system. It all works intuiti vely and the Bluetooth was one of the least painless to pair that we’ve encountered. In fact, all controls – primary and secondary – are user-friendly. The “RNS 850” navigation and sound system incorporates eight primary functions (such as Radio, Nav, Phone and Climate) for switching between the basic menus as well as two rotary knobs. For good measure, there are no less than four 12 Volt outlets, and a 230V power socket. With its slightly stretched cabin, there’s space galore and even with a tall driver the rear is limo-like. This is accentuated when the seats are moved to the rearmost positi on (hints of MPV versatility here?) and the backrest adjusted to the most reclined of three settings. Fore/aft travel is 160mm, and the 60/40 backrests can be released via switches inside the rear hatch. Five seats is the grand total and a third row of occasional chairs is not on offer.
Luggage volume is up, and the Touareg makes a very strong case for itself here. Luggage volume under a retractable cover is unencumbered by intrusions and maximum width is an impressive 1350mm. A low floor helps too, and the “load” position on the air suspension makes life even easier.
Thanks to a relatively low all-up weight, the Touareg has decent performance and certainly has no problem on the open road. On occasion the gearbox seems less than eager to kick down, taking a moment to hunt through its soft ware before deciding what it is you want it to do. This can slow progress in cut and thrust driving and can also manifest itself off -road. Of course, there’s the option of using the manual gate and holding onto a specific gear (1st is good off the beaten track) or use the Sport mode, which holds gears for longer and doesn’t shift into seventh or eighth. The engine is exceptionally quiet even when working near its 4 000 r/min power peak. It is also subdued when stationary – mainly because the engine is off ! The stop/start technology utilises a special pump to maintain gearbox pressure, so that when you need to pull off it quickly hooks up a gear to send you on your way. It acts swiftly, but not quite instantaneously, though it seems to be intelligent enough to interpret a slight release of brake pressure as a cue to fire up again. Another technological feature worthy of mention is a “switchable” waterpump which only starts to operate once the engine has warmed up, thereby saving fuel. In addition, “regenerative” energy saving takes advantage of situations when the driver is braking to “overcharge” the battery, which then means the alternator can be bypassed during hard acceleration. Overall braking performance is hard to fault and retardation is swift and assured. But the brakes are highly boosted, which can make them sharper than expected, especially off the road.
Agility and the ability to change direction swiftly is largely a function of weight and the Touareg does well in this department. It feels wieldy from the getgo and has good all-round visibility, too. Of course, the air suspension plays a big part, and not only does it allow for fast reactions to changes in road surface, but it also limits body roll to provide stable and assured handling. The driver can choose from three suspension settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport, with subtle changes between them. Steering feels crisp and responsive, though like many big SUVs, the Touareg is somewhat limited in feel. With double wishbones all round there is good wheel articulation, and three ride heights (excluding the loading height) mean additional ground clearance when you need it. At the most extreme setting there is virtually no suspension movement so the ride is almost rigid, but it does mean 300-plus millimetres of air between terra firma and the underside, and maximum approach/departure angles of 33 degrees. With 4Motion (rather than 4XMotion) we relied heavily on a hill descent control function in off-road conditions, and were very impressed at how well it managed, proving capable of maintaining a speed low enough to remain in proper control. This Off Road mode which activates HDC is selected simply by punching a button on the centre console, simultaneously optimising for off-road use the behaviour of the ABS, stability control and other systems. After a session in the dirt, it was clear that the torque-sensing centre diff is able to control the fore/aft slippage quickly and effectively (though the gearbox is still a little slow to apply drive), while traction-based electronic differential “locks” capably handle side to side distribution.
As an SUV to live with day to day, the Touareg makes the grade. While the air suspension queers the pitch somewhat in assessing what an “ordinary” version would be like, it is an option which should be considered very seriously because of its impact on the vehicle’s behaviour, both on the road and off-road. But even with steel springs, the Touareg should be very good. It is pretty much “trail-ready” – but on top of that it is effortless to drive. The cabin is spacious and comfortable with an exceptional level of overall refinement and quality. It feels uncomplicated and is not intimidating from behind the wheel, which is often not the case on first acquaintance with cars boasting this level of dualpurpose technology. This is truly an SUV for the modern urban adventurer.