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Facelifted SUV gains new tech and enhanced interior, but is it enough to challenge its luxury rivals?

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Five years after the launch of the third-generation Volkswagen Touareg, the German brand has refreshed its flagship as it looks to keep pace with rivals such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE

Beyond mild design changes to the front and rear, the focus has been on interior revisions, with the facelifted Touareg gaining the previously optional Innovision Cockpit infotainment system as standard – 12.0in and 15.0in digital displays are available. There’s also greater flexibility in the software, with upgrades made to HD map data and a new voice-control system with more conversational functionality.

Revised front grille appears less busy than before, with the black finish catering to European tastes.

The powertrain line-up is a familiar one. There is a pair of 3.0-litre V6 diesel engines with 227bhp and 282bhp, and a 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol. All of those are exclusively available in Black Edition trim.

Alternatively, you can have a plug-in hybrid in more subdued Elegance trim, which combines the same petrol V6 with an electric motor and a 14.3kWh battery for a total of 375bhp. If you like your Bloody Mary with more heat, there’s a range-topping ‘R’ variant, which gets the same powertrain but boasts 455bhp and more aggressive styling cues.

As standard, the Touareg is suspended using steel springs. As before, rear-wheel steering is an option on all trim levels.

So is this ‘new’ SUV, a quiet mainstay within the VW range, set to boost the 1.13 million Touareg sales, or does it fall short of its rivals? Let's find out. 

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Volkswagen Touareg 2023 rear three quarter

As surgeries go, the Touareg appears, on the surface at least, to have been in for a light nose job – and yet it’s not just the front that has gained sharper looks. 

Indeed, the more noticeable revisions are the new LED matrix headlights and the lightbar across the grille. Lower down, the front aperture has gained larger inlets which are said to improve efficiency.

I'm not convinced by the illuminated VW logo: it looks a little too Volkswagen ‘ID’ in this flagship setting.

At the rear the LED theme continues, a with another lightbar running across the back of the boot lid. This includes an illuminated badge, a first for VW on a European model.

Naturally, its proportions haven't changed, so at 4902mm long, 1984mm wide and 1695mm tall, the Touareg is one of the lower and more athletic cars in the luxury SUV class.


Volkswagen Touareg 2023 interior dashboard

This being the flagship model in Volkswagen’s range, it gets an upmarket interior layout to suit. Now fitted with the larger 15in infotainment display as standard, the Touareg immediately feels more premium and high-tech. The digital instrument cluster looks better integrated than the curved screen in the BMW X5 and is clearer and less cluttered to boot. 

Using the touch-operated central screen is straightforward, with the menus and applications well-configured for easy-use. The graphics are good, too, and it responds well to inputs. 

The interior feels smart and much more befitting of the Touareg's premium marketed position. Haptic buttons take away from this, though.

However, as has become synonymous with Volkswagen’s electric range, the touchscreen has too much to do. The touch-operated sliders for the temperature control are annoying and make it near-impossible to adjust on the move. 

And while the larger screen elevates the interior’s feel, the interface is so big there is nowhere to rest your thumb or hand when using it while driving – and it feels a little too far away from the driver for our liking.

Although Volkswagen has proclaimed it wants to move away again from haptic controls, things have to get worse before they get better, it appears, because the updated Touareg has gained the corporate VW steering wheel, complete with touch-sensitive controls.

Despite the usability issues, the cabin feels refined and reassuringly solid thanks to great use – and positioning – of soft-touch materials. The ‘Vienna’ leather on the dash and centre console accentuate the premium feel. There is plenty of head and leg room front and rear and a vast boot. The panoramic roof only adds to the roomy feel of the interior, too. 

The seating position feels surprisingly car-like for a large SUV, but has a great level of adjustability to find your preferred spot. Higher might seem the natural direction for your seat considering the vastness of the dashboard which is orientated towards the driver.


Volkswagen Touareg 2023 rear three quater wide

The Black Edition's 3.0-litre V6 diesel, in midfield 282bhp spec, felt very much in tune with the Touareg’s size and weight and suited the car exceptionally well. Also boasting 442lb ft torque there is more than enough punch and more.

Only at lower speeds do you detect a bit of gruffness from the engine, but that soon fades into the background once up to speed. Even around town it's smooth, melding nicely with the eight-speed automatic gearbox. 

In the eHybrid, the battery is just too small; we averaged just 24 miles of EV-only range. Once its depleted, mpg hits as low as 12mpg.

Sure, in some instances the powertrain can feel a bit unresponsive: the gearbox takes a moment to find a gear when more forceful pedal inputs are applied. There are a few modes to choose from too. Sport helps to dial up performance, removing some of the lag experienced in Normal mode; although the latter feels smoother in all environments.

In the standard eHybrid, available only in £69,150 Elegance trim, it was a bit of a different experience. It uses the same set-up as the £80,370 R – a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine paired with a gearbox-mounted electric motor – but with a lesser system output of 375bhp (compared with the R’s 455bhp).

Both hybrids retain the same 14.3kWh battery pack as before, bucking the trend from rivals who’ve increased capacity as part of recent facelifts – the X5 and GLE now offer much larger 25.7kWh and 31.2kWh respectively.

Like its diesel sibling, it too offer fantastic comfort, performance and luxury befitting its flagship status. 

What was disappointing was the Touareg’s electric performance. On the one hand, the SUV showed decent efficiency on medium-length  journeys (highs of 60-70mpg) , but the battery depleted at a rather alarming rate, leaving longer runs an economical  challenge and again raising questions  about VW’s choice to not upgrade that tiny battery.

On its own, the petrol V6 suits the Touareg, with heaps of punchy torque to keep the chunky family motor interesting. But when a potter around town returns no more than 12mpg, and highs of mid-20s are all that can be expected, it shows how needed that electrical assistance really is. 

In electric-only mode, VW quotes a range of 31 miles. We averaged 24, which was a good return, but still under half of the 51 we managed in the bigger-batteried X5 earlier this year. 

Once the battery is depleted, it’ll take 2.5hours to recharge via a 7.2kW charger (8.5h via a three-pin). The Touareg can of course also self-charge; we found it retrieved as much as five miles of  range in 30 minutes of driving.


Volkswagen Touareg 2023 ride handling

Our test cars were equipped with self-levelling, height-adjustable air suspension as standard, which delivers excellent ride quality, with a composed and gentle feel to the way the Touareg irons out lumps and bumps.

At motorway speed noise isolation is very good, even in the eHybrid with the added weight of the battery.

Latest Touareg isn’t a car that encourages an enthusiastic driving style but its behaviour in corners is well rounded, composed, safe and utterly predictable.

Yet, find a coarse road and noise levels from the large 21in wheels rises somewhat, and the Touareg can't entirely disguise the 'sproingy' noise and feel you typically get with air suspension, but still took the sting out of severe road imperfection and a aggressive looking potholes.

The four-wheel steering feels entirely natural while also giving this big SUV a turning circle comparable to a Golf. It has fine body control and while you wouldn't call it sporty, it gives you the easy confidence you want from a car like this.

How about off-road? Well, the Touareg’s ability to plough through mud and ruts is admirable. Of course, a Range Rover Sport or Land Rover Discovery will deliver more off-road technology and ability, but for a soft-roader, the Touareg does well.

Around a short course in the grounds of Castle Combe race circuit, the off-road modes came into their own, compensating for the lack of a low-range gearbox or a proper locking differential. 

And the adjustability in the Touareg’s ride height enabled it to rise and crest over some seriously beaten up terrain. Its large approach and departure angles also proved their worth up steep inclines. 


Volkswagen Touareg 2023 hero front

Once upon a time the Volkswagen Touareg was seen as good value for money and was adroitly positioned to undercut key rivals from Audi and BMW

But it is arguably no longer the value proposition it once was: the entry-level 228bhp V6 TDI in Black Edition trim starts from £67,780. That’s right in the ballpark of the BMW X5 30d.

In the diesel you can average 30.7mpg, tad below the quoted 34.4mpg. In the eHybrid, with the battery in use, we saw highs of 70mpg.

It’s worth mentioning that some dealers are offering as much as £5000 in deposit contribution on Black Edition models when purchased on a personal contract plan (PCP). 

Our 282bhp V6 TDI Black Edition came in at a hefty £72,665, and the eHybrid £69,075. That’s quite a bit dearer than an entry-level S-Line Audi Q7 and about the same price as a base model Cayenne with Adaptive Air Suspension fitted as an option.

In the diesel, during our 32-mile test route around Wiltshire, which included predominantly B-roads and rural lanes, we averaged 30.7mpg. With more motorway use, you'll see closer to the quoted 34.4mpg. In the eHybrid, with the battery in use, we saw mpg as high as 70mpg; but when that small battery depleted, the petrol engine struggled to get above the mid-20s on a long trip.

If you’re planning on using the car’s off-road potential or towing, and cover fewer than 10,000 miles annually, VW recommends fixed servicing intervals. The majority of owners will drive their Touareg almost entirely on the road, and for greater mileage, the Flexible Service regime is suggested, whereby the various sensors establish whether a service is required and alert the driver via the on-board computer.

The Touareg retains its three-year/60,000-mile mechanical warranty as the pre-facelift model, with a year’s subscription to European breakdown cover thrown in as a bonus. 


Volkswagen Touareg 2023 final verdict

Combining the ego-free, functionality-first design ethos that defines a modern Volkswagen with the aura of style and lavishness that every successful luxury car needs is proving a very tricky task indeed for VW, especially with some of its modern tech hang-ups sneaking in.

Roomy, refined, easy to use and well stocked for off-road capability, the Touareg covers many of the bases required of a large SUV well. But, while its infotainment technology and features are impressive, it lacks the alluring desirability of a fully formed, £70,000 luxury family car.

It fulfills its role as a luxury flagship SUV, but its price - and eHybrid's EV-only range - might be a sticking point for some.

To look at, it’s smart if derivative; to travel in, it’s spacious and pleasant, but lacking material richness; to drive, it’s competent but plain – and a bit sluggish at times. The luxury SUV segment isn’t short on cars that are more inviting to drive and to spend time in than this.

Most of those things were true when this third-generation Touareg launched, and while the facelift tweaks have kept the tech and style up to date, those things are still true today. 

The hybrid versions' all-important electric range has fallen behind rivals' too, to a point where the car is completely let down by its poor battery size. Why VW decided not to increase its capacity, while rivals have, remains a mystery, leaving it with what is now a five-year-old powertrain.

Broadly speaking, the Touareg is a respectable effort but is just a touch too anonymous to earn a really telling recommendation.

Will Rimell

Will Rimell
Title: Deputy news editor

Will is a journalist with more than eight years experience in roles that range from news reporter to editor. He joined Autocar in 2022 as deputy news editor, moving from a local news background.

In his current role as deputy news editor, Will’s focus is with Autocar and Autocar Business; he also manages Haymarket's aftermarket publication CAT.

Writing is, of course, a big part of his role too. Stories come in many forms, from interviewing top executives, reporting from car launches, and unearthing exclusives.

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips
Title: Staff Writer

Sam has been part of the Autocar team since 2021 and is often tasked with writing new car stories and more recently conducting first drive reviews.

Most of his time is spent leading sister-title Move Electric, which covers the entire spectrum of electric vehicles, from cars to boats – and even trucks. He is an expert in electric cars, new car news, microbility and classic cars. 

Sam graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2021 with a BA in Journalism. In his final year he produced an in-depth feature on the automotive industry’s transition to electric cars and interviewed a number of leading experts to assess our readiness for the impending ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

Volkswagen Touareg First drives